What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence is a legal standard that prevents plaintiffs from collecting damages if they are found even slightly responsible for an accident.
Written by Bellina Gaskey
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Contributory negligence refers to a plaintiff’s failure to consider their own safety in the event of an accident. In a court of law, contributory negligence is used as a defense to bar the plaintiff from collecting damages or to reduce the amount of compensation they receive if their actions contributed to the incident’s occurrence.
It’s no secret an accident can have a massive impact on your
car insurance
. With contributory negligence laws in place, you could be considered at fault even if you didn’t directly cause the accident. 
Fortunately, contributory negligence is not widely recognized throughout the United States, but it’s important to understand what the legal standard entails if you’re driving in an area where those laws are enacted. 
That’s why
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What is contributory negligence? 

In common law, contributory negligence refers to the injured party’s role in their accident. This means the plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care for their safety, and it can be used against them by a judge, jury, or insurance company. 
Even if a plaintiff is less than one percent responsible for their injuries, contributory negligence can decrease or deny damages. 

Contributory negligence and insurance 

Contributory negligence doesn’t just apply to car accidents, and it can apply to any road-related collision, including: 
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
If involved in an accident, policyholders may seek compensation by filing an
insurance claim
. However, it is up to the insurer and court to decide how much you’re entitled to. 
In some cases, the plaintiff is found free of blame and will be awarded in full. In other cases, they will be found partially responsible and payment may be reduced or barred.  

What are examples of contributory negligence?

Now that we’ve gone over contributory negligence in legal terms, let’s look at some real-world examples. 
Imagine a pedestrian is looking down at their phone and crossing the street while the signal sign is red. Because of their distraction, they’re hit by a car. 
If the pedestrian decides to sue the driver, the driver can use contributory negligence as a defense because the pedestrian’s actions contributed to their injury. This defense could successfully bar the pedestrian from collecting any damages or significantly reduce the amount they receive. 

Which states have contributory negligence laws?

While most states have eliminated contributory negligence laws from their jurisdictions, a handful of states/districts still keep them in place. These include: 
  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington, D.C. 
If the court determines a plaintiff’s level of fault is above zero, the chances of recovering damages are slim. Even if a driver runs a red light and hits your car, their defense attorney might find a way to hold you partly responsible. 
However, the majority of U.S. states rely on comparative negligence instead of contributory negligence. This means that if the injured party is found slightly at fault in an accident, they’re still able to recover damages. 

Finding cheap car insurance 

Whether you live in a state with contributory negligence laws or not, the importance of quality car insurance cannot be emphasized enough. If you want
cheap car insurance
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Contributory negligence seeks to bar the plaintiff from collecting damages if they are found even one percent responsible for an accident. Conversely, comparative negligence assigns a percentage of blame to both the plaintiff and the defendant and awards damages accordingly.
A judge or insurance company will typically assign a percentage of blame to the injured party and the defendant. If 80% of the fault is assigned to the defendant and 20% is assigned to the plaintiff, the plaintiff can only collect 80% of the damages instead of 100%.
Yes. The two main types of comparative negligence are: 
Pure comparative negligence: Allows plaintiffs to collect damages even if they are found 99% at fault. 
Modified comparative negligence: Bars plaintiffs from collecting damages if their level of fault is above a certain percentage (in most states, it’s usually at or above 50% or 51%).
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