The Difference Between Contributory and Comparative Negligence

September 14, 2014

This blog entry is part of an ongoing series of posts explaining commonly confused legal concepts.  These explanations provide a general overview of certain legal terms that you may have heard in the media or everyday conversations, but remember: when you or a loved one have been injured, it is important that you consult an experienced personal injury attorney for a thorough review of your potential claims. 

If you have kept up with this blog, you know that we advocate always speaking to an attorney when you are injured by a motor vehicle accident, product malfunction, or other accident, even if you think that you may be partially to blame.  This recommendation is tied to a few legal terms you may have heard before: contributory negligence and comparative negligence.  State laws follow either contributory negligence systems or comparative negligence systems to determine whether a personal injury victim who was partially at fault for an accident can recover compensation from the negligent defendant.  So what’s the difference between contributory negligence and comparative negligence?

In states that follow the contributory negligence rule, an injured victim whose own negligence contributed to his accident cannot recover damages from the negligent defendant.  In other words, even if you were only 5% responsible for an accident and the defendant was 95% responsible, under a contributory negligence system you could not hold the defendant liable for the injuries he caused you.  Fortunately for negligence victims, only four states still follow this harsh rule.

The remaining states have adopted forms of comparative negligence (also called comparative fault), a system in which an injured victim may recover against a defendant even though the victim was partially at fault.  In a “pure” comparative negligence state, a victim is entitled to damages against a negligent defendant and the defendant is entitled to offset those damages in proportion to the victim’s share of the fault; this is true whether the victim is 1% at fault, 99% at fault, or anywhere in between.  In a “modified” comparative negligence state, the same rules apply except that if a victim is greater than some percentage at fault (in most states, either 50% or 51%), the victim cannot recover against the defendant or defendants.

Ohio has adopted a modified comparative negligence law, allowing plaintiffs to recover damages despite their own fault as long as that fault is not more than 50% of the total fault in causing the injuries.  This is why we recommend that personal injury victims should seek out the advice of an experienced attorney even if they believe they are partially to blame for their injuries.  Your role in an accident will be taken into account by the law, but it does not automatically bar you from receiving compensation from a negligent party.

If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of a motor vehicle accident, medical malpractice, or a defective product, contact the proven attorneys at Lowe Scott Fisher Co., LPA for a free telephone consultation.

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