Comparative Negligence: Legal Definition & Examples

In the simplest of cases, the driver who causes a car accident will be at blame. Depending on the state, the injured driver will then make a claim against the at-fault driver, seeking compensation for damages. A car accident lawyer can help you get the compensation you deserve.  In this scenario, only one driver was at blame. However, not all accidents are that simple. For instance, what if both drivers were to blame? This is where the concept of comparative negligence comes in. Read on to find out more about the comparative negligence definition, the various types, and comparative negligence examples.

What is Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence, also known as comparative fault, is a legal principle used in tort law to assign blame to two or more parties based on the degree of negligence each contributed to the incident. In other words, if the injured victim was partially at fault through negligence on their part, the jury, judge, or insurance company will assign a percentage of blame to both the injured victim and the defendant. The concept of comparative negligence plays a key role in how damages are awarded. Comparative negligence states use the assigned blame to limit the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover. For example, if the judge assigns 70% fault to the defendant and 30% to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may only be able to recover 70% of the damages, rather than the full 100%. As we’ll see, there are different types of comparative negligence, so damages awarded will vary based on the state.

Types of Comparative Negligence

Three types of comparative negligence exist in the United States:

  • Contributory negligence: Contributory negligence states prevent the plaintiff from collecting damages if they were found even one percent negligent. Essentially, if the plaintiff contributed in any way to the incident, they cannot recover any damages. The only states that recognize contributory negligence are Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. 
  • Pure comparative negligence: Under the pure comparative negligence rule, damages are awarded based on the assigned fault determined by the courts. Even if the plaintiff was found 99 percent negligent, they are allowed to claim damages for the one percent they were not at fault for. There are currently thirteen states that recognize the pure comparative negligence rule.
  • Modified comparative negligence: Most states abide by what is known as a modified comparative negligence principle. Furthermore, two types of modified comparative negligence exist. The first is the 50 percent bar rule, which means the plaintiff cannot recover damages if they were found to be 50 percent or more at fault. The second is the 51 percent bar rule, which prevents the plaintiff from recovering damages if they were assigned 51 percent or more of the blame.

Examples of Comparative Negligence

Let’s say Mandy is driving and makes an illegal u-turn at an intersection. While she makes the illegal turn, she gets struck by Tom, who ran a stop sign. Mandy sustains injuries totaling $10,000, and Tom also sustains injuries totaling $10,000. After sifting through the evidence, the court assigns Mandy 49 percent blame and Tom 51 percent for the incident. How would the three types of comparative negligence handle this case?

Contributory negligence

Since both drivers contributed in some way to the accident, both cannot recover any damages from each other.

Pure comparative negligence

Both Tom and Mandy could collect a portion of their damages, according to the blame assigned. Mandy would collect $5,100 (51% of her total damages), and Tom would collect $4,900 (49% of his total damages).

Modified comparative negligence

In a state following the 50 or 51 percent bar rule, Tom would not be able to recover for damages since he was found 51 percent at fault. Mandy could collect a total of $5,100. If the judge assigned an even 50/50 split in blame, both Tom and Mandy would be unable to collect from each other under the 50 percent bar rule. But, if both were found equally at fault under the 51 percent bar rule, they could both claim damages from each other.

Key Takeaways

  • Comparative negligence is a way to assign fault to the various parties involved in an accident.
  • There are generally three types of comparative negligence: contributory negligence, pure comparative negligence, and modified comparative negligence.
  • Most states abide by the modified comparative fault principle.
  • In all three types, the amount of damages you can collect from the other party will be limited by the fault assigned to you.

Valiente Mott

If you’d like to learn more about comparative fault and how it affects your ability to seek damages, contact the Nevada personal injury attorney team at Valiente Mott today! Our team of legal experts has dealt with numerous car accident cases and works hard to defend the rights of personal injury victims. We offer a free consultation and only charge if we win your case! 

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