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Things Aren’t So Simple With Contributory Negligence

In a typical personal injury case, especially the type that involves negligence on the part of another driver, or company, the goal is straightforward. Someone else is at fault for the injury that you or a family member or friend has suffered. Because someone else is at fault, the goal of the personal injury lawsuit is to prove that fault to a jury, so that the jury can discuss the matter and eventually arrive at a verdict stating that the person accused is at fault, or “liable,” and thus has to pay whatever damages are being sued for.

Of course, while there are some cases that are as simple as this, we live in a “gray” world where things aren’t always so clear cut. In some cases, the party being sued may be at fault, but they may not share 100% of the blame. In these cases, a counter-suit may be launched, which attempts to prove that it’s not just one person that is completely responsible for the injury.

In situations like this, we have what is known as contributory negligence.

Mutual Blame



Contributory negligence, as you may gather from the words alone, means that not all the fault for an injury lies on just one person. We see many cases of this in real life.

For example, in a typical drunk driving incident, usually what happens is the person under the influence drives badly enough that an obvious mistake, such as drifting into the opposing traffic lane, or failing to brake in time—or at all—is what causes a collision. In such instances the drunkenness of the driver is almost entirely at fault for causing an injury situation.

However, if the driver of one vehicle is drunk, with impaired reflexes, while the other driver is texting, not paying attention to the road either, and switches lanes without checking, thus colliding with a drunk driver who is too impaired to react in time, this changes things a lot.

To be sure, driving under the influence in a situation like this can and will be charged and punished according to traffic law. But if that drunk driver failed to react quickly enough in this situation, that failure was itself entirely avoidable if the sober, but distracted driver had been paying enough attention to the road to realize that a lane change wasn’t wise.

If a case of contributory negligence can be proven in court, this means that a person suing for personal injury can still win, but will get a reduced amount rather than “full damages.” That reduction will be based on just how much of a percentage of blame it is decided the other party must also bear. In some cases, a personal injury lawsuit may be reduced by as much as 50% if it is decided that the other party shares equal blame in causing the incident.

If you’ve been in an incident where you may be at partial fault and have concerns about how it may impact a personal injury case, don’t do any guesswork. Get a professional accident lawyer to help guide you through this process.