You are here

Contributory and Comparative Negligence

15 January, 2016 - 09:31

Under an old common-law rule, it was a complete defense to show that the plaintiff in a negligence suit was himself negligent. Even if the plaintiff was only mildly negligent, most of the fault being chargeable to the defendant, the court would dismiss the suit if the plaintiff’s conduct contributed to his injury. In a few states today, this rule of contributory negligence is still in effect. Although referred to as negligence, the rule encompasses a narrower form than that with which the defendant is charged, because the plaintiff’s only error in such cases is in being less careful of himself than he might have been, whereas the defendant is charged with conduct careless toward others. This rule was so manifestly unjust in many cases that most states, either by statute or judicial decision, have changed to some version of comparative negligence. Under the rule of comparative negligence, damages are apportioned according to the defendant’s degree of culpability. For example, if the plaintiff has sustained a $100,000 injury and is 20 percent responsible, the defendant will be liable for $80,000 in damages.