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Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence: Here’s What You Need to Know

An accident is one of those events that has disastrous consequences for everyone involved. It can cause injuries that can change one’s outlook on life.

It might leave the victim with deep financial stress that may take a while to recover from. Then there are chances of the victim losing their life in an accident.

All these will have a devastating effect on the victim.

Although an accident is an irreversible event, one can take measures to minimize its impact.

This is done with the assistance of reputable law firms, like Golden State Lawyers, APC . These law firms strive to provide victims with the legal assistance required to acquire fair compensation.

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There are multiple reasons why you need a lawyer. One of the more important reasons is to tackle the defense statements put forth by the insurance company.

Insurance companies are for-profit organizations. They’ll employ numerous tactics to deny giving out compensation or, at the very least, reduce the amount they have to pay.

One such defense is shifting the blame on the victim, calling them the negligent party.


Negligence is defined as the failure of an individual to act with the level of care that is expected of a reasonable individual.

To establish negligence, the victim has to prove four elements. They are:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of duty of care
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

The victim must prove each element to receive compensation for their losses and damages. However, there are cases where the victim had a role to play in the accident.

Here, two concepts of shared negligence come into play. They are:

  • Contributory negligence
  • Comparative negligence

Each has its own set of pros and cons. We’ll discuss them in the sections below.

Contributory Negligence

Under contributory negligence rules, the victim will be denied compensation if they’re found to have played a role in the accident. The victim will be denied compensation, no matter how small their role may be.

Say, for instance, that a drunk driver hits and injures a motorcyclist who was driving between slow-moving cars.

The driver is at fault for operating the vehicle while intoxicated, and the motorcyclist is at fault for engaging in lane splitting.

However, the motorcyclist cannot recover compensation from the drunk driver as they are partially responsible for the accident.

The following states practice contributory negligence rules:

  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington, D.C.

Comparative Negligence

Comparative negligence is similar to contributory negligence, but the consequences of the victim having a role in the accident are different.

According to comparative negligence rules, victims are eligible for compensation even if they had a role to play in the accident. Their compensation, however, takes a hit.

Victims who were partially responsible for the accident that caused their injuries can recover compensation that is less than the requested amount.

The percentage reduced will depend on the victim’s level of involvement in the accident.

Consider the previous drunk driver example. According to comparative negligence rules, the motorcyclist can recover damages for all the losses and damages they’ve suffered.

But a percentage will be reduced from the final amount as they engage in lane splitting.

Comparative negligence is of two types. They are,

  • Pure Comparative Negligence: The compensation the victim receives depends on their level of involvement in the accident. If they were 30% responsible for the accident, they’re eligible for 70% of the compensation. If they’re 99% responsible, they can still seek the 1% as compensation.
  • Modified Comparative Negligence: The victim can recover damages only if the at-fault party had 50% or more responsibility for the accident. Some states have the limit at 50%, while others have it at 51%. If the at-fault party’s role is less than 51% or 50%, the victim doesn’t have a valid case.


Comparative and contributory negligence are two common defenses used by the at-fault party’s insurance company.

They are mostly used as a last-ditch effort to reduce compensation or avoid paying it altogether.

It’s at times like this that a lawyer is essential. A lawyer helps victims navigate all the difficulties that arise during a personal injury claim.

With their assistance, victims can get the compensation they deserve.