Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence can be complex, but we will break down the legal jargon as simply as possible for you. By the time you reach the bottom of the page, you will be a pro in your understanding of these types of negligence. (Although, hopefully not too much of a pro because our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys and Los Angeles wrongful death lawyers are always here to help!).
Contributory negligence and comparative negligence are legal concepts used in tort law (as opposed to criminal law) to determine liability and damages in cases where multiple parties are potentially at fault. While both contributory and comparative negligence address the issue of shared fault, they differ significantly in their impact on legal cases.
This article will dive deep into the differences between contributory and comparative, distinguishing between the two types of negligence. Soon, you will be fully equipped with the proper legal jargon and will have the understanding you need if you get caught up in a civil case.
Contributory Versus Comparative Negligence
Contributory negligence is when the plaintiff is completely banned from collecting damages from the other party if the plaintiff was injured in part by their own negligence. In other words, if the person filing the lawsuit “contributed” to the harm they suffered, the defendant no longer possesses legal responsibility to cover any damages or provide compensation — regardless of the defendant’s level of fault.
Contributory negligence is often seen as a harsh and unfair all-or-nothing rule. If the plaintiff is even slightly at fault, they will not receive any monetary compensation, even if the defendant was at fault to a much greater extent. For this reason, contributory negligence is less common than comparative negligence nowadays. Many jurisdictions have decided to replace it with comparative negligence, which offers more flexibility and impartiality.
Comparative negligence is a more modern and widely accepted system in the court of law. It typically offers a fairer approach to determining which parties are liable and how damages should be allocated.
With comparative negligence, the court assesses the percentage of fault of both the plaintiff and the defendant. The damages are then awarded to each party depending on how responsible they were for injury or harm. In other words, the plaintiff can be awarded damages, even if they are partially at fault for their injuries.
There are two main types of comparative negligence:
- Pure comparative negligence. The plaintiff can seek damages, even if their negligence and contribution to the harm exceeds that of the defendant. For example, in an extreme scenario, if the court deems the plaintiff 99% at fault for a car accident that occurred in California, they can still be compensated 1% of the total damages.
- Modified comparative negligence. The plaintiff is banned from recovering damages up to a certain threshold percentage, which is determined by the state. In Florida, for instance, the plaintiff will not be awarded compensation if they are more than 50% responsible for causing their own injuries.
When distinguishing between comparative vs. contributory negligence, comparative negligence is viewed as the more just approach because the victim will always be awarded damages. Modified comparative negligence is almost like an in-between.
Is California a Comparative Negligence State?
The short answer is yes. In California, contributory negligence is no longer used as a defense in a court of law. Rather, it follows a pure comparative negligence system, allowing victims of car crashes or other accidents a just opportunity to be awarded damages.
For example, let’s say you are an injured victim of a truck fatigue accident due to a rear end on the freeway. You were texting and driving but were still keeping up with traffic. The truck driver, on the other hand, was over-exhausted and intoxicated. Although you were partially at fault because you were distracted by your phone, the truck driver’s intoxication is debatably a far worse law break.
California comparative negligence allows you to receive compensation from the truck driver. The state’s pure comparative negligence system means your damages would be reduced in proportion to your share of responsibility.
In a pure comparative negligence system, there is no threshold that completely bans a plaintiff from recovery, no matter how high their own negligence is. With contributory negligence, the truck driver would have no legal responsibility to reward you with damages since you were negligent and partially at fault.
Contact a Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorney in Los Angeles
If you find yourself entangled in a personal injury or wrongful death case, it is recommended to immediately contact a legal representative at Los Angeles personal injury law firms or Los Angeles wrongful death law firms. Remember, each state has its own statute of limitations.
A Los Angeles injury attorney will work directly with insurance companies to identify just compensation. In cases of wrongful death, a wrongful death lawyer in Los Angeles will recover funeral expenses, loss of income, and loss of companionship expenses for surviving loved ones.
John J. Perlstein, one of the best personal injury attorneys in Los Angeles, has over 25 years of experience securing fair and just outcomes in personal injury cases. He is proficient in contributory vs. comparative negligence and will ensure accurate compensation for victims and clearance for those wrongly accused.
You can reach us at (213) 583-5786. Alternatively, you can complete our form to schedule a complimentary consultation with a personal injury or wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles. This consultation will provide you with an opportunity to discuss your situation and see what we can do to help.