Comparing Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence

Perez Halpern, LLC serves the jurisdictions of Maryland, Virginia, and District of Columbia. All three of these states follow a legal standard known as “contributory negligence” when it comes to apportioning fault and monetary damages in an accident. North Carolina and Alabama are the only other two jurisdictions that, along with these three, still follow the contributory negligence standard in the whole of the United States. However, if you travel outside of these five contributory negligence states often, it is important to know about comparative negligence (the other, more common standard) because most states in the U.S. now follow it.

Getting involved in a car accident is enough to put a damper on anyone’s day, even if it’s minor and there are no injuries involved. However, when it comes time to speak with insurance companies, repair your car, and figure out who is at fault for the incident (and therefore partially or completely financially responsible), you must think about who was really at fault and how everyone’s actions contributed to the event. This will always in some form or another come up in investigations involved in vehicular accident claims.

In simple terms, negligence means that harm was caused by someone who acted in a way they weren’t supposed to compared to another reasonable person. Examples of vehicular negligence might include running a stop sign or speeding. The concept of who is at fault gets a little more complicated in certain states, and can inevitably affect if and/or how much money you can recover from an accident.

Contributory Negligence

Accidents involving cars, trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. fall under a different set of guidelines than the rest of the U.S., and when an incident is brought to court, the legal standard of contributory negligence is used. As is noted above, there are only five states that use this rule (Maryland, Virginia, D.C., North Carolina, and Alabama), and it can pertain to several factors in an accident.

This type of negligence considers if the victim(s) of an accident contributed to the accident through their own negligence, and by how much. If you’re looking to receive compensation from an accident, but had even the slightest amount of fault in it, you will be disqualified from any monetary reward. In order to receive anything, the accident had to be caused 100% by the other driver.

While this might sound frustrating, contributory negligence also provides protection for drivers in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. Because it looks at everyone’s involvement in an accident, any accident where you might be at fault almost acts like a buffer and allows you to avoid liability from the other party. For example, if someone decides to sue you following a car accident but that person was at least a little bit negligent in that accident, they may be found  “contributorily negligent” and they may no damages from you.

In circumstances where the insurance company is unable to determine if one involved party is solely negligent in an accident, they may offer a “compromise settlement” in which they agree to pay a portion of the damages sustained.

Comparative Negligence

Although not recognized in Maryland, Virginia, or D.C., the other type of negligence having to do with car accidents is called comparative negligence. If you’re ever in an accident in a state where this legal standard is used, it’s important for you to understand how it works. For one thing, comparative negligence does not completely bar your ability to receive monetary damages for an accident.

This type of negligence compares the involvement of all of the parties in a car accident. If the issue is brought to court, you can recover money in this situation as long as the other driver was at least partially at fault. The fact that you also hold some responsibility for the accident doesn’t disqualify you from compensation, it just affects the amount of compensation you might receive. There are two approaches to comparative negligence:

  • Pure comparative negligence – Your recovery is reduced by how much you were at fault. For example, if a court finds that you were 10% at fault for your accident and the judge or jury has awarded you $100,000 in damages, your award will be reduced by 10%, resulting in you recovering only $90,000.
  • Modified comparative negligence – This is the most common type of comparative negligence. In jurisdictions that follow this standard, if you were equally or more responsible for an accident, then you do not recover anything. You have to be less than 50% responsible for an accident for you to recover as a plaintiff.

If you’ve been involved in a car accident and need guidance in determining if you could be responsible for damages, or you would like to recover compensation of your own damages, contact Pérez Halpern LLC today.

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