What Is Contributory Negligence and How Can It Help or Hurt My Accident Claim?

Posted in Car Accidents on September 19, 2017.

Every state in the country has unique laws when it comes to negligence in civil actions. “Negligence” in the legal world refers to a person’s failure to uphold his or her duty to act with reasonable care in a given situation. This basically refers to an individual’s failure to exercise the level of competence and awareness one could reasonably expect from a person in that situation.

Examples of Contributory Negligence

A few examples of how negligence can play a role in personal injury cases include:

  • A driver is using a phone while driving and fails to pay attention to the traffic lights ahead. The driver does not come to a stop at a red light and T-bones another driver passing through the intersection. The first driver is negligent because he or she had a responsibility to drive safely and failed to do so.
  • A doctor reads an X-ray backward and amputates the wrong limb from a patient. Any competent, reasonable doctor should have been able to catch this error. In this situation, the doctor’s negligence would make him or her liable for medical malpractice.
  • A bicyclist is trying to avoid traffic. He mounts the curb and starts pedaling on the sidewalk. When the street looks clear, the bicyclist weaves between the cars parked on the side of the road and back into the street, directly in the path of an oncoming vehicle. The driver swerves to avoid the bicyclist and hits another vehicle. In this situation, the bicyclist is negligent for failing to abide by the traffic laws.

These are very general examples, but there are several ways that contributory negligence might come into play in these cases. Contributory negligence is a statute that bars plaintiffs from recovering compensation for their injuries and other damages if those plaintiffs share some of the blame for their losses.

Following the above example with the bicyclist, the court would most likely deem the bicyclist as clearly negligent for his improper entry onto the street, but the swerving driver could share some blame as well. The investigation could reveal that the driver had enough time to brake and stop rather than swerve, and thus could have avoided the accident.

The plaintiff in the case is most likely going to be the driver hit by the swerving vehicle, and he or she will most likely sue the bicyclist for causing the accident, but may also sue the driver who collided with him or her. In turn, the driver who swerved may potentially sue the bicyclist. If this is the case in a contributory negligence state, the plaintiffs would sue the responsible party and then lose a percentage of their damages based on their percentage of fault. For example, if a judge decides the swerving driver is 10% at fault for swerving instead of braking, the plaintiff’s damages will reduce by 10%.

Can I Be Partially at Fault in an Accident But Still Receive Compensation?

Alabama follows a pure contributory negligence rule, so it’s essential for plaintiffs to carefully consider how responsible they may be for their accidents. Alabama is currently one of only four states that does not allow plaintiffs to recover compensation in accidents they contribute to causing, so it’s not worth filing a lawsuit if you were partially to blame for your accident. If you are unsure whether filing a lawsuit would be in your best interest, reach out to a reliable Birmingham personal injury attorney for a consultation.