In most personal injury claims, the legal basis for seeking damages (monetary compensation) is negligence. Essentially, that means that the person causing the injury did not use an appropriate amount of care, and that the injury occurred because of that failure to use reasonable care. However, if the injured party was also negligent, any damage award may be reduced (or even negated) by what is known as “contributory negligence.”
The concept of contributory negligence has been around for centuries. For a long time, if the defendant could show any level of contributory negligence, the injured party would not be able to recover anything. Because this imposed harsh conditions on injured people—an injured personal may have been minimally negligent and the defendant grossly negligent—the law has evolved to what is frequently dubbed “comparative negligence.” Nonetheless, five jurisdictions—Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia) still follow the old rule of contributory negligence.
Under comparative negligence schemes, two different standards have evolved—pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. With pure comparative negligence, the plaintiff will always recover something, even if he or she was 90% responsible. Under such an approach, if the total financial loss was $100,000, a 90% liable plaintiff would still recover $10,000, but would also have responsibility for any injuries to the defendant.
In modified comparative negligence jurisdictions, there is typically a limit on the amount contributory negligence that will still allow a plaintiff to recover compensation. That number is customarily 50%–a plaintiff who is more responsible for his injury than any other party won’t have the right to recovery anything.
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