Contributory Negligence v. Comparative Negligence
In civil trials, when there is a claim for damages, the finder of fact (either the judge or jury) must determine the extent of the damages caused by the defendant. If there where multiple parties involved in an accident, the negligence can be distributed among parties according to the state law where the accident happened. For example, in a car accident involving multiple cars, it is possible that only one car driver was negligent. It is also possible that the other car drivers were negligent as well. Therefore, damages will be allocated according to whether the state recognizes contributory negligence, comparative negligence, or some variation of the two.
Only a few states continue to apply “Contributory Negligence” in civil claims. In these states, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages if the fact finder determines that the plaintiff was in any way negligent. So, if the jury or judge finds that the plaintiff was 1% at fault and the defendant is 99% at fault, the defendant is absolved from any liability. Because of the inherent inequity that results from contributory negligence, it is not surprising that most states no longer apply this standard.
“Comparative Negligence” is the far more common standard applied in civil trials. There are two different standards for comparative negligence: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. States that apply the pure comparative negligence standard, such as Florida, allow the plaintiff to recover any and all damages in proportion to the amount of fault assigned to the defendant. This means that even if the plaintiff is 99% at fault and the defendant 1% at fault, the plaintiff can recover 1% of the damages from the defendant.
More states, however, apply a modified comparative fault standard to these types of claims. The modified comparative fault standard is also divided into two categories known as either the 50% or 51% rule. In states that apply the 50% rule, the plaintiff must show that his or her fault is 49% or less to recover damages. On the other hand, in states that apply the 51% rule, the plaintiff must show that his or her fault is less than 50% to recover damages.
The Tallahassee and Panama City personal injury lawyers at Scott & Wallace represent injured plaintiffs in a variety of civil matters. If you have questions about your case, do not hesitate to contact the Tallahassee and Panama City personal injury lawyers at Scott & Wallace for a free consultation.