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How Does Contributory Negligence Work?

How Contributory Negligence Works

As we discussed on our main proportionate responsibility page, courts can lower the value of your case based on your contributions to the incident. One type of proportionate responsibility is known as contributory negligence. In this article, we'll explain how a court can potentially dismiss your case entirely based on the doctrine of "contributory negligence."

Questions answered on this page:

  • What is contributory negligence?
  • How does contributory negligence work?
  • What are the potential issues with contributory negligence, and how could it affect my case?
  • How can a lawyer help me in a case that is decided based on contributory negligence?

Have you visited our "Explaining The Basics of Personal Injury" page yet? If not, then click here.

The ideas behind contributory negligence.

Courts are designed to protect victims, whether they be victims of crimes, personal injuries, or even businesses wronged by another business. In a handful of states, like North Carolina and Maryland, the courts require that victims in civil cases arrive with completely "clean hands." Essentially this means the courts don't want to to award compensation to anyone who contributed to an accident in any way.

The idea behind this type of proportionate responsibility is based on the idea that the court system should only be available to "true victims,". Under this idea, it is considered a waste of the courts' resources to try to parse through a multitude of cases to decide who was more at fault than another.

Another thing to Keep in mind is that the decision of contributory negligence is ultimately decided by the jury. In states where cases go before a jury where verdicts are based on contributory negligence, if the jury finds the plaintiff (the person who brought the case) to be even at 1% at fault for the accident, the case will be dismissed.

The problems with contributory negligence.

To most people, it can seem wildly unfair that a person who suffered massive trauma and costly injuries should be denied any recovery simply because they were found to be even 1% at fault by the jury. After all, considering that no one is perfect, it seems harsh to be given the civil court equivalent of the death penalty for small mistakes.

Consider this scenario. If you're hit by a drunk driver that resulted in paralysis, millions of dollars worth of future medical care, and lost wages, you would be let without compensation if you were checking your phone right before you got hit. Sure, it may have been a simple mistake, but does it seem a just thing to deny your entire claim because a jury placed 5% of fault on you?

We don't think so, yet the states with contributory negligence haven't changed their laws in years. Contributory negligence isn't utilized in the state of Texas.

Grossman Law Offices Can Help Answer Your Questions

Thankfully, the courts and Legislature in Texas decided our state wouldn't have this doctrine as part of our code of laws. Rather, we have what's called "modified comparative fault." Under this idea of proportionate responsibility, we allow victims to recover when they are considered to be 50% or less responsible for the accident. If the jury finds that's the case, victims' awards are dropped commensurately. Therefore, a $1 million judgment would be reduced to $800,000 if the jury decided the plaintiff was 20% at fault.

If you or a loved one has been hurt, let the experienced attorneys at Grossman Law Offices in Dallas, TX help you with your case. Call us now at (855) 326-0000 for a free consultation. We're here to help explain your rights.

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