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How Comparative Negligence Works

In this article in our series on proportionate responsibility, we're going to examine how comparative negligence works. Proportionate responsibility is ultimately about how courts address cases where the plaintiff himself is found to have actually contributed to the incident.

In states where proportionate responsibility is awarded based on comparative negligence, if the defendant is found to be even one perfect at fault, the case will continue forward. In this article, we will discuss comparative negligence and how it can affect your case.


Questions answered on this page:

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


Don't leave until you've checked out our popular Comprehensive Guide to Personal Injury Law to get a full rundown on this area of jurisprudence.

How comparative negligence works in personal injury cases.

In some states where contributory-negligence is used for determining fault, if an accident victim had even 1% of fault for the incident, a judge will kick the case out of court entirely. However, in states that have comparative negligence, the court allows jury to assign fault to the plaintiffs. Even, if the plaintiff is found to be 99% responsible, they are still able to recover proportionally from the defendant. These states, which include California, Florida, and New York, only bar a plaintiff from recovering any money if he's totally and completely at fault for the accident.

However, in states like Texas, a court will proportionally reduce a plaintiff's award up until the jury finds the plaintiff contributed 51% to the accident, after which the plaintiff's case must be dismissed.

The ideas behind comparative negligence.

The states that apply this doctrine follow the principle that people who get hurt still have the right to hold wrongdoers responsible even though they themselves helped cause a majority of their injuries. In part, this is to encourage folks who might otherwise be scared to file claims to pursue them anyhow. Further, there's simple justice at issue: someone caused a percentage of fault for the accident, and they shouldn't be able to walk away scot-free just because the plaintiff contributed to his or her accident.

Again, Texas doesn't apply comparative negligence. We believe that this is the most just system, but the Texas Legislature adopted the modified comparative fault approach at the behest of business lobbyists.

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