Contributory negligence is essentially a breach of the legal duty that a person has to protect oneself from damage or injury. It is a rule followed by a few states including Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. The contributory negligence defense against a personal injury claim can be used when the actions of that injured person together with the other driver’s (the tort-feasor’s) actions caused his own damage or injury.
Any such percentage of fault found against the injured person is enough to completely bar the personal injury claim; even if it is only one percent. In other words, if a Defendant is able to prove that the Plaintiff failed to use reasonable care for his own safety, and that failure contributed to causing the accident, then the Plaintiff will get no money from the Defendant.
Since it is so difficult for a driver to be found completely blameless in an accident, the same states that follow the contributory rule also have such exceptions as the boulevard rule and the last clear chance rule. Please see those specific pages for clarification on those exceptions.
An example of a contributory negligence case would be the following: Jill is stopped at a stop sign at an intersection on a dark and rainy night. Jill looks both ways and sees no other traffic coming from either direction, so she pulls onto the intersecting road. She is immediately struck in the left side by Jack whom she had been unable to see prior to the collision because he did not have his headlights on. In this case, Jill would be negligent as a matter of law because she had a stop sign and Jack had none. However, if it is indeed proven that Jack did not have his headlights on and that Jill would have been able to see him if he had, thus causing her to stay at her stop sign, then Jill’s insurance carrier would be able to deny Jack’s damages and personal injury claim because his negligence contributed to this accident.
On a side note, if either Jack or Jill had passengers who were injured in this accident, those passengers could pursue personal injury claims against either or both of their insurance carriers since both drivers' actions contributed to the accident and the resulting injuries.
This article is written for informational purposes and is not intended to take the place of competent local legal counsel.
Other articles discussing liability and negligence issues:
An Explanation of the Assumed Risk Rule
The Boulevard Rule Explained
An Explanation of Comparative Negligence
Dram Shop Laws
The Intentional Act Exclusion Explained
An Explanation of the Joint and Several Rule
The Last Clear Chance Rule
The Responsibility to Mitigate Your Damages
Negligent Entrustment Explained
The Black Box in Your Vehicle
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