How Contributory Negligence Works In Auto Accidents

Law Blog

Four states and the District of Columbia still make use of pure contributory negligence when deciding an auto accident case. Do you live in

  • Alabama,
  • Washington D.C.,
  • Maryland,
  • North Carolina,
  • or Virginia?

If so, you need to understand how contributory negligence works and how you can defend against it.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Often, a car accident isn't fully the fault of one party or the other. That shared liability can create a little confusion for those that attempt to recover damages. The way the courts handle partial fault can vary.

Jurisdictions that practice contributory negligence will seek to find who holds the most liability in the accident. If you hold any liability at all, you may lose the ability to claim damages in any amount.

Sometimes, there's room for some liability as some jurisdictions may give a cutoff point. For example, if you're found less than 10% liable, you can still sue for damages. Proving your lack of liability can represent the hard part.

Defenses for Contributory Negligence

Because of the "all or nothing" aspect of pure contributory negligence, you must prove the other party's negligence fully contributed to the accident. The need to clear yourself of all liability can make it a daunting task.

The best defense for someone attempting to claim damages is an airtight narrative. If you're in the right, then the proof is likely there to prove it. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to give a clear account when there's an accident. There's one main defense for contributory negligence known as the "last clear chance."

Last clear chance doctrine

Even if you have some liability, you can still recover damages if you can prove the other party had a last clear chance to avoid the accident. For example, consider if you didn't come to a full stop at a stop sign, but the other party didn't stop at their stop sign altogether.

If there's an accident, you can argue the other driver clearly saw you moving, despite your small amount of liability in the accident. That other driver clearly had a last clear chance to stop their vehicle before colliding into you.

Seek Professional Guidance in Contributory Negligence States

Contributory negligence can come off as very harsh. That's why most of the country has moved away from it to, arguably, more fair comparative negligence methods. If you're in a jurisdiction that still practices contributory negligence, it's extremely important you seek the help of an auto accident attorney.

Your attorney will know more about how the laws and defenses for contributory negligence will work for your specific situation. Having help can make the difference between receiving the compensation you need to help with medical bills and lost wages, and you receiving absolutely nothing. Reach out to an attorney like Salley Law Firm PA for more information.


22 May 2017