Contributory Negligence Laws in Personal Injury Claims

Copyright (c) 2010 Benjamin Glass

In the world of negligence laws there are two main types: comparative negligence and contributory negligence. While the majority of the U.S. states follow some form of comparative negligence law, 4 states and the District of Columbia still follow the antiquated contributory negligence law.

What is negligence in a personal injury claim?

Negligence is the action or inaction that causes harm to another party. When a person fails to act in a reasonable manner, or acts in a manner that a reasonable person would not, and causes damages to another it is considered negligence.

In a personal injury claim negligence is when someone else’s influence causes you to be involved in an accident that results in your injury. Car accidents and slip and fall accidents are typical types of accidents resulting in a personal injury claim. As long as the actions of the other driver in a car accident or the property owner in a slip and fall were the cause of your injuries, that constitutes negligence and can result in your right to file a personal injury claim.

Medical malpractice and worksite injuries are also types of negligence, although they result in medical malpractice claims and Workers’ Compensation claims, rather than general personal injury claims.


Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

The type of negligence laws your state follows is critical to how to approach the filing and settlement of your personal injury claim. In a comparative negligence case you can be found to be partially at fault for the accident and still recover damages, although the amount you can recover will be reduced by your degree of fault.

In contributory negligence claims you cannot be found to be at fault for the accident at all in order to recover damages. This means your evidence in your personal injury claim must support that the other party was completely at fault for the accident and your injuries. If you are even found to be 1% at fault you will be unable to claim damages.

The majority of U.S. states follow comparative negligence, allowing victims who were partially at fault to still recover some compensation for their injuries. These states may have a pure comparative negligence rule, meaning a victim can be 99% at fault but still recover 1% of the settlement. Most states follow a modified rule, either 50% or 51% that allows a victim to be 49% or 50% at fault before being unable to collect partial settlement.

The Contributory Negligence States

Only 4 U.S. states and the District of Columbia follow the contributory negligence rule for a personal injury claim. These states include Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, and Maryland. If you are an accident victim in one of these states you will have to present solid evidence that you were in no way responsible for the accident and your resulting injuries.

Filing a successful personal injury claim in these states can be extremely difficult for a victim of a serious injury. All the defending party has to do is find some minor way in which you contributed to the accident and your claim may be dismissed altogether. In filing a personal injury claim in a state where they follow the contributory negligence rule, it is best to work with an experienced personal injury attorney to help you potentially avoid having your claim denied.

Ben Glass is a personal injury attorney in Fairfax, Virginia. He is a frequent speaker on personal injury topics. Accident victims can download 31 Tips for Handling Your Own Virginia Accident Case at
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