Comparative Negligence

Legal doctrine that assigns fault and reduces compensation based on the plaintiff's degree of responsibility for their own injury.
Comparative Negligence

Comparative Negligence is a legal doctrine that allows an injured plaintiff to recover damages from a negligent defendant even though the plaintiff was partially at fault for the accident or injury. This doctrine operates on the principle that the plaintiff’s damages should be proportionate to their degree of fault or negligence, ensuring a fair distribution of responsibility.

For example, suppose a plaintiff is found to be 35% at fault for an accident, and the defendant is 65% at fault. In such a case, the plaintiff can recover damages from the defendant, but the total award will be adjusted by 30% to account for the plaintiff’s contributory negligence.

Comparative negligence marks a significant shift from the harsher ‘contributory negligence’ doctrine. This doctrine, which once completely barred plaintiffs from recovering any damages if they were even slightly at fault, has been replaced by a more equitable system in most states. They have adopted some form of comparative negligence, either pure or modified, to better allocate fault and damages.

Comparative negligence operates with varying degrees of flexibility across jurisdictions. In pure comparative negligence states, plaintiffs can recover damages regardless of their percentage of fault. On the other hand, modified comparative negligence states impose a fault threshold, typically 50% or 51%, above which plaintiffs cannot recover.

At its core, comparative negligence is designed to foster a more balanced distribution of liability and damages. It does so by considering each party’s relative degree of negligence, thereby moving away from the binary ‘all-or-nothing’ approach.

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