What Is the Difference Between Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence?

Negligence is the legal doctrine on which claimants base most personal injury lawsuits. It describes a party’s breach of duty of care in connection with the victim’s injury. Different states have passed different negligence laws. Some bar a victim from any recovery for contributing to an accident while others simply reduce the victim’s award. When questions of a victim’s possible contribution to an accident arise, a state will use either contributory negligence or comparative negligence laws. It is important to know which doctrine your state uses, as it could significantly impact your recovery.

Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence

The vast majority of states use comparative negligence laws, not contributory. In a comparative negligence state, a victim’s partial contribution to an accident will not bar him or her from recovery entirely. Instead, the courts may limit his or her recovery by the plaintiff’s degree of fault. If the courts find you 25% responsible for causing your injury due to your actions or behaviors, for example, you might receive 25% less in compensation for your damages than you would otherwise have recovered. A $100,000 compensatory award would fall to $75,000 in this example ($100,000 – [$100,000 x 25%] = $75,000).

In a pure comparative negligence state, the courts can assign a victim any percentage of fault under 100% and he or she would still be eligible for at least partial recovery. Even at 99% of fault, the plaintiff could recover the remaining 1% of a compensatory award. Many states, however, use modified comparative negligence laws. These states place percentage caps on a plaintiff’s fault. If the courts believe the injured party’s fault is above the cut-off amount, he or she will lose all right to recover. Modified comparative negligence states typically cap fault at 49% to 51%. In a 49% state, for example, a plaintiff would receive $0 if found 50% at fault for the accident.

Contributory negligence states take a stricter approach to a plaintiff’s negligence. If the courts in a contributory negligence state find a plaintiff even 1% at fault, he or she will be ineligible for any financial recovery. Contributory negligence states do not use a percentage sliding scale – they bar a victim from recovery completely if the defendant is not 100% at fault. Luckily, most states have ruled contributory negligence laws to be unfair or unjust. Only five states in the US still use pure contributory negligence laws: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

What Is the Law in Arizona?

Arizona is a pure comparative negligence state (Arizona Revised Statute 12-2505). Unlike contributory negligence states, Arizona permits plaintiffs to recover if they share a part of the fault for an accident. The state’s modified comparative negligence law allows a plaintiff to recover despite any percentage of fault. The question of comparative negligence is one the jury will answer in Arizona. A jury will decide whether the comparative negligence defense is more likely to be true than not true. If the jury applies the comparative negligence defense, the jury will reduce the plaintiff’s money damages by an amount equivalent to his or her degree of fault, up to 99%.

How Can a Lawyer Help During a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

In a comparative negligence state such as Arizona, it is important to hire a Phoenix personal injury lawyer to help you minimize your percentage of fault. An attorney will understand Arizona’s comparative negligence laws and how to navigate them on your behalf. Your lawyer can combat the defendant’s comparative negligence defense with proof of the defendant’s majority share of the fault, if applicable.

A lawyer may be able to argue down your percentage of comparative negligence to help you obtain maximum financial recovery. Proving the defendant was 100% at fault for your accident and injuries using evidence such as accident reconstruction and expert witnesses could help you recover the greatest compensatory award possible. The right lawyer can help you make sense of Arizona’s comparative negligence law and how it may apply to your case.