Contributory negligence is a legal term that can be a defence for a person who is injured but is also partly to blame. In personal injury claims, the first hurdle is proving liability (assigning blame). The goal is to prove that the defendant is at fault for the accident.

After notification of a claim is made to the defendant, a period of time is provided for an investigation, after which the defendant must respond to the allegations.

The response can be:

1. Admission of full blame for the accident

2. Denial of any blame for the accident

3. Admission of partial blame for the accident, whilst also alleging that the claimant shares in the blame. This is contributory negligence.

Why might a defendant allege contributory negligence for personal injury?

By alleging contributory negligence, the defendant proposes that liability is split. It is typically expressed as a percentage – for example, they might allege that blame is shared equally, or 50-50. A split can be equal, or it can be in favour of either party, so it can occur that the claimant is more to blame than the defendant.

These allegations can come from many circumstances. Sometimes, an accident may appear straightforward, but the defendant may allege that the claimant failed to look out for their own safety and thus contributed to the accident.

Contributory negligence examples

Let’s look at a hypothetical incident where a car hits a pedestrian who is crossing the road. At a glance, it would seem the driver is completely at fault because they should have seen the pedestrian in the road. However, the defendant may argue that the pedestrian failed to look properly before stepping into the road. They could also claim that the claimant chose an unsafe place to cross.

Other things that might lead to an allegation of contributory negligence include:

  • The claimant being under the influence of alcohol
  • The claimant was rushing and chose to take a risk
  • The claimant was not wearing appropriate footwear

The decision about whether there was contributory negligence will come down to both sides providing evidence and presenting their argument.

How is the compensation amount affected by contributory negligence?

If contributory negligence is successfully argued in a personal injury case, the compensation the claimant receives will be reduced by the same percentage that they are found to have been responsible. In other words, if a claimant is found to be 50% to blame for the accident, their compensation will be reduced by 50%.

When a defendant makes an allegation of contributory negligence, the onus is on them to provide supporting evidence. This evidence would be assessed by the claimant’s solicitor, who will then advise on whether the proposed percentage of blame is reasonable or whether they should push for a more favourable split. If the issue cannot be resolved by the solicitors, it would have to be brought before a judge at court. The judge would review the evidence and make the final decision about a split in liability.

The potential impact a successful allegation of contributory negligence can have on the injured party’s compensation is significant. This is why it is essential that the claimant gets professional advice from a specialist personal injury solicitor. This will ensure they are fully advised of the relevant issues and can get the appropriate split if necessary.

Mulderrigs Solicitors can help with this, even if you feel you were partly to blame for your accident. Contact us today and tell us about your claim.