comparative negligence

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Comparative negligence is a tort principle used by the court to reduce the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover in a negligence-based claim according to the degree of negligence each party contributed to the incident. Specifically, when an injured victim was partially at fault because of their own negligence, the court may assign a percentage of fault to both the injured victim and the defendant. For instance, if the court assigns 60% fault to the defendant and 40% to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may only recover 60% of the damages, rather than the full. 

There are two types of comparative negligence in the United States, as well as contributory negligence, so damages awarded vary from state to state.

Pure Comparative Negligence: 

Under the pure comparative negligence rule, the state allows the plaintiff to claim damages for the 1% they are not at fault even when they are 99% at fault. In other words, the amount of damages that the plaintiff can collect is limited based on the assigned fault determined by the court. Almost one-third of states follow this rule, including California, Florida, and New York.

Modified Comparative Negligence: 

Two types of modified comparative negligence exist: 50 percent bar rule and 51 percent bar rule.

  • Under the 50 percent bar rule: the plaintiff may not recover damages if they are found to be 50% or more at fault. 
  • Under the 51 percent bar rule: the plaintiff may not recover damages if they are assigned 51% or more of the fault. 

The modified comparative negligence principle is followed by the majority of states. 

Compare: Contributory Negligence

  • Under the contributory negligence rule, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages if they contributed in any way to the incident. In other words, the state recognizing contributory negligence rule prevents the plaintiff from collecting damages even when they were found to only be 1% negligent. Only four states and the District of Columbia recognize the contributory negligence rule: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. 

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team