When an accident happens, such as a car accident, the first question most people ask is who’s at fault. The law takes a similar approach, asking if the accident could have been prevented if someone had been more careful. The person who was careless, or “negligent,” is generally held liable for all of the costs. Negligence is simply a legal term for acting in a way that puts others at risk.
But what if both people were negligent? In that case, the victim may be considered to have contributed to the accident, known as contributory negligence, and it will affect how much (if any) money they can recover.
What is an example of contributory negligence?
Imagine that a pedestrian is crossing a street when they are hit by a vehicle. If they were in a legal crosswalk, and the driver of the vehicle broke a law or wasn’t paying attention, then the driver is the one who was negligent; the case is very straightforward.
Now imagine the opposite—imagine that the pedestrian ran suddenly across the street, at a place where there is no crosswalk at all. Now who’s at fault?
The driver may still have been negligent, if they were speeding or not paying attention to the road. But the pedestrian would probably never have been hit if they had looked both ways and crossed the road carefully. The driver (or their insurance company) would probably claim that the pedestrian’s actions contributed to the accident. This is a claim of contributory negligence.
Can I still win my case if there was contributory negligence?
Historically, contributory negligence meant that the victim got nothing at all—they were completely blocked from recovering damages because their injury was, effectively, viewed as their own fault.
However, this view has changed in the legal world. It’s not fair to block victims from recovering money just because they were partly at fault, especially when the other party was acting in a reckless way. That is why most states, including the state of Georgia, now use what is called “comparative” negligence.
Comparative negligence means that the court will weight the carelessness of both parties, and allow the victim to recover a portion of their costs, based on how much they were at fault. For example, with the pedestrian hit by the passing car, the court might find that the driver was 60% at fault and the pedestrian was 40% at fault. The pedestrian could then recover 60% of their costs from the driver’s insurance company.
Claims of contributory negligence are never good in a personal injury case, but because of Georgia’s comparative negligence rules, they aren’t the end of your case. It’s always worth talking to a lawyer about your injury claim, even if you may be partially at fault.
Have you been injured? John Foy & Associates offers a free consultation with some of the most experienced and respected personal injury lawyers in Georgia. Fill out the form to your right or call us at 404-400-4000 to get your FREE consultation today.