Comparative Negligence in Civil Law

Most people would like to believe that the law is black and white, with no gray area. Unfortunately, however, most civil and criminal cases are a combination of fault, which lead to punishments and punitive damages. It is the responsibility of judges and juries in the United States to determine guilt and fault, and to assign punishment or responsibility where it is due. One aspect of the “gray area” of law is the concept of comparative negligence.

Comparative Negligence in Civil Law

Negligence is an Important Area of Law:

In a civil court case, one person (the plaintiff) is suing another (the defendant) for monetary damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Negligence is an important area of law which demonstrates how the actions (or inactions) of one person can cause physical or monetary loss for another. Civil law concerns itself with applying a monetary value to the damages sustained by the plaintiff.


Comparative negligence:

 Describes a situation in which two or more people are at fault in a situation. It is the responsibility of the court to decide who is more at fault, and to assign percentages of fault to each party involved.For example, let’s say that Bill and Sue are in an automobile accident. Bill was speeding down Highway 109 in his Ford truck when Sue made an illegal left turn across the highway to get to a gas station in her Nissan SUV. Both are ticketed at the scene of the accident by police officers – Bill for speeding; Sue for her illegal left turn – and Bill sues Sue in civil court for the damages to his truck. Sue counterclaims for the damage to her SUV.

Since both were at fault, the judge in the civil case must determine comparative negligence. Who was at the most fault for the accident, and how should the damages to the vehicles be divided?

You will find different comparative negligence laws in different states, each of which will determine how the burden is to be shared.

There are three basic ways that the states are divided.

Pure Contributory Negligence :

In five U.S. states, contributory negligence statutes decide these types of cases. With contributory negligence, the plaintiff is not entitled to any monetary damages at all if he or she is even 1% responsible for the situation. In other words, even if Bill was only 10% responsible for the accident above, he would not be able to collect damages from Sue.

Pure Comparative Negligence:

Thirteen U.S. states subscribe to the pure comparative negligence statute. In this case, it doesn’t matter how responsible one party is; if the other party is even 1% responsible, the first party can still collect that percentage of damages. For example, if Bill’s damages amounted to $1,000 and he was found to be 80% responsible, he could still collect 20% of the damages to his truck ($200.00).

Modified Comparative Negligence:

In thirty-two U.S. states, the modified comparative statute is used. This is a somewhat mitigated form of the pure comparative negligence statute in which the plaintiff can only collect damages from the defendant if he or she bears less than a certain percentage of the fault. For example, in a state where 50% is the limit, Bill could only collect damages from Sue if he was less than 50% responsible for the accident.

In all U.S. states, the judge will examine the evidence presented by both sides and assign a percentage of blame. He or she will then divide the monetary damages and award judgments as necessary.


Post Author: Ranee D. Kingston