What is Comparative Negligence?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 07 February 2020
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Comparative negligence is the doctrine commonly applied in tort law when the victim's actions contributed in part to the incident causing the injury. In the United States, a person can sue another person whose negligent or intentional actions caused injury by bringing a tort lawsuit. The doctrine of comparative negligence reduces recovery in some tort lawsuits.

When someone intentionally or negligently injures a victim, the victim is entitled to recover damages that make them "whole" again. These damages include medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other such damages. To recover these damages, the victim sues the perpetrator of the injury for a tort, which is a civil suit.

Sometimes, however, the victim contributes to causing his own injury. For example, if a person is driving a car and not paying attention, he may be hit by another person who is not paying attention. The person who hit him may be primarily at fault, but the victim may also have played a role in causing the crash.

Comparative negligence allows a victim to recover part of his damages, if he is only partially responsible for contributing to his own injury. Comparative negligence has replaced contributory negligence as the standard in most jurisdictions throughout the United States. Contributory negligence was long the rule, and barred recovery entirely if the victim contributed to the cause of the injury.


Under contributory negligence, if a person was driving a vehicle negligently when he got hit, he would be entirely barred from recovery. This means even if the other driver was 99 percent responsible for the accident, the victim would be prevented from recovering because one percent of the fault was his. This doctrine fell out of favor, and has been replaced by comparative negligence.

Under comparative negligence, the jury determines the damages the victim incurred. The jury also determines the percentage of responsibility the victim must take on. For example, the jury may declare that the victim was 45 percent responsible for his own injury.

The damages that the defendant must pay to the victim is thus determined by both the determination of the damages and the determination of responsibility. For example, a jury may determine that a car accident victim is entitled to $100,000 in damages. The jury may also determine that the same victim is 50 percent responsible for his own injury. Thus, the victim is entitled to 50 percent of $100,000, or $50,000 in damages.


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