Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence In All 50 States


A passenger was killed, and two others were injured, when their car collided with a tractor-trailer recently in northern Minnesota. The car apparently ran a stop sign before crashing into the large truck, whose driver was not injured. However, a 19-year-old passenger in the car was killed, and the driver and one other passenger suffered serious injuries. Accidents such as this are heartbreaking, but the involved parties must eventually figure out who was at fault to award compensation. There are two types of negligence laws states follow to determine liability ― contributory negligence and comparative negligence. Understanding the differences between the two, and which law your state follows, is important to recovery after a catastrophic accident.

Contributory negligence

Contributory negligence laws prohibit accident victims from recovering any damages if they are found to be even one percent at fault. This is the strictest negligence rule, and only a few states adhere to it (i.e., Alabama, Maryland, District of Columbia, North Carolina and Virginia).

Pure comparative negligence

Pure comparative negligence laws allow accident victims to recover damages no matter who was at fault, but each party’s damages are reduced by their degree of fault. For example, if you were injured in a crash and found to be 99 percent at fault, you can only receive one percent of the damages you are entitled to. The states that follow this rule are Washington, South Dakota, Rhode Island, New York, New Mexico, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida, California, Arizona and Alaska.

Modified comparative negligence

Modified comparative negligence bars accident victims from recovering damages if they are found to be a certain percent at fault. There are two levels of modified comparative negligence: 50 percent and 51 percent. In states that follow a 50 percent modified comparative negligence rule, you cannot receive any damages if you are found to be 50 percent or more at fault for the accident. If you are 49 percent or less at fault, your damages are reduced by your degree of fault. For example, if you are found to be 20 percent at fault, you can receive 80 percent of the damages you are entitled to. The states that adhere to a 50 percent threshold are ― West Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Nebraska, Maine, Kansas, Idaho, Georgia, Colorado and Arkansas. The remaining states, including Minnesota, bar damages once you are 51 percent at fault.

The outcome of your case depends on what state your accident happened in. If you suffered severe injuries, as often happens with crashes involving trucks and buses, getting the maximum compensation possible is vital to covering all of your expenses incurred as a result of the accident.