News and Events

What is Contributory Negligence?

View profile for Stuart Andrews
  • Posted
  • Author

Personal Injury claims give rise to many novel and complex legal arguments.  There is a common misconception that liability disputes in such claims are easily resolved and that prevailing theory has led over the years to increasingly restrictive fixed costs regimes. 

However, in our experience, there are many circumstances where it can be difficult to establish who is to blame for a Claimant’s loss or damages.

For example, if a driver knocks down a pedestrian on the road, it might seem reasonable to blame the driver for the accident.  Imagine a situation however, where the pedestrian ran out into busy traffic without warning, was preoccupied on their mobile phone or failed to take heed of quickly approaching traffic.  In these scenarios, the usual assumptions about who was to blame might be turned on their head. 

Contributory negligence is based on the concept that in some cases, the Claimant is partially at fault or a contributor to the accident which caused their injuries. Whilst the Claimant may not have been responsible for the accident itself, they may have contributed to it and the Court will take this into account when assessing damages.

Section 1 of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, provides for the apportionment of loss where the negligence of both the Claimant and the Defendant have contributed to the damage suffered. 

Below are some examples of where findings of contributory negligence may be made:

  • A driver or passenger who fails to wear a seatbelt
  • Not wearing PPE in a dangerous role at work
  • A cyclist or motorcyclist who fails to use a helmet
  • Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when driving
  • Running out into oncoming traffic
  • Crossing the road from an unsafe position where a pedestrian crossing is close by.

Contributory negligence is important for two main reasons:

  1. An admission of liability does not mean that the Defendant cannot argue that the Claimant has contributed to the accident.  Even where a Defendant has admitted liability, it does not mean the Claimant will always receive 100% of their damages.
  2. The percentage by which the Claimant is found to have contributed to the accident is the percentage deducted from the Claimant’s compensation.  For example, if the Claimant is 25% to blame, 25% of their gross compensation would be deducted from the damages awarded.  Therefore, the higher the value of the claim, the bigger that deduction will be.

If an allegation of contributory negligence is made, the onus is on the Defendant to prove the same and they would need to successfully demonstrate that the Claimant contributed to their own misfortune.  Our expert lawyers at Bell Lax have a wealth of experience of reviewing and evaluating such evidence in order to advise our clients on whether the allegations are reasonable, and if at all, by what percentage we would expect the Court to reduce the damages awarded.

A successful argument of contributory negligence could have a great effect on the extent of the compensation recovered.  In Catastrophic and Serious Injury claims where damages may run into the many millions of pounds a 20% deduction for contributory negligence would represent many hundreds of thousands of pounds which the Claimant might require for essentials such as future professional care and therapy.  For this reason, it is essential that advice is sought from a specialist personal injury lawyer.

At Bell Lax we have experienced personal injury and clinical negligence lawyers who regularly tackle arguments of contributory negligence raised by Defendants and who will fight your corner to ensure that you achieve the best possible outcome for your claim. 

If you or someone you care about has sustained an injury as a result of an accident or clinical negligence, please feel free to contact one of our specialist lawyers for a free no-obligation discussion on 0121 355 0011.