Comparative Negligence: Meaning and Types

The idea of comparative negligence is used in law to assess the level of responsibility of each participant involved in an accident or incident. It is frequently applied in personal injury lawsuits if it is determined that both parties share some of the blame. Comparative negligence permits the division of blame among the parties and establishes the number of monetary damages that each party is entitled to receive.

Comparative negligence may affect your ability to obtain compensation for a personal injury lawsuit. When both participants in an accident are found to be at least somewhat at fault, the tort law known as comparative negligence helps divide the damages. Comparative negligence states that each party is responsible for an accident based on how much they personally contributed to its occurrence or severity.

What is the Meaning of Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence, commonly referred to as comparative fault, is a legal concept used in tort law to place the blame for an incident on one or more parties depending on the amount of negligence that each party was found to have contributed to the incident. In other words, the jury, judge, or insurance company will allocate a portion of the responsibility to both the wounded person and the defendant if they both contributed to the injury through negligence.

The idea of comparative negligence is important for determining how much compensation is given. States that adopt comparative negligence set a cap on how much harm a plaintiff can receive based on who is to blame. For instance, if the judge finds that the defendant bears 30% of the responsibility and that the plaintiff is 70% at fault, the plaintiff might only be entitled to 70% of the damages rather than the entire 100%. As there are various categories of comparative negligence, as we shall see, the number of damages awarded will depend on the state.

Example of Comparative Negligence

The severity of the accident victim's injuries was exacerbated by their failure to use a seatbelt. Given that the victim failed to take the necessary precautions to protect himself, this can occasionally be regarded as comparative negligence.

Due to a lack of compliance with established safety procedures or the use of appropriate safety gear, an employee sustains an injury at work. The company might be able to ask the courts to lower the employee's award of damages. This choice is made in light of the employee's alleged carelessness.

Without looking both ways before crossing the street, a pedestrian is struck by a car. Although the court may also take into account how much time the vehicle had to avoid the pedestrian, the pedestrian can be at fault in this situation.

Elements of Comparative Negligence

The defendant may use comparative negligence as a partial defense to responsibility if a plaintiff files a personal injury claim. The defendant would have to provide evidence of the following to prove comparative negligence −

  • The plaintiff was required to take steps to guard against injury.

  • The plaintiff did not proceed in a reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances as they were.

  • The injuries that gave rise to the case were partially or entirely due to the plaintiff's careless action.

Types of Comparative Negligence

Following are the major types of comparative negligence −

Pure Comparative Negligence

According to the pure comparative negligence rule, damages are given according to the amount of blame that the courts have assigned. Plaintiffs may pursue damages for the one percent of their claims for which they were not at fault, even if they were determined to be 99 percent at fault. The pure comparative negligence rule is now accepted in thirteen states.

Modified Comparative Negligence

The so-called modified comparative negligence principle is followed by most governments. Moreover, there are two variations of modified comparative negligence. The first is the 50 percent bar rule, which states that if the plaintiff is judged to be 50 percent or more at fault, they are not eligible to receive damages. The second is known as the "51 percent bar rule," which forbids the plaintiff from obtaining damages if they are found to be at least 51 percent at fault.

How Defendants Prove Comparative Negligence

The defendant is required to take the lead when making accusations of comparative negligence. Defendants typically need to demonstrate the following −

  • That there was a "duty of reasonable care" owed by the claimant to prevent harm.

  • The claimant failed in his or her duty of care or did not act properly.

  • The claimant's injuries were caused in part by the breach.

Even if the defendant is successful in establishing comparative negligence, they will still be required to contribute to the claimant's damages in proportion to their degree of fault. Also, depending on the level of negligence, the claimant's damages will be reduced.

If comparative negligence cannot be established, both the claimant and the defendant may be found responsible.

Comparative Negligence Defences in Personal Injury Cases

Plaintiffs in personal injury cases are initially required to establish the defendant's liability. They can do this by displaying −

  • The defendant had a duty of care.

  • The defendant breached this duty.

  • The damage was directly caused by the breach and was anticipated.

  • Plaintiff the harm suffered, the plaintiff experienced damages that are compensable.

If the defendant is unable to properly raise a defence after the plaintiff has met this burden, the defendant is considered responsible and must pay damages.

One such defence is comparative negligence. If the plaintiff was more than 50% or 51% at fault for the accident in a modified comparative fault state, it can either reduce the amount the defendant must pay or preclude the plaintiff from recovering at all.

Comparative Negligence Proof in Personal Injury Cases

Those who desire to use comparative negligence as a defence must demonstrate −

  • The claimant had a chance to take action to stop the accident.

  • The plaintiff was less careful than a hypothetically reasonable person would have been in protecting themselves from harm.

It can be challenging to determine the plaintiff's share of the blame. Both the plaintiff and defendant can receive aid from an expert lawyer in presenting the evidence that will settle this dispute.


There are various variations of the comparative negligence doctrine. The "pure" comparative negligence doctrine does not outright preclude a contributorily negligent person from receiving compensation; rather, it compares the degree of his negligence to that of the other parties at fault and reduces his compensation in proportion to the amount of negligence that his negligence contributed to the injury.


Q1. What is another word for comparative negligence?

Ans. Comparative negligence is a legal defence that limits the number of damages that a plaintiff can receive in a negligence-based claim based on the extent to which their own negligence contributed to the harm. Comparative negligence is also known as non-absolute contributory negligence outside of the United States.

Q2. Is comparative negligence a good defense?

Ans. Contributory and comparative negligence are two of the most effective defenses. These defenses enable a jury or judge to weigh the proportion to which a plaintiff is to blame for an accident, as opposed to just a defendant.

Q3. Who has the burden of proof in comparative negligence?

Ans. The defendant has the duty of demonstrating that a nonzero percentage of fault is properly allocated to the plaintiff, just as the plaintiff is required to prove the defendant's carelessness.

Q4. What is the verdict in comparative negligence?

Ans. Regardless of the plaintiff's level of direct responsibility for the accident, a pure comparative negligence system ensures that a negligent plaintiff will obtain damages from a negligent defendant. The plaintiff's overall damages under the pure form are diminished in accordance with the degree of his carelessness.

Q5. What is the 50 percent rule in comparative negligence?

Ans. The 50% Rule for Modified Comparative Negligence. Because you cannot be compensated for your own harm if you are 50% or more to blame for an accident, this idea is also known as the "50% bar rule." If your proportion of fault is less than 50%, you are eligible to get damages less that amount.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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