A guide to contributory negligence

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Have you been injured in an accident where you were partly at fault? You may still be able to bring a claim for compensation even if the other party proves that you were partly to blame. This is known as contributory negligence.

A defendant will often seek to blame the injured person even when the underlying cause of the accident was the fault of the defendant.

What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence is when there is some amount of blame on the part of the injured person, which contributed to the accident or injury.

In practical terms that means if you were partly to blame, you could still recover compensation. If, for example, the judge finds you to be 25% to blame for an accident (25% contributory negligence or ‘contrib’ in the lawyers’ jargon), your damages will be reduced by 25%. If you would receive £10,000 at full liability with no contrib, you will receive £7,500.

Contributory negligence in accidents at work and disease claims

Contributory negligence can apply in accident at work and disease cases (e.g. asbestos, hearing loss etc). The principle remains that, even if you are partly to blame for an accident, you can still bring a successful claim. The courts have said:

Where the relevant legislation is designed expressly to protect the safety of employees, care must be taken not to classify every “risky act due to familiarity with the work or some inattention resulting from noise or strain” as contributory negligence.

That means judges should assess blame to reflect the reality of busy, noisy workplaces where people are carrying out tasks they have done hundreds of times before without a problem.

Contributory negligence in road traffic accidents

There can be a finding of contributory negligence in road traffic accidents, for instance when a pedestrian has crossed at a dangerous place in the road instead of using a nearby zebra crossing. In cases where a person has not used a seatbelt, there will normally be a reduction in damages of 25% where the seatbelt would have prevented the injury or 15% where the seatbelt would have reduced the impact of the incident (but not entirely).

Can I claim if I’m partly at fault for my injury?

Unite members should not be discouraged from making a claim for any sort of injury simply because they are or feel themselves to be partly at fault.

In workplace accidents, we can argue strongly against any substantial deduction for contrib. That is more the case where the worker has been involved in a repeated or mundane job and has simply had a moment of inattention. If the employer’s breach of duty is the main cause of the accident, there should be little or no reduction.

How much will I get in compensation if I’m partly at fault?

Typical findings are that the claimant is 25%, 33% or 50% to blame. If the claimant is less than 10% to blame, then contrib is not usually applied. A momentary lapse of attention or ‘mere inadvertence’ should not amount to contrib.

If you’re a Unite member and have been injured in an accident where you were partly at fault, contact Unite Legal Services on 0800 709 007 for free legal advice about making a claim.