Contributory negligence is when an injured person is found partially responsible for their own injuries.

Contributory negligence is a common defence strategy in personal injury claims. Lawyers for the defendant (the person or organisation accused of causing the injuries) will often argue that the claimant (the injured person) was also at fault.

In personal injury claims, the claimant must prove the defendant was responsible for their injury, while the defendant has the burden of proving contributory negligence. To prove contributory negligence, they must demonstrate the following:

  • There was a failure on the part of the claimant to take reasonable care for their own safety;
  • This caused or contributed to the injury; and
  • Harm to the claimant was reasonably foreseeable.


How contributory negligence affects personal injury claims

In cases where contributory negligence is successfully argued, the court will deduct a percentage of the compensation that the defendant is ordered to pay the claimant.

The amount deducted depends on what the court feels is reasonable, but is quite often a significant proportion of the claimant's damages. For example, if a claimant is found to be 50 per cent liable (legally responsible) for their own injuries, the compensation they receive will be reduced by 50 per cent.

The defendant is required to provide evidence in support of any contributory negligence allegations, and propose a percentage split in liability. The claimant’s solicitor then reviews and assesses this evidence and advises their client on whether they think the contributory negligence allegations will succeed. If they do think these allegations will succeed, they will advise whether the proposed split is reasonable, or if a lower percentage split should be put forward.

If the parties to a claim where there is an allegation of contributory negligence cannot agree, a judge at court will review the evidence and decide what (if any) split in liability is appropriate.

Given the potential impact that a successful argument of contributory negligence could have, it is important that you select a specialist personal injury lawyer to represent you.


Contributory negligence examples

Contributory negligence can be a complex issue, but a simple example of this is in road traffic accident claims where the claimant has failed to wear a seatbelt.

The court will deduct 25 per cent for contributory negligence if it’s agreed the claimant would not have suffered any injury had they been wearing a seatbelt.

If the claimant would have still suffered an injury even if they had been wearing a seatbelt, but the injury would have been less severe, the deduction would be 15 per cent.

If the claimant's failure to wear a seatbelt wouldn’t have made any difference to their injuries, no deduction for contributory negligence will be made.

Medical expert evidence may be required to determine whether wearing a seatbelt would have made any difference to the claimant's injuries. In more serious cases, specialist expert evidence such as accident reconstruction evidence may be needed.


Contributory negligence case

The claimant, a learning assistant at a school, was using a chair to stand on a table to set up a display on a classroom wall. She fell as she was making her way down from the table on to the chair, and subsequently made an accident at work claim.

The defendant (the claimant’s employer) alleged substantial contributory negligence, saying that the claimant failed to use step ladders that she knew were readily available to her.

Witnesses supported the claimant’s argument that it was common practice to use chairs and tables, and they weren't aware of step ladders being made available. Nevertheless, the judge determined that she was 20 per cent liable and deducted that amount from her award.


Our personal injury lawyers

At Thompsons Solicitors, we are experts in personal injury claims.

We are highly experienced in cases involving contributory negligence, and will fight for you to get the best possible terms to maximise your compensation.

We may also be able to help if you are being represented by another law firm that does not have sufficient experience of contributory negligence cases. You can change your lawyer during a personal injury claim, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Request a call back today or call us on 0800 0 224 224 to discuss your case.