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contributory vs comparative negligence

After an accident, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the person you believe was responsible for your injuries.

However, to succeed in bringing your claim, you must prove that the other party was negligent.

Typically, these cases are defended by the at-fault party’s insurance company.

Of course, the other party’s insurance company is unlikely to admit that their policyholder was negligent and, often, will attempt to shift responsibility for the accident onto you.

This is where concepts of comparative negligence and contributory negligence come into play.

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence in New York

In negligence cases, courts need to determine which accident victims are eligible to recover compensation from another party.

This involves assigning liability based on the negligent character of a party’s actions.

And when more than one party shares responsibility, we run into issues of comparative negligence and contributory negligence.

Historically, many states used a contributory negligence model, which prevents an accident victim from recovering any money if they share in any amount of blame for the accident.

Under this rule, if a judge or jury finds that you were 5% at fault for the accident, you are precluded from recovering any money from the other driver.

However, because the application of contributory fault principles is extremely harsh, many states, including New York, abandoned the contributory negligence framework in favor of the comparative negligence model.

Shift to Comparative Negligence

While there isn’t a strict comparative negligence definition, the doctrine permits those who share responsibility for the accident to recover compensation from other at-fault parties.

However, the accident victim’s total damages award will be reduced by their percentage of fault.

Let’s look at an example:

Say that Bob is driving 45 miles per hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. As he crosses into an intersection, Beth runs a red light and crashes into the side of Bob’s car.

Bob suffers $200,000 in damages as a result of the collision and sues Beth. The case goes to trial, and a jury finds that Sue was primarily responsible for the accident.

However, because Bob was speeding at the time, the jury determined he was 10% at fault for the accident.

In a contributory negligence state, Bob recovers nothing because he shared responsibility for the accident.

In a comparative negligence state, Bob will recover $180,000 of his $200,000 in total damages.

To arrive at this figure, the court takes the total damages amount of $200,000 and reduces it by his percentage of fault. Bob was 10% at fault, so he will collect $180,000.

Is New York a Comparative Negligence State?

Yes, New York is a comparative negligence state.

Thus, accident victims do not need to worry about being prevented from recovering for their injuries if they were partially—or even mostly—at fault for an accident.

For this reason, New Yorkers do not need to worry about comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence because contributory negligence does not apply.

The information provided on this page speaks in general terms. Of course, there are often exceptions that apply in certain situations.

For a complete list of all exceptions, please consult the Consolidated Laws of New York.

Attorney Naima is also happy to answer any questions you have about your injuries or ability to pursue a claim against the responsible party.

Were You Injured in a New York Accident?

If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in an accident and want to learn more about pursuing a legal claim, contact the Law Offices of Theodore A. Naima.

Attorney Naima has more than 25 years of experience helping accident victims and their families obtain the compensation they need and deserve following a serious injury.

To learn more and to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer about your case, call (516) 980-3096 to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation and confidential case evaluation.

Author Photo

Theodore A. Naima

Theodore A. Naima is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Theodore A. Naima, a Personal Injury & Medical Malpractice Law Firm based in New York. In 2015, Ted was awarded the prestigious AV Preeminent® rating from Martindale-Hubbell®, the company that has long been recognized as setting the gold standard for lawyer ratings, signifying the highest degree of peer recognition and professional excellence.

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