comparative vs contributory negligence

Negligence is a legal theory that helps courts determine liability in many personal injury cases.

It’s generally defined as a failure to act with the level of care expected of a reasonable person under similar circumstances.

If an injured victim can prove negligence, they may be able to recover compensatory damages against the responsible party. 

However, what happens if the injured party is partly responsible for the accident? The ability to recover damages depends on whether that state follows a comparative vs. contributory negligence rule.

Below, the attorneys at the Cottrell Law Office explain the theories of comparative and contributory negligence and the legal options for injured parties under each scheme.

For information on your specific claim, contact us for a free case evaluation today.

The Four Elements of Negligence

Negligence is a common cause of action in personal injury cases. The elements of negligence are generally the same from one state to the next.

Thus, in Arkansas and Missouri, the four elements of the negligence cause of action are as follows: 

  • Duty—the responsible party owed the victim a duty of care to commit an act or refrain from committing an act;
  • Breach of duty—the responsible party breached this duty of care owed to the victim;
  • Causation—this breach of duty caused the accident and injury; and
  • Damages—the victim suffered actual damages.

A victim cannot recover compensation from the responsible party’s negligence without proving these four elements. 

What Is the Difference Between Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence?

Sometimes the responsible party will try to claim that the victim is partly to blame for their injuries, even if the victim proves negligence.

Whether an injured party can recover compensation in this context depends on whether their state follows a comparative or contributory negligence rule.

Contributory and Comparative Negligence Rules

There are important differences between comparative vs. contributory negligence.

The main difference between contributory and comparative negligence is that a state that follows a strict contributory negligence rule bars injured parties from collecting damages if they are found partially at fault for their injuries. 

Comparative negligence, on the other hand, does not automatically bar victims from collecting damages if they are found partially at fault.

Instead, a victim may be able to collect damages even if they contributed to the cause of the accident.

The injured party is typically assigned a percentage of fault, and their recovery is reduced or eliminated based on their level of fault. 

Whether a victim’s compensation is reduced or eliminated depends on that state’s nuances under these rules.

For example, Missouri follows a pure negligence rule, while Arkansas follows a modified comparative negligence rule. Both are described below.

Missouri’s Pure Comparative Negligence Rule

Missouri follows pure comparative negligence. The Missouri courts established the principle of pure comparative fault for personal injury matters, and Missouri’s legislature extended this rule to product liability actions. 

Under this rule, even if you are partly at fault for an accident, you can still receive compensation from the other responsible party.

The injured party’s recovery is reduced based on their percentage of fault. If they are 40% to blame for an accident, they can only recover 60% of their potential compensation.

This rule is “pure” comparative negligence because the injured person may collect damages even if they were more at fault than the other party.

Under a pure comparative negligence scheme, an injured person could be 99% responsible yet still be able to receive compensation from the other party for the 1%. 

Modified Comparative Negligence in Arkansas

Arkansas law has a modified comparative negligence rule.

In a pure comparative negligence state, a victim can be found 99% at fault in causing an accident and still have the right to recover the remaining 1%.

Arkansas, however, doesn’t allow someone who is equally or more at fault as another person to recover compensation.

This means that if an accident victim is 50% or more at fault for causing the accident, they cannot recover any damages in Arkansas.

However, if they’re 49% at fault, they can collect 51% of their damages from the more responsible party.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Depending on your state’s laws, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries, even if you are partly to blame for an accident.

If you have questions about how comparative vs. contributory negligence impacts your case, the Cottrell Law Office can help.

We handle all types of personal injury matters and have over 32 years of experience helping injured parties in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

You deserve peace of mind as you go through this challenging time. Please call or contact us online for a free consultation.

Author Photo

Wesley Cottrell

Wes Cottrell earned his B.A. from Pittsburg State University in 1981 and his J.D. from the Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas in 1985. He was admitted to practice law in Kansas in 1986, in Missouri in 1987, in Arkansas in 1989, and Oklahoma in 1993. He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.

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