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Published on February 3, 2024

What is the Difference Between Comparative and Contributory Negligence?

You might have heard the phrase, “that person was negligent” before. 

Well, those words have more of an impact on personal injury cases than you may think. Negligence is a critical element of all personal injury cases, since in most cases, there is usually a negligent party involved. 

For example, if someone named John owned a Pitbull that has a history of violent behavior, and then the dog ended up attacking your neighbor, John would be considered negligent. 

In a legal context, there are two different types of negligence, which are comparative and contributory negligence. So how do these types of negligence apply in a legal manner? Let’s learn more. 

Comparative Negligence

In simple words, comparative negligence is a legal defense strategy that reduces the amount of compensation that the injured party (the plaintiff) can obtain. 

The primary principle of this concept states that the negligence of each party is based upon their contributions to the accident. 

For instance, if Johnny is responsible for getting into a car accident with Felicia where she is injured, a lawyer may argue that Felicia’s injuries are worth $200,000. However, Felicia is also 25% responsible for the accident. 

So the principle of comparative negligence would imply that Felicia is only able to recover $150,000 in total compensation since the accident is 25% of her fault. 

It’s important to keep in mind that every state has its own laws that relate to comparative negligence, as each state has varied approaches to this legal principle. 

Contributory Negligence

As stated from Cornell Law School, contributory negligence does not allow plaintiffs to recover any compensation from the defendant if they were also negligent in causing harm. 

In other words, contributory negligence follows an “all or nothing” philosophy. So even if the plaintiff was 1% responsible for an accident, they aren’t allowed to gain any sort of compensation from the defendant. 

In most courts, contributory negligence has been deemed as controversial by eliminating this doctrine in favor of comparative negligence. 

The Main Differences

The main difference between comparative and contributory negligence is between the strictness of the approach. 

Comparative is a more flexible and fair system in the eyes of a jury, while contributory is a more strict system, according to most legal experts. 

According to an experienced personal injury attorney located in Seattle there are four elements of negligence, regardless of the type, that must be proven after an accident or injury, which are: 

  1. The Duty of Care
  2. The at-fault party failing to uphold the duty of care
  3. Negligent acts from the at-fault party causing your injury
  4. You suffering serious injuries due to the at-fault parties’ negligence

Based on these four elements, these all need to be proven in a court of law to prove negligence to the at-fault party. 

Stay Informed Today

Although you will likely never be in a place where you have to prove negligence in a court of law, it’s important to recognize how important both contributory and comparative negligence are in the world of personal injury law. 


As a reminder, comparative negligence determines compensation by a percentage, and contributory negligence follows an “all or nothing” philosophy. 

By comparing both of these philosophies, you can determine how important it is for you to be aware of these types of negligence in a court of law. 

And if you’re ever in a place where you want to bring a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent individual, you can ask your lawyer about how they intend to prove negligence to the court. 

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