What Is Contributory Negligence in Law?

Geared motorcyclist

If you’re considering taking a motorcycle accident claim to court, you’ll want to be aware of all of the ways the defendant may argue against your claim. Contributory negligence is one defense strategy often brought up in motorcycle accident cases to reduce the amount of compensation you, the plaintiff, can receive. 

Read ahead to learn everything you need to know about contributory negligence and how it could affect your motorcycle accident case. 

What Is Contributory Negligence? 

Contributory negligence is a plaintiff’s neglect of their own safety in an accident. Defendants in accident cases often bring up contributory negligence as a defense of why the accident occurred. 

When insurance companies and judges determine how much compensation to award accident victims, they spend time understanding fault. Sometimes, one person is entirely at fault for an accident — such as when a drunk driver moves left of center and strikes another vehicle head-on. 

In some vehicle accident cases, both parties are at least partially at fault. States that use a contributory negligence policy can rule that if the plaintiff was at least partly responsible for the accident, they cannot receive any compensation. 

Examples of Contributory Negligence in Motorcycle Accident Cases

Let’s say Car A and Car B become involved in an accident. The driver of Car A was drunk and driving erratically. Car A turned out in front of Car B at an intersection, causing Car B to strike Car A. 

At first glance, you would assume that Car A was wholly responsible for the accident. However, police determined that Car B was speeding. The insurance company uses this information to decide Car B’s contributory negligence to the accident. 

Even though Car A shouldn’t have turned out in front of Car B, if Car B wasn’t speeding, it may have been able to stop in time to avoid the accident. 

Here’s another example that may hit closer to home for motorcyclists. Let’s say you become a victim of a motorcycle accident in which a car strikes you from behind. While this accident is the other driver’s fault, you were not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, resulting in a severe head injury. 

The insurance company may determine that while the accident was not your fault, your injuries are partially your fault. If you live in a contributory negligence state, the insurance company may reduce your compensation due to your partial responsibility for your injuries. 

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence 

Not every state uses a contributory negligence system to determine fault and damages in accident cases. Only the following states use a contributory negligence system: 

  • District of Columbia
  • Alabama
  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina

The other states use a comparative negligence system instead. Comparative negligence systems allow insurance companies to attribute a percentage of the accident fault to all parties involved — such as 30% fault to one party and 70% fault to the other. 

In a comparative negligence state, if an insurance company or judge rules that you were partially responsible, your compensation amount would correlate to your fault percentage. For example, if you were 30% at fault for the accident, the insurance company would award you 70% of your proven damages. 

How a Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Can Help

If you live in a contributory negligence state, you’ll want to have an experienced, professional lawyer on your side throughout your motorcycle accident case. Your attorney can: 

  • Help you gather evidence to support your claim
  • Represent you in court
  • Help convince the insurance company that you are not to blame for the accident
  • Provide legal guidance and advice

Contact our Law Tigers team today at 1-888-863-7216 to schedule your free case evaluation.