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Overview of Contributory Negligence

This overview of contributory negligence is intended to provide potential claimants with a more comprehensive knowledge of contributory negligence in personal injury compensation claims and its impact on the value of a settlement. Contributory negligence is a term which has two meanings in terms of pursuing a claim for compensation: it can refer to either the contribution a claimant has made to their own injury – either when sustaining it or by exacerbating it – or where several parties (not including the claimant) is responsible for an injury or the deterioration of a condition. Claimants who have contributed in some way to their own injury can be penalised for contributory negligence by having to forfeit some of their award.

Accidents for which you were partly at fault are referred to as “First Party Negligence”, while “Third Party Negligence” is the name given to an instance where two or more parties are responsible for an accident.

How Claimants May Have Contributed to an Accident

As a term with dual meanings, an overview of contributory negligence can help a claimant to understand the differences between the two. Here is an example of first party contributory negligence:

If a carpenter is injured when a piece of equipment at work overheats they are entitled to claim compensation for their injuries. However, if the piece of equipment that caused the injury regularly overheated and the employee failed to report it to management, they may be deemed partly liable for their injuries as they used a piece of equipment that they knew to be faulty and in doing so knowingly put their health and safety at risk.

Although the injured worker would still be entitled to some compensation, they would be penalised for contributory negligence, with their own carelessness reflected in their compensation package. The personal injury compensation that the worker would receive reflects their employer’s failure in their duty of care towards their staff.

Ways Claimants May Have Contributed to Your Own Injury

An overview of contributory negligence tells that not only can a person be penalised for contributory negligence for not taking care in avoiding potential hazards – they can also be penalised for failing to seek proper medical attention after the accident has occurred. Although in most cases common sense would prevail and the injured party would visit the nearest Accident and Emergency department without delay, some accident victims choose not to receive proper medical attention and settle for first aid at the scene or simply do not seek treatment – in these circumstances a defendant may claim that the victim exacerbated their injuries by not seeking treatment immediately, which could lead to the award being downsized to reflect the claimant’s carelessness.

An example of when a person pursuing a claim for compensation would be if a furniture deliveryman hurt his back in in a manual handling incident in which the employer was to blame and instead of immediately seeking medical attention they carried on working until the pain prevented them from continuing. In this case the employee could be considered to have exacerbated their injury by continuing to work on with an injury – their personal injury compensation package would be reduced to reflect this.

Grey Area in Contributory Negligence and Pursuing a Claim for Compensation

While the examples above are relatively clear-cut cases and provide a useful overview of contributory negligence, reference should also be made to the grey area that exists in contributory negligence, where potential claimants often ask themselves “Was it my fault? Wasn’t it my fault?”

Instances can arise when pursuing a claim for compensation where the person a claimant is claiming against believes that they contributed to their own injuries – when in fact, they did not. Here is an example of this so-called “grey area” where a claimant is not penalised: if a person shopping in their local supermarket slips on a brightly-coloured blue liquid, fracturing their wrist, they will be entitled to compensation, though the supermarket’s management may contest the claim. The supermarket’s management may claim that the liquid should have been obvious to spot because of its colour. Should they chose to make this case however, they would be implying that they do not encourage shoppers to browse their shelves as part of their marketing strategy – meaning they would be less likely to noticed the puddle on the ground.

Provided that the claimant had sought medical attention as soon as possible they would not be penalised for contributory negligence and their claim for personal injury compensation would proceed unhindered.

How Being Penalised for Contributory Negligence Affects Special Damages

As part of an overview of contributory negligence it should be pointed out that a person pursuing a claim for compensation may also see their special damages – the portion of the settlement which considers quantifiable expenses – reduced as a result of their carelessness. For example of a claimant is found to be 40 percent responsible for their injuries they will only receive 60 percent of the total value of their special damages.

The significance of being penalised for contributory negligence when it comes to special damages is that it is the portion of a claimant’s settlement that includes compensation for missed earnings – meaning that if they are found to be 40 percent responsible for their injuries they will have to live on 40 percent less income. As well as that, any state benefits the claimant had claimed in the period before being awarded the settlement will have to be paid back in their entirety – meaning a further reduction in the size of the personal injury compensation award.

When Multiple Third Parties are Involved in Personal Injury Compensation Claims

As mentioned at the beginning of the overview of contributory negligence, the term has two meanings – also referring to an instance in which more than one third party is responsible for a claimant’s injuries. An example of when one or more third parties is at fault for an accident is when a claimant is injured in a car accident after their car was impacted by another vehicle; after that a third car collides with the two having not left themselves enough time to brake. The first driver caused the accident by not paying attention to the road, while the second car was also partly to blame – for not leaving enough time to brake.

The involvement of multiple third parties in an accident does not affect your entitlement to personal injury compensation – however it does mean that the claim may take longer to resolve as the insurance companies of both negligent parties will have to negotiate which was most at fault.

If you are involved in pursuing a claim for compensation where more than one negligent party is involved you should speak to a solicitor immediately. If a delay caused by ongoing negotiations is likely to impact you financially you can speak to a solicitor about the possibility of arranging interim payments until liability is agreed.

Overview of Contributory Negligence – Summary

Any personal injury compensation claim where an element of contributory negligence is involved is likely to take longer to resolve. It is always better to let a solicitor know if contributory negligence is likely to factor when pursuing a claim for compensation.

If you are unsure whether or not you could be penalised for contributory negligence you should consult a solicitor immediately.