Asked in Personal Injury for District of Columbia

Q: What is comparative negligence?

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1 Lawyer Answer
David Benowitz
David Benowitz
  • Washington, DC
  • Licensed in District of Columbia

A: Traditionally, a finding that a plaintiff’s negligence contributed in any way to his injury completely barred any recovery of damages. Over time, states began to view this approach to contributory negligence as excessively harsh and unfair to plaintiffs and adopted the “comparative negligence” approach to contributory negligence.

Under this modern approach, there are two systems: pure comparative fault systems and modified comparative fault systems. In a pure comparative fault system, a plaintiff will always recover damages, even if she is 99% at fault. However, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by damages for which she is responsible. In states that use a modified comparative system, like the pure comparative fault system, a plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by damages for which she is responsible. But if the plaintiff’s negligence is assigned a greater percentage than the defendant’s fault (usually 50% or 51%), the plaintiff cannot recover any damages.

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