When it comes to personal injury cases, it’s worth knowing about contributory negligence. If you have been injured because of someone else’s negligence, a court will look at the issue of contributory negligence before deciding if you are entitled to damages, and if you are, how much you should receive.
What is contributory negligence?
If you are in danger of being injured, the law requires you to do what is reasonable to avoid being injured, even if it’s because of someone else’s negligence.
For example, if you’re watching a cricket match and the batsman hits the ball in your direction, it would be reasonable that you put your hands up, or duck, to try and stop the ball from hitting you in the head. If you don’t put up your hands and the ball hits you in the head, you may have contributed to your own injury: contributory negligence.
Here are some other examples of contributory negligence:
- If you were a passenger in a car that was in an accident and you weren’t wearing a seatbelt.
- If you get into a car with a driver who you know is drunk or under the influence of drugs.
In both of these cases, you would still be entitled to make a personal injury claim, but the award of damages will be reduced. The court may decide this, or the parties may agree on a reduced amount.
Negligence and contributory negligence
Contributory negligence is governed by the same legal principles as negligence. That is:
- Whether the person who caused the injury (the defendant) owed the injured person a duty of care.
- Whether the defendant breached that duty.
- Whether the injured person suffered injury or loss.
- Whether this was a result of the duty of care.
A court will use these principles to work out whether there has been contributory negligence.
Reduction in damages
The law will assume that there has been contributory negligence where the injured person:
- Was intoxicated; or
- Was relying on the care and skill of a person who they knew was intoxicated; or
- Failed to wear a seatbelt; or
- Didn’t wear a safety helmet; or
- Was a passenger in or on a motor vehicle with a passenger compartment, but was not in the passenger compartment at the time of the accident.
This means that any damages that can potentially be awarded to the injured person are reduced. In any of the circumstances above, the law requires a reduction of 25 percent. This is known as a statutory reduction.
For example, let’s say that a person is injured in a car accident but they weren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. They may be awarded $100,000 in damages but the law requires a statutory reduction of 25 percent. This means that the most the person will receive is $75,000 in damages.
If an injured person in a car accident has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more, or if they are so drunk that they can’t exercise effective control of the car, the statutory reduction will be 50 percent. This also applies in situations where an injured person is a passenger in a car driven by a person who has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or who is incapable of effectively controlling the car.
It’s important to understand how contributory negligence will affect your personal injury claim. That’s why you need good legal advice from an experienced compensation lawyer who is also great at explaining everything to you.