top of page
  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger

Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence - Understanding the Differences

Accidents happen every day. Unfortunately, people often sustain injuries and suffer significant material losses when they occur.

However, these incidents are commonly caused by third parties. Who is responsible for the injuries and losses in these cases?

When a person files a personal injury claim for an accident caused by someone else's actions, the terms "contributory negligence" and "comparative negligence" often emerge.

It is essential to understand the differences between comparative and contributory negligence to optimize a personal injury claim and recover fair compensation.

In this "Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence" article, readers can find an overview of how these doctrines work in Dallas, Texas.

Understanding How Negligence Claims Work in Texas

Understanding How Negligence Claims Work in Texas

The term "negligence" describes conduct that involves an unreasonable and avoidable risk of harm to others.

If a negligent individual's actions cause damage to other people, they are legally responsible for their injuries and financial losses.

In Texas, most personal injury cases are based on the law of negligence, so plaintiffs must prove the following elements:

  • Duty of care, which states that a person owes a duty of care to others

  • Breach, which means the at-fault party breached that duty of care in some way

  • Causation, which requires injured parties to prove that the other person's breach of duty caused their harm

  • Damages, which means injured people must demonstrate that the injuries they sustain incur damages

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Pure contributory negligence is a strict doctrine stating that anyone who contributes to an accident cannot recover compensation, even if the contribution is minimal.

Due to the contributory negligence rule, a victim found 5% responsible for an accident has no chance of recovering compensation for damages or injuries.

However, many states recognize that the contributory negligence system is impractical and unfair, so they adopt another doctrine – comparative negligence.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

The comparative negligence doctrine allows injured people to recover at least a portion of their financial damages even if they are partially at fault for the accident.

Overall, the amount of compensation that victims can receive often includes lost wages, medical bills, and other recoverable damages. However, the percentage of blame that they share must be deducted.

If an injured person earns $200,000 in damages, but the jury finds that they are 10% responsible for the accident, the compensation will be $180,000, for example.

Types of Comparative Negligence

There are two types of comparative negligence. These are:

  • Pure comparative negligence: It allows injured people to sue another party for the percentage of the damages they are not liable for.

  • Modified comparative negligence: It is also known as modified comparative fault and limits injured people's opportunities to receive compensation according to the percentage of fault they share in an accident.

In many states, the pure comparative negligence rule allows plaintiffs to claim damages for the 1% they are not liable for even if the jury finds they are 99% at fault for the accident. However, this system is different in Texas.

The Comparative Negligence System in Texas

Not all comparative negligence states implement the same rules. In Texas, this system is slightly more complex, for example.

This state uses a modified comparative negligence rule that limits liable parties' chances of recovering damages. It is also known as the "51% bar."

Under this rule, a person found 51% or more responsible for the accident cannot receive compensation.

Many consider that the modified comparative negligence system is unfavorable for plaintiffs. However, this rule can benefit victims by eliminating the possibility of the at-fault party filing a counterclaim.

Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence Doctrine: The Differences

These are the main differences between comparative and contributory negligence:

  • The contributory negligence doctrine says that injured parties cannot recover anything if they are partially to blame. However, the comparative negligence system allows plaintiffs to recover compensation for the percentage of damages they were not at fault for.

  • Contributory negligence is always an all-or-nothing rule, while the comparative negligence doctrine has two approaches – pure and modified.

  • Most states rely on a pure or modified comparative negligence system, while only four follow the contributory fault doctrine.

How Will Comparative Negligence Laws Affect a Car Accident Case in Texas?

In Texas, these rules are slightly different when it comes to handling a car accident case due to personal injury protection (PIP).

Although this type of auto insurance is not mandatory in this state, drivers have to sign a waiver if they want to decline this coverage.

However, PIP pays for up to $10,000 in medical bills, lost wages, and other damages, regardless of who is found responsible for the accident.

Proving Fault in an Accident Caused by Another Person's Negligence

In some jurisdictions, the burden of proof is on the defendant, who is required to prove the claimant's negligence. This legal doctrine is used as an affirmative defense. Contact Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys for more information on what gross negligence is.

However, in a comparative negligence state, such as Texas, plaintiffs have to prove that defendants are at least 51% at fault for the accident in order to recover damages.

Proving fault in accidents involves a thorough investigation. Additionally, it is important to collect enough evidence, which may include the following:

  • Police reports

  • Medical records

  • Photos from the accident scene

  • Expert testimony

  • Eyewitness accounts

  • Surveillance footage

  • Forensic accident investigations

However, victims should not try to do this on their own. Personal injury cases are complex. Therefore, injured parties planning to file a lawsuit should contact an experienced injury law firm.

What an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Can Do for Victims

What an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer Can Do for Victims

Each personal injury lawsuit is unique and has its own complexities. Also, the Texas comparative system makes these cases a bit more challenging.

However, people who have been injured in an accident caused by a negligent person can recover fair compensation if they build a strong case. Luckily, an experienced personal injury lawyer offers the guidance victims need to understand the process and get the compensation they deserve.

The legal team at Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys has extensive experience in personal injury cases and is familiar with the Texas comparative fault system.

Our personal injury lawyers are ready to help accident victims fight for their rights, prove at-fault parties' responsibility for their negligent actions, and pursue the compensation they're entitled to. Contact us today!


bottom of page