If you've recently been injured by a fall in a public location (such as a grocery store, restaurant, or even a bar) you may be wondering what your next steps should be. In many cases, you may be able to sue the business owner for any medical expenses, lost wages, or other financial damages you've suffered as a result of your accident. However, the business may elect to counter-sue you or deny any liability by alleging you were at least equally responsible for your injury. Read on to learn more about how a legal concept termed "contributory negligence" may impact your personal injury claim.
What is "contributory negligence"?
Contributory negligence can be invoked when both you and the business engaged in reckless or negligent behavior. For example, if you are texting while driving and are rear-ended by someone who was driving while intoxicated, his or her attorney may argue you bore responsibility for the accident by not paying full attention to driving.
In the slip-and-fall context, contributory negligence often involves allegations you took known risks and suffered the consequences -- such as running past a "Wet Floor" sign or choosing to cut through an icy alley rather than walk on the shoveled, salted sidewalk.
Depending upon the extent of the contributory negligence, it can affect the plaintiff's ability to collect any financial damages from the defendant(s). In other situations, the plaintiff may be counter-sued for causing damage to the defendant's property during the accident.
There are two primary types of contributory negligence -- pure contributory negligence and comparative contributory negligence.
- Pure contributory negligence
This doctrine will prevent a plaintiff from collecting any damages if they were deemed partially responsible for the accident -- even if their contribution to the circumstances was as little as one percent. Because of this strict doctrine, many personal injury plaintiffs in the states using this doctrine will find themselves defending against allegations they were negligent.
Pure contributory negligence is only utilized in four states (Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia. The remaining states utilize the comparative contributory negligence doctrine.
- Comparative contributory negligence
This doctrine assesses financial responsibility for the accident in proportion to the other party's liability. For example, if you incurred $10,000 in medical bills and were deemed to be 50 percent responsible for the accident, you would be permitted to recover only $5,000 from the defendant. If you were deemed 80 percent responsible and were also counter-sued for $2,000 in damages to the defendant's property, you could be unable to recover any money in a settlement or judgment.
How can you defend yourself against a counterclaim of contributory negligence?
If you're in a pure negligence state, you'll want to strongly reject any allegations you were even remotely responsible for your accident. If a judge determines you bear any responsibility for your accident, your claim will be dismissed. Showing precautions you took and establishing extreme negligence or recklessness on the defendant's behalf can help your case.
If you're in a comparative negligence state, you may be able to acknowledge some responsibility for the accident without harming your claim. Often, mediation can be useful in this context. If you and the defendant are able to agree to the division of responsibility, assessing total damages becomes a fairly easy task.
In either situation, if you believe the defendant could make a cognizable claim of negligence on your behalf, you may want to think twice about filing a lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits can take years to resolve and you don't want to invest that much time and emotional energy in a claim that will eventually be dismissed or denied.
What else should you consider when filing your personal injury claim? For more info, you can check it out here.