Understanding Contributory Negligence

When it comes to Personal Injury Law, the concept of “fault” can be an incredibly tricky determination. In some cases, when you are injured in an accident, the attribution of fault can be perfectly cut and dry. However, more often than not, fault for the incident is not entirely clear.

The fault in most personal injury cases hinges on the concept of negligence. In layman’s terms, most people understand negligence as a general failure to take proper care or do what is expected of us. However, the legal definition is much more extensive.

In order to prove negligence in a personal injury case, the plaintiff’s attorney must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions fulfilled five specific elements:

1) The defendant had some sort of duty to the plaintiff;

2) The defendant failed to fulfill that duty;

3) No injury would have occurred if not for the defendant’s failure;

4) It was the failure of the defendant and not some other factor that directly caused the injuries;

5) And, some form of damages did occur to the plaintiff;

In order to receive damages in a personal injury lawsuit, all five elements above must be clearly evidenced. However, Alabama is one of a handful of states that adheres to a strict doctrine of law that provides a strong defense for defendants in personal injury cases. This doctrine is known as “Contributory Negligence.”

As previously mentioned, fault in an accident is not always cut and dry, meaning a court may recognize that a defendant in a personal injury case is at fault to some degree, but not necessarily 100% at fault for the accident. Perhaps a jury will determine that the defendant was 90% at fault and the plaintiff was in fact 10% at fault for the accident that occurred. In such cases, you might expect that a plaintiff could receive 90% of the damages he or she was pursuing, right? However, thanks to contributory negligence laws, that is not the case.

Contributory negligence means that if you, as the plaintiff, are found to be even 1% at fault for the accident that occurred, you likely will not be able to recover ANY damages at all from anyone. The doctrine of contributory negligence will have a major impact on the way you pursue a personal injury case. It also means that it is vital that you utilize an experienced Alabama Personal Injury attorney like John Totten who understands exactly what it takes to effectively argue your right to compensation following an accident, and can advise you on your best course of action regarding the decision to settle or take the case to trial.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by another person or organization, please contact the law firm of John M. Totten, P.C. right away and let us begin the process of fighting for the compensation and justice you deserve!

Written by John M. Totten

John M. Totten

John's office is in Athens, Alabama, where he has helped thousands of people in North Alabama with everything from family law issues, to catastrophic injury and death cases, to criminal defense.