Personal Injury specialist, Clare Lowes, explains how a finding of contributory negligence affects your personal injury claim.
Clare is available on 01225 462871. Alternatively, you can contact her by email, or by completing the Contact Form at the foot of this page.
When making a personal injury claim, you must prove that the defendant’s breach of legal duty caused or contributed to your injuries.
However, it’s not uncommon for a defendant to allege that you were also partly to blame. This is referred to as an allegation of ‘contributory negligence’ and it can amount to a partial defence to your claim. The defendant must prove such an allegation by establishing, on the balance of probabilities, that:
- you failed to take reasonable care for your own safety; and
- this caused or contributed to your injuries; and
- it was reasonably foreseeable that you would suffer harm.
Although rare, the court can find that you were 100% contributorily negligent. Such a finding suggests that although there was a breach of legal duty by the defendant (possibly only nominal), your conduct was such that you were wholly responsible for your injuries.
Contributory negligence examples
Allegations of contributory negligence can occur in any accident scenario, but we are most familiar with them following road traffic accidents. We have all heard people say, “that was a 50/50” or “it wasn’t entirely his fault”.
Following accidents in the workplace, it’s not uncommon to find an employer admitting breach of duty but alleging the employee was not following the safe system of work provided. In one of my recent cases, a piece of metal sheered off a poorly maintained machine, striking my client in the eye and blinding him. His employer admitted primary responsibility in respect of the defective machine, but alleged my client should have been wearing the safety goggles issued to all employees. However, we were able to establish that although safety goggles were available, almost no employees wore them. This was a fact known to management, who had never taken action to enforce the rule.
Contributory Negligence Act
The rules governing how a finding of contributory negligence against you will affect your claim are set out in the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 (the Act).
The Act provides that if the court finds you were partly to blame, your damages “shall be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the claimant’s share in the responsibility for the damage”.
The proportion of blame attributable to you is expressed as a percentage, and your damages are reduced accordingly. For example, a finding of 25% contributory negligence against you will reduce a damages award of £80,000 to £60,000.