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Written by: J. Todd Tenge

Contributory Negligence and Comparative Negligence: What’s the Difference?

| Read Time: 3 minutes

Outside of the legal world, not very many people are familiar with the concepts of contributory and comparative negligence.

At first glance, you might even think that they are just two different words for the same thing.

However, as anyone in the legal community would quickly tell you, they are not the same. In fact, understanding how comparative negligence and contributory negligence differ is critical in the civil claims process.

A misunderstanding of these concepts could easily leave you confused during the pendency of your case. 

At Tenge Law Firm we try to give our clients all of the tools necessary to understand and fully participate in the legal process. We find we get better results that way, so we put together this quick guide on contributory vs comparative negligence.

Contributory Negligence vs Comparative Negligence

Contributory negligence and comparative negligence are terms that describe the attribution of liability and its effect on recovery in a given legal claim.

In other words, both terms represent different ways to figure out who is responsible for what damages, and to what degree? Different states use different rules to answer these questions.

Colorado uses what we call a modified comparative negligence system. 

Another name we give to these concepts is “fault systems.” So if you hear or read about “contributory fault” or “comparative fault,” know that the writer or speaker is referring to these same systems.

Contributory Negligence Systems

Some states use contributory negligence to determine who can recover damages in any type of personal injury case.

In these systems, only a plaintiff who is entirely free from negligence and fault can recover damages. In other words, if your state operates under contributory negligence rules, then you cannot recover any damages at all if you are even 1% at fault for your injuries.

You must have zero fault to recover damages from the other party. Colorado does not utilize contributory negligence.

Comparative Negligence Systems

In contrast, comparative negligence systems compare each party’s percentage of fault in their negligence assessment. Afterward, each party’s degree of fault corresponds with a reduction in the amount of damage they can claim. 

To illustrate, consider the following car accident scenario.

Imagine that party A is 75% at fault for an accident while party B is only 25% to blame. Party B can recover damages from party A, but they will see a 25% reduction in their overall recovery. Similarly, party A can claim compensation from party B, but their damage claim will be subject to a 75% reduction. 

So if the total damages to party A equal $100,000, this amount would be reduced by 25%, and their actual recovery from party B would be $75,000. Keep this example in mind as we delve further into comparative negligence.

Pure Comparative Negligence vs Modified Comparative Negligence

States typically employ comparative negligence systems in one of two ways: 

  1. Pure comparative negligence systems; and
  2. Modified comparative negligence systems.

In a pure comparative negligence system, regardless of how great a percentage of fault a party bears, if the other party is not 100% at fault, they can still recover some damages.

Someone 95% to blame for an accident in a pure comparative fault system can still recover 5% of the damage they suffered.

Colorado does not use pure comparative negligence. Instead, we use a modified comparative negligence system. In such modified systems, there is a maximum threshold of blame beyond which a claimant cannot recover damages.

In Colorado, this maximum is 50%, but other states may use 40% or 51%. Because of this, someone who is 95% at fault for a car accident cannot recover any damages under Colorado’s modified comparative negligence rules. Nor could party A who was 75% at fault in the first outlined situation.

Are You Ready to Recover the Damages You Deserve?

If you are ready to file a claim and recover the damages you are owed, Tenge Law Firm can help you from start to finish.

If you have questions about modified comparative negligence liability, we can answer those questions for you. In situations where there are more than two plaintiffs, it isn’t always easy figuring out who is responsible for what damages.

That’s exactly why we are here, and that’s exactly why we practice law. Our team is standing by to help you get the legal support you need with as little a hassle as possible. Contact Tenge Law Firm today for a consultation!

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