Are you fully aware as to how contributory negligence could play a part in any accident compensation claim you make?

We wouldn’t be surprised if you looked at the term ‘contributory negligence’ and never gave it another thought. However, you might think again when you understand if you are involved in an accident, whether your fault or not, a claim of contributory negligence by the other party can have a serious impact on the outcome of any claim you make.

With increasingly busy lives and more traffic on the roads than ever, a little information can go a long way where being involved in an accident is concerned. In this post, we want to explain what contributory negligence means to you, as non-lawyers. We’d also like to explain how, if you’re not careful, a claim for any accident you are involved in could have negative consequences due to your own actions.

What is contributory negligence?

When you are involved in an accident and believe that the fault lies with the other party involved, you may try and claim compensation. When it goes to court, the court will seek to establish if any action on your behalf contributed to the damages your are claiming for.

It’s important to stop here for a moment and understand what was just written:

    • A clear distinction is being made between accident and damages suffered.
    • Contributory negligence refers to the damage sustained, not the event that caused it.
    • The court will seek to uncover if any actions YOU took before during and after the accident contributed to the damages YOU suffered. 
    • In other words, did your own negligence contribute to your injuries and by how much?

A simple example of this is not wearing a seatbelt in a car. If you are involved in an accident, the seatbelt probably wasn’t to blame (unless you were trying to put it on when the accident occurred). However, the extent of the injuries you suffer as a result of not wearing one may be much worse than if you had. The court would likely look to reduce any damages awarded as your negligence in not wearing a seat belt contributed to your injuries.

How might contributory negligence apply to scenarios we encounter every day?

Now that hopefully you understand the basic idea of contributory negligence, what circumstances might you find yourself in as you go about your normal day. We should point out that every situation is different and unique, and here we are simply trying to highlight the concept of contributory negligence in terms of everyday events.

Out and about as a pedestrian

Consider a person stepping off a bus and then stepping out behind the bus to cross the road. In doing so, they are hit by a car driving in the opposite direction causing the person serious injury. 

Both pedestrian and car driver have a duty of care for each other. Even though the car collided with the pedestrian, the pedestrian’s own action – i.e. negligently stepping into the road, contributed significantly to their injuries.

This was highlighted in two cases:

First. Ehrari v Carry (Court of Appeal, 2007). An incident involving a 13 year old girl who stepped out from behind parked cars to cross the road to catch a bus outside her school. She was hit by the wing mirror of a passing truck. She was found to be 70% liable.

Second. Jackson vs Murray. Again involving somebody stepping in to the path of an oncoming vehicle after stepping out from behind a bus. In this case the person was found to be 90% contributory. However after an appeal and then further review by the Supreme Court, it was reduce to 50%.

The lesson here is as much for the drivers of vehicles as for pedestrians. 

Cycling Accidents

With so many more cyclists on the road and incidents between cyclists and motor vehicle increasing, so too are injuries. Cyclists in particular are highly vulnerable and while they may believe that a motor vehicle driver is often to blame for an accident, their own actions weigh heavily on the outcome.

How much a cyclist contributes to their own injury in the eye of the courts, varies considerably and is affected by many variables, including the condition of the bicycle, cyclist’s distractions, road and traffic conditions.

In one case in Northern Ireland, a cyclist was found to have contributed to his injuries because while cycling he had looked down at his heart rate monitor. During that period he failed to notice a car crossing in front of him and therefore failed to take evasive action. His damages were reduced by 25% as he was deemed as not paying attention.

Similar distractions affect many cyclists today as gadgets continue to increase, not least in personal entertainment. Wearing a headset is going to reduce the chances of hearing other road users and thus reducing the possibility of taking evasive action. 

In other cases, cyclists who have bit hit by vehicles after cycling through a red light, as all too often happens, have seen their damages reduced significantly, in one particular case, by 80%!.

Motorcyclist accidents

Probably the situation most people are aware of with motorcyclists in traffic, is when they filter through the traffic. It’s one of the advantages of using a motorbike or scooter. There’s also nothing wrong with this as long as the rider proceeds with due care and attention, doesn’t cross solid white lines or pass when there’s a right hand turning. Even so, accidents happen and blame will be apportioned depending on the circumstances. 

In cases involving motorcyclists, contributory negligence is almost always argued by the other party where compensation is involved. It’s not hard to see why, and it’s why motorcyclists should remember just how vulnerable they are, not just to an accident, but to having their claim for compensation cut. 

For instance, in one county court case from 2008, a car was approaching its destination on the right and indicated to turn. As the car turned, an overtaking motorcyclist hit it. This matter was complicated because the driver had made previously made several contradicting signals prior to the manoeuvre. The motorcyclists had seen this and had held back, only overtaking when he believe the driver had decide to continue straight. The driver didn’t. The court found the motorcyclist 25% to blame because the motorcyclist was aware of the erratic nature of the driver, but still overtook, even though she was in a yellow box junction.

Every case is of course different, but it just shows that motorcyclists do need to be very careful, as any compensation claim they make could be impacted, even though they are not necessarily to blame.

How can you help yourself mitigate the chances of contributory negligence?

Evidence is critical to demonstrating that your actions, as the person claiming compensation, were not a contributing factor to severity of the injuries you sustained.

One of the best ways to do this is to use a dash-cam, a body or a helmet-cam. With the cheap available of such devices, there really isn’t an excuse any more. It’s very hard for a third party to counter claims you make if you have hard video evidence.

If you are a pedestrian or involved in a work place accident, use your phone to take video or images – just so long as it doesn’t further jeopardise your situation or contribute to any injury you have sustained. 

Every case is unique

Personal injury claims, who’s to blame in an accident and the issue of contributory negligence, are all situations that are assed on the individual circumstances of the case. It’s a complex area and so it’s always best to speak to a personal injury or motor accident claims specialist, whether your are a defendant or a claimant.

Contact Foys Solicitors

Foys have years of experience handling matters both for and against claimants. The issue of contributory negligence looms high in many of these cases and so you need somebody on your side who really knows how to represent your in these cases, especially as you may not be aware that a claim for contributory negligence could be made against you.

Enquire About Our Services Today

Book an initial FREE consultation or to find out more about our personal and business law services

Call the office nearest to you and speak to one of our professional specialists or fill out the form below