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What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory Negligence

When you are involved in an accident that causes you an injury, it’s often clear-cut that another person or persons was at fault in causing that injury. In this situation, it’s easier to prove that you are entitled to compensation for any loss you might suffer as a result of the injury, such as medical treatment costs or lost income.

But in many personal injury cases, there may be evidence that the person injured may have contributed to the harm or injury they suffered by failing to take reasonable care. This is known as contributory negligence.

Contributory negligence is raised as a defence by the person accused of the negligence said to have caused another person’s injury. When a court is asked to consider contributory negligence on behalf of the injured party, the result can be that the defendant has their liability for the harm caused either reduced or excluded altogether.

Below we’ll go into some more detail about how contributory negligence is determined and what it can mean for a potential compensation payout.

Some common examples

One of the simplest demonstrations of the contributory negligence concept is the example of the pedestrian who steps off the kerb into the road and is hit by a car that was travelling above the speed limit. In this situation the court is likely to find that both parties contributed to the accident. It then falls to work out the percentage of responsibility each party should be assigned for causing the injury. This will determine the amount of compensation the injured pedestrian (in this example) would be entitled to.

In contrast, if the pedestrian had stepped out onto the road without looking either way and was hit by a car travelling at the legal speed limit with a driver taking all other necessary precautions, then it’s possible the pedestrian’s negligence in not taking the appropriate level of care is 100% responsible for the harm he or she suffers. The driver may be absolved of all liability for the harm caused.

Because contributory negligence works as a defence, it is up to the person accused of negligence to show that the other party contributed to their injuries through their actions or omissions. Also, if there was any malice or intentional wrongdoing on behalf of the defendant, then they’re not able to raise contributory negligence as a defence.

Some other common examples of contributory negligence are where:

  • A driver or passenger in a car fails to wear a seat belt;
  • a person contributes to their injury because they were intoxicated;
  • an employee fails to wear safety equipment or follow proper safety procedures while working.

What does the legislation say in Queensland?

The states and territories of Australia deal with contributory negligence in a variety of Civil Liability and Wrongs Acts.

In Queensland, section 24 of the Civil Liability Act 2003 provides that a court may reduce a plaintiff’s claim to damages by 100% if their negligence contributed to their harm or injury, if it considers it just and equitable to do so. That means no compensation can be claimed as a result of the accident.

The court considers the “entire conduct” of both parties in apportioning responsibility for the accident, and makes a comparison between how far each party departed from their obligation to conduct themselves with reasonable care.

If the negligence of the injured person contributed to their injury by a percentage less than 100% then the damages they are entitled to will be reduced by the percentage the court determines they were responsible for, i.e. if they are awarded $100,000 in damages but are found to have been 40% responsible for causing the accident, they will receive $60,000 in damages.

Under the Civil Liability Act, there will be a mandatory reduction in the damages awarded to a person claiming compensation for injuries sustained as a result of another person’s negligence where either the plaintiff or the defendant, or both, are intoxicated and the intoxication contributed to the defendant’s breach of duty.

How an expert compensation lawyer can help

At Lifestyle Injury Lawyers, personal injury compensation claims are our specialty. Every day we deal with situations like those outlined above where contributory negligence may be a factor in reducing the damages an injured person can claim.

Whether you’ve been injured in an accident that you may be partly responsible for, or you’re the party against whom negligence is alleged, we can help you. Our expert team will collect all the facts and take you step-by-step through the process so that you can get the best idea of what you may be entitled to, or how you can defend yourself to reduce your liability. Call us today on (07) 5627 0321 or email us at