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Personal injury: How might contributory negligence affect an accident claim?

What is contributory negligence?

Man using phone while driving - he's about to hit a female pedestrian

If you are involved in an accident and make a claim against a third party, the court will seek to establish if your actions had any bearing on the damages incurred - for instance, an injury suffered. In other words, how much may you have contributed to the damage? If your actions did have an impact, then the court will look to reduce any damages you may receive.

This is an important point. Contributory negligence refers to the damage, not the event that caused it. For instance, not wearing a seat belt doesn't cause an accident, but it can contribute to the extent of injuries suffered in an accident.

In assessing damages, the courts will look at how much each party contributed to the damage caused, as the basis for award made. So, if the court decides that a claimant is partially to blame, they may reduce the award by that percentage. Thus, if you were claiming £10,000 in damages, that would be reduced by £2,000.

Some examples of contributory negligence

The number of scenarios in which this issue occurs is numerous. Every accident claim is likely to be different and how you might contribute negligently will vary too. Examples are the best way of explaining how the situation may arise.

Pedestrian accidents

Consider the scenario of a person walking along the road with friends. They are playing around or perhaps distracted by their phone. The person steps into the road by accident and a passing car strikes them. The car driver may claim they were not to blame for the injury caused, as the pedestrian has a responsibility too. The court will have to decide the level of contribution by each party to assess any damages.

Accidents involving cyclists

As our roads become more congested, more cyclists are taking to the road, and more roads are segmented into cycle highways. Cyclists and drivers often come into conflict as collisions are frequent. But who is in the right? In more serious incidents where a cyclist is severely injured, it's natural for them to bring a claim for damages against the driver. However, it's often the case that the driver's insurance company will fight hard to prove that the cyclist had their part to play in the accident and the injuries they suffered, to try to reduce the claim against them substantially.

A typical situation is one we see every day: Stationary traffic where a cyclist continues to cycle past on the inside of vehicles and as vehicles move off, clips a wing mirror and falls or perhaps becomes trapped between the vehicle and another object, causing injury. One could argue that the cyclist should not have continued because there was insufficient room. Equally, the driver may not have exercised enough care and observation when moving off. The court would look to assess how each contributed and assess damages based on that.

Accidents involving motorcyclists

Serious motorcycle accidents can lead to permanent lifestyle changes or even fatalities, due to the possible speeds involved. Damage claims for such accidents can be huge, as they must also take into account permanent incapacities and long term healthcare and support.

Such cases are fought vigorously on both sides, because of the large sums involved. In the case of the injured party, it's because of the impact on their quality of life going forward. So it will come as no surprise that insurance companies will seek to apportion blame somewhere along the way.

A classic example is where a motorcyclist weaves through slower moving traffic and is hit by a car changing lanes or clips a wing mirror. Should the motorcyclist be held fully liable for the injuries that result? While it is legal for a motorcyclist to 'filter' through traffic, they must maintain a high level of due care and attention, as they are highly vulnerable. If they collide with a vehicle, the court will likely apportion some blame, and in incidents where they were not diligent in observing other factors relating to the traffic, significant responsibility.

Accidents at speed can result in catastrophic injuries, resulting in years of medical treatments and supportive care. A typical situation occurs when a motorcyclist is overtaking a line of vehicles at speed and fails to notice a right hand turning. A car suddenly makes its turn, and the bike slams into the side of the car. Any driver making a turn needs to be highly vigilant of other road users and is likely to be partially to blame. However, motorcyclists are notoriously hard to see, and when travelling at speed, hard to judge. Motorcyclists have their duty of care because of their vulnerability. Therefore both parties are likely to be found to have contributed to the situation.

Accidents involving employees

industrial workspaces represent a vast range of opportunities for accidents to happen. Employers go to great lengths to keep their employees safe, but accidents do happen. When they do, and a claim is involved, the defendants may try to show that the claimant failed to follow safety guidance provided in an attempt to reduce the claim against them. After all, nowhere is 100% safe, and both parties have a 'duty of care' responsibility in keeping the workplace safe.

Fit a dashcam or use your phone camera

Cheap and wearable cameras are readily available, so there's no real excuse not to use one in your vehicle or on your body when out and about.
Ensure to fit your car with a dashcam. They are not expensive and are invaluable when used to present your side of the story. A simple video can immediately show the court exactly what happened and potentially turn the odds in your favour.

Cyclists should wear a helmet-cam or a body-cam to record incidents with other road users.

If you are a pedestrian or in a workplace and suffer an injury, take photographs or video of the incident if you can.

Every case is different

Each case has to be assessed on the individual circumstances. It is best to discuss this fully with a personal injury solicitor.

It's important to note that even in circumstances where one party has admitted liability, their defense can still argue for contributory negligence. The point is, just because you have a claim made against you, or if you think you have every justification for a claim you are making, the outcome is not necessarily crystal clear.

Contact CCH & Co. today

As personal injury claim solicitors, CCH & Co. has considerable experience in pursuing claims arising from a variety of situations, and in defending those who have claims made against them Contributory negligence is a significant factor in these claims. So it would be best if you had somebody on your side who understands how this affects you in your particular case.

This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Cartwright Cunningham Haselgrove & Co is a long-established firm. In 2022 we were proud to announce the acquisition of local personal injury specialists Romain Coleman Solicitors who were established in 1964.


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