The fundamental difference between the legal concepts of contributory and comparative negligence is that contributory negligence is a total bar to any damage awarded to the plaintiff, whereas comparative negligence seeks to compensate the injured party at least for part of his or her injuries.
In a pure contributory negligence jurisdiction, such as Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, a plaintiff that is found 10% at fault for causing an accident will recover nothing, even though the defendant was proven to be 90% at fault. A provision for contributory negligence, which seems somewhat antiquated by today's standards, is relevant to the determination of liability and is applicable when the plaintiff, through his or her own negligence, contributed to the damages they suffered.
For example, a cyclist that is negligently riding outside the bicycle lane and is struck by a car being driven negligently may be barred from seeking recovery for damages. The defense is based on the fact that the accident would likely not have occurred if the cyclist had observed the rules of the road. Similarly, when an injured party actively disregards warnings and fails to take reasonable actions to ensure their safety, then the assumed level of risk has changed and contributory negligence may be used as a general defense from a tort claim.
In a comparative negligence state, each defendant is only liable for his or her percentage of fault. However, a plaintiff is still able to recover damages, even if he or she was at fault in contributing to the accident. For example, when a driver fails to operate his or her vehicle in a reasonable and safe manner, they are deemed to have committed negligence. If you are suing the negligent driver, but your own actions were deemed to be 20% negligent, then the restitution allowed for damages would be decreased by twenty percent.
The principle behind the threshold is that if injuries are not significant or permanent, insurance policy limits should provide for sufficient compensation. If they do not, you would be permitted to have your claims adjudicated by a jury of your peers. Moreover, unnecessary litigation will likely be avoided, as it can take longer to receive payment from a court trial than using your no-fault benefits or settling the claim early with the liable insurance carrier.
Since Florida is a pure comparative negligence jurisdiction, you should speak with a personal injury attorney as quickly as possible following an accident. At Schackow & Mercadante, our experienced lawyers will review your claim and explain your options for seeking fair compensation for your injuries.