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Comparative Negligence vs. Contributory Negligence

Ohio became the 35th state in 1980 to enact a comparative negligence law. Negligence, in the case of this law, is defined as the failure to exercise the good judgment expected of a reasonable and prudent person and it results in damage or injury to another. The amount of damages that can be recovered is in direct relation to the percentage of the action that was their own fault. The law in Ohio states that if the injured party is more than 50% at fault, there is no recovery. Prior to 1980, Ohio law was based on contributory negligence and if the injured person was found to be at fault in anyway, no matter how minor, no recovery could be affected.

In Kentucky, the Pure Comparative Fault rule applies, which apportions damages to the injured party based on the percentage of blame incurred by themselves. It does not bar the plaintiff from recovering damages but reduces the amount based on the degree of fault, unlike states with the Pure Contributory Negligence Rule. This system allows the plaintiff who is primarily at fault to recover a portion of the damages from the defendant who is less at fault and thus garners some criticism.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative Negligence insures the sharing of damages in an injury case between the plaintiff and defendant in relation to the percentage of fault assigned each party. The judge or jury, whichever the case, must decide to what degree the plaintiff's own actions contributed to the injury in relation to the combined negligence and relevant factors of any other party. The amount of damages that can be recovered are directly proportionate to the degree of culpability by each party and will be awarded in those amounts. Depending on which state you reside, it will have different rules and your lawyer can advise you of your rights in a particular state. The four main categories of this claim (different rules for different states) are: Pure Contributory Negligence, Pure Comparative Fault, Modified Comparative Fault, and the less frequently used Slight/Gross Negligence Comparative Fault.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory Negligence is a term used to define the conduct of an injured person. Did their own negligence, in fact, contribute to their own injury? The legal principle is that the injured person contributed to their own injury due to carelessness or lack of observation on their own part, and so, took part in their own distress.

Depending upon which state you live in, under the Pure Contributory Negligence rule, you cannot recover damages for any injury if you are even 1% at fault. Currently only four states and the District of Columbia adhere to this harsh principle that if a plaintiff contributes to their injury, they are barred from recovery.

Under the Pure Comparative Fault rule, the plaintiff is not barred from recovery in twelve states, including Kentucky, but damages are awarded on the decision of the court as to the percentage of fault by both parties.

Modified Comparative Fault, each party is held accountable for their own percentage of fault, but if the plaintiffs fault becomes 50% or more, they cannot recover damages. This rule is followed in thirty-three states, including Ohio which uses the 51% bar.

The Slight/Gross Negligence Comparative rule is only used in South Dakota and is based on awarding damages to the plaintiff if his negligence is "slight" compared to "gross" negligence by the defendant.

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