What is Contributory Negligence and Does It Apply in Florida?

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Determining who’s at fault in an accident is critically important. This is especially true when someone is injured. The answer, however, is not always black and white.

Often, there are a confluence of circumstances that contribute to an accident event, sometimes with different parties sharing portions of the blame. For example, if someone crosses the street outside of a clearly marked crosswalk, while a “Do Not Walk” signal is flashing, and is then struck by a drunk driver, who’s at fault?

The short answer is they both are, although different states apply different liability standards to cases of shared blame. One such standard, is the doctrine of “contributory negligence”.

First, negligence is a legal term used to characterize conduct that creates an unreasonable risk of harm to others. If someone negligently causes an injury to another person, then they can be responsible for paying damages. Contributory negligence is a defense claim that applies when a plaintiff, or someone who is suing someone else, has contributed to their own injury through their own negligence. The result can be either a reduced or fully forfeited damage claim.

In the above example, if the pedestrian sued the drunk driver for causing his or her injuries, the driver could invoke a contributory negligence defense stating that the plaintiff’s injury occurred at least partially as a result of the plaintiff’s own actions. If successful, the driver’s liability could, in some states, be completely eliminated.

Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia, all have pure contributory negligence laws. Florida, however, does not.

In 1973, state lawmakers changed Florida’s contributory negligence law to a “comparative negligence” standard. Prior to the change, people wrongly injured in accidents were prohibited from collecting damages if they were even slightly to blame.

Now, under the state’s pure comparative negligence law, injured parties can recover damages regardless of whether they’re partly to blame. Liability in Florida is usually determined on a percentage-basis. For instance, if the pedestrian above was determined to be 25 percent responsible for their injury, then he or she might be able to recover 75 percent of the total damage award.

Knowing the ins-and-outs of contributory and comparative negligence laws, and how they might apply to specific accident scenarios, can be quite complicated, particularly when dealing with insurance companies and the legal system. Do not wait to seek advice from an experienced, local attorney. Our legal team is right here in Tallahassee and ready to answer your questions 24 hours a day. Do not wait to schedule a free case evaluation with us.