This article on “Contributory Negligence: All you need to know” was written by Shudhi Malhotra, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
According to a common law tort rule known as “contributory negligence,” if the plaintiff was negligent in causing the damage, they cannot recover damages for the negligence of others. Contributory negligence has mostly been replaced by the idea of comparative negligence. A plaintiff who is even somewhat negligent in a country that upholds contributory negligence will not be entitled to compensation, even if they can prove the aforementioned conditions.
To determine contributory negligence, the degree of the plaintiff’s or defendant’s respective negligence is irrelevant; as a result, a plaintiff who was negligent to the tune of 1% will not be compensated in any way by a defendant who was negligent to the tune of 99%. This all-or-nothing criterion has the benefit of not requiring the courts to precisely assess the proportion of blame each party bears for the harm.
This article talks about the meaning of contributory negligence and discusses how it could impact a personal injury lawsuit, Case laws, and guidelines given by the Supreme Court.
In the tort law, a plaintiff can receive compensation from a neglectful defendant by demonstrating:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty.
- The defendant was unsuccessful to fulfill this obligation to the plaintiff.
- As a result of the defendant’s breach, the plaintiff suffered damage.
Examples of Contributory Negligence
- Let’s imagine a construction worker who has been uncovered to asbestos for a long time and formulates lung cancer. They eventually pass away, and their family sues their company for failing to take the required safety precautions by industry norms. The defendant makes the case for contributory negligence by pointing out that the deceased employee smoked 10 packs of unfiltered cigarettes each day for more than 20 years, which may have pitched in to or resulted in their cancer. The court reduced the payment owed by the defendant after establishing liability and awarding damages based on the plaintiff’s negligence in taking precautions against lung cancer.
- Absurd cautiousness was not taken by the pedestrian who was attacked by a drunk driver when they crossed the street in the middle of the road rather than at a crosswalk. The pedestrian also contributed to the harm caused by the drunk driver’s negligence by crossing the street beyond the crosswalk, even though the driver was equally at fault for being intoxicated, acting irresponsibly while driving, and being careless. This can be a defense for the defendant if contributory negligence is allowed in that state.
Elements of Contributory Negligence
There are a few requirements that must be fulfilled; otherwise, any defendant could assert the safeguard of contributory negligence, arguing that even if he was negligent, the plaintiff could have defended himself. This would result in disorder and render fairness unconstitutional. Consequently, for having a legal system free from the abuse of power, the bench looks for specific elements in a case to reach a particular conclusion. The defendant must prove the following three general rules:
- It must be demonstrated that the plaintiff was exposed to some kind of irrational risk that a prudent person would guard against.
- It must be demonstrated that the safety device in question is generally successful in lowering the risk of an accident or lowering the damage that would typically result if that risk materialized.
- The plaintiff must be proven to have had access to the device but to have chosen not to use it.
- It must be proven that the plaintiff’s negligence in not using the device made their injury worse, or, to put it another way, that the plaintiff’s use of the device would have prevented some of the ensuing damage.
Causation of damages
If we examine cases involving contributory negligence, we will find that in the majority of these situations, the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the mishap that eventually caused the harm. For instance, when a motorist or pedestrian fails to look around and be cautious, or when a worker is hurt while cleaning a machine because he was careless in the act of not wearing a safety device, but it is not necessary to consider these examples to determine whether a particular act was contributing.
However, the plaintiff’s lack of diligence must be proven to have contributed to his damage, meaning that not only is his fault one of the causes of his loss, but the broad extent of the risk he put himself in by being at fault also encompassed that loss.
Duty of care
To prove a prima facie case, the plaintiff typically has to show that the defendant owes a duty to take reasonable precautions for the plaintiff’s protection. However, courts unusually use the word “obligation” when they demand that defendants demonstrate that the plaintiff must restrain themselves. One can argue that a plaintiff who disobeys the law by failing to fasten their seatbelts has broken a responsibility owed only to themselves. However, using the phrase in the context of a duty to oneself distorts its meaning.
A relationship is a duty. What one owes to another is known as an obligation. Additionally, it would be nonsensical to claim that the plaintiff has a responsibility to other motorists to use a seat belt to reduce the number of damages that other motorists will be responsible for if they cause the plaintiff harm.
Froom V Butcher(1976)
In the Froom v. Butcher case, the plaintiff did not use a seat belt at the time of the collision because he found them uncomfortable. He had severe injuries to his head and chest as a result of the accident that resulted from this. According to the defendant, the plaintiff was completely to blame for the accident because his injuries would not have been as severe if he had been wearing a seat belt.
The plaintiff’s injuries, except the broken finger, resulted in his negligence to wear a seatbelt, and as such, he was guilty of contributory negligence. The court held that deciding whether one is blameworthy of contributory negligence is a consequence, not on the grounds of the accident but the cause of the damage.
The defendant should be entitled to a 20% reduction in damages as a result.
Owens Vs Brimmel (1977)
When the parties, in this case, chose to visit a few locations for which the defendant had provided the plaintiff with transportation, they were already acquaintances with both the defendant and the plaintiff. The fact that both of them were intoxicated led to an accident, which left the plaintiff with horrifying injuries.
The plaintiff contributed to the collision by not wearing his seatbelt and driving while intoxicated, the defendant claimed, even though he had already confessed blame due to negligence. The plaintiff was found guilty of contributing to the accident since the defendant was severely inebriated and was not fit to drive, yet the plaintiff refused the offer of a ride despite knowing this. Twenty percent slighter damages were sustained.
It is clear from these two decisions that finding contributory negligence also takes into account how predictable the danger is.
Guidelines by the Supreme Court
Many recommendations were taken into consideration while determining how many losses needed to be incurred to determine compensation under this Act. The following recommendations were given in the case of National Insurance Company Ltd. v. Pushpa and Ors.
- In order to benefit the individual, future application and growth should also be considered when determining the number of damages. Compensation can then be made in section 168 of the Motor Vehicle Act of 1988, which addresses awards made by the claims tribunal.
- Where the deceased had a changeless occupation and was under the age of 40, an extension of 50% of the actual salary to the income of the deceased towards future possibilities should be made when determining the income. If the deceased person was between 40 and 50 years old, the expansion should be 30%. The extension should be 15% if the deceased was between the ages of 50 and 60. Real compensation should be viewed as actual income and fewer taxes.
- If the deceased was under 40 years old and was self-employed or receiving fixed pay, a warrant for an increase of 40% of the existing income should be issued. The most important method of computation should be considered as an expansion of 25% when the deceased was between the ages of 40 and 50 and 10% when the deceased was between the ages of 50 and 60. The income less the tax component is the established income.
- If the deceased was married, there should be a deduction for personal and living expenses of one-third where there are two to three dependent family members, a fourth where there are four to six dependent family members, and a fifth where there are more than six dependent family members.
- A separate rule applies when the dead was a bachelor and claimants are the parents. A bachelor is typically given a 50% deduction for personal and living costs because it is anticipated that they will spend more money on themselves.
Everyone must follow the legal guidelines for safeguards that a man of reasonable caution would take. To avoid injury, passengers should always wear safety equipment. The Court will reduce the compensation to be rewarded if the passenger’s damages could have been bypassed in part by wearing safety gear but the passenger decided not to do so.
To establish on the balance of probability that the passenger would not have been injured or would have suffered less intense damages if the safety equipment had been worn, Defendant must present proof. Parties should seek expert testimony on the safety equipment issue from competent sources where necessary.
Over the past 20 years, the common law has increasingly acknowledged that failure to use a seat belt constituted contributory negligence, even in places lacking safety regulations. Tort law should do everything it can to promote the use of safety belts. The equipment needed for this is at its disposal. It was decided that contributing negligence was committed by not wearing safety equipment.
- Suryansh Singh, Contributory Negligence, iPleaders Blog, 4 May 2019, available at: https://blog.ipleaders.in/contributory-negligence/
- Julia Kagan, Contributory Negligence: Definition, Role in Insurance, and Laws, Investopedia, 23 October 2021, available at: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/contributory-negligence.asp
- Guidelines by the Supreme Court https://www.google.com/amp/s/blog.ipleaders.in/contributory-negligence-where-a-person-does-not-wear-safety-gear/%3famp=1