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Washington DC Contributory Negligence Explained

Posted on 07/20/20 by admin in Auto Accidents

When it comes to resolving personal injury cases in Washington D.C., the court must first determine who was responsible for the accident. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast. Washington D.C. is one of only five jurisdictions in the United States that still employ contributory negligence versus comparative negligence when determining whether or not a plaintiff can recover damages following an accident. The others are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. The rest of the country uses various forms of comparative negligence. Today’s blog post will discuss how Washington DC contributory negligence affects the practice of personal injury law.

contributory negligence

What is Washington DC Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence refers to situations where the actions or inactions of an individual contribute to their own injury or damages. Several examples of contributory negligence can help illustrate this concept.

  1. Jaywalking: If a pedestrian crosses a busy street at a non-designated crosswalk or against a red signal and gets hit by a car, their act of not following traffic rules may be considered contributory negligence.
  2. Distracted driving: If a driver gets into an accident while texting on their phone or engaging in any other distracting activity, their inattentiveness could be seen as contributory negligence.
  3. Failure to wear a seatbelt: In some jurisdictions, if a person involved in a car accident was not wearing a seatbelt, their negligence in failing to take precautions for their own safety could be considered contributory negligence.
  4. Drunk driving: Operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a clear example of negligent behavior that can contribute to accidents. In many cases, the intoxicated driver may be deemed partially or fully responsible due to their own contributory negligence.
  5. Improper maintenance: If someone fails to properly maintain their property (such as neglecting to repair a broken staircase or failing to clear ice from their walkway), and another person is injured as a result, the property owner might be considered partly at fault for their contributory negligence.

It is important to note that the specific laws regarding contributory negligence may vary depending on the jurisdiction. However, these examples provide a general understanding of situations where an individual’s own actions or inactions can contribute to their own injury or damages.


Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Contributory negligence and comparative negligence might seem similar, but there are very specific and important differences that you should keep in mind. The main difference between comparative and contributory negligence is that comparative negligence seeks to compensate the injured party, while contributory negligence is the failure of an injured plaintiff to act prudently, considered to be a contributory factor in the injury suffered. In Washington, D.C., this means that the amount recovered from the defendant will mostly be reduced. As we mentioned before, the jurisdictions which employ the “Pure Contributory Negligence Rule” include Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Simply put it, if you’ve suffered an accident in any of these five states/territory, and you are found 10 percent at fault for an accident, you will recover nothing, even though the defendant is 90 percent at fault.

This is why it is imperative to seek legal representation, immediately after having suffered a car accident. An experienced and dedicated personal injury attorney will review your case, and he or she will tell you if you have a case or not. You shouldn’t waste time with false promises regarding monetary compensation. A Clinton personal injury attorney will help you understand if you were at fault or not, and if it is worth it to start a case or not.

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The Origins of Washington DC Contributory Negligence

Butterfield v. Forrester

As the original thirteen colonies eventually became thirteen states, they still kept an eye on English law, using some cases for legal reference. The same was true for the District of Columbia. One example is the Butterfield v. Forrester case of 1809, which is considered the first example of using contributory negligence as a defense. Butterfield was riding home on his horse at a high rate of speed when he ran into a pole left near the road by Forrester, who was doing some construction on his home. Based on several witnesses, Butterfield was riding at a reckless speed near dusk, and could have easily avoided the pole had he been exercising some caution and traveling at a reasonable rate. The court, in turn, found him partially negligent for the accident and therefore unable to recover damages from Forrester. 

Progress is Being Made

Although Washington, D.C. allows contributory negligence as a defense, there are several exceptions. For instance, individuals that have been injured by a vehicle on a public highway while walking, bicycling, or using some other non-motorized means, can still seek compensation from the other party even if they were partially to blame. Also, contributory negligence is not allowed as a defense by employers if their unsafe work environment and gross negligence clearly led to an accident. 

contributory negligence

What Does it Take to Win Your Case?

In Washington DC, the timeframe within which you have to make a decision about pursuing legal action following an accident is crucial. Taking prompt action is highly recommended, as delays may potentially hinder your chances of making a successful claim. Seeking legal assistance immediately after the accident is advised, as it allows you to gather relevant information and understand the specific laws that apply to your case in Washington DC. By doing so, you can obtain the necessary guidance to make an informed decision within the appropriate window of time. Contact Malloy Law today for a free consultation.