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What Does Contributory Negligence Mean in Washington, D.C.?

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 use 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.

What is Contributory Negligence?

The dated doctrine of contributory negligence makes it far more challenging for accident victims in Washington D.C. to recover damages. According to the doctrine, if the plaintiff is found to have had any fault in the accident, they are ineligible to receive compensation from the other party involved. Comparative negligence, on the other hand, allows a plaintiff to recover compensation for the portion of the accident deemed to have been caused by the other party. For instance, if the court determines the plaintiff was 20% at fault and the defendant was 80% at fault, the plaintiff can still recover 80% of the damages incurred. 


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.

How Did We Get Here?

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. 

What Does it Take to Win Your Case?

Because Washington, D.C. uses contributory negligence, finding the right attorney to help win your personal injury case is even more important. Your attorney has to prove you had no fault in causing the injury you sustained, because the accident was solely caused by the negligence of the other party. That is no easy task and success is never guaranteed, but Malloy Law Offices can give you a fighting chance. Our experienced attorneys have won numerous cases where negligent defendants used contributory negligence as their main defense. Contact us today at (202) 464-0727 or via our website