Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Free Legal Encyclopedia: National Environmental Policy Act of (1969) to Notice » Negligence - The Reasonable Person, Proof Of Negligence, Duty, Proximate Cause, Intervening Cause, Defenses To Negligence Liability

Negligence - Defenses To Negligence Liability

plaintiff defendant risk injury

Even if a plaintiff has established that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, breached that duty, and proximately caused the defendant's injury, the defendant can still raise defenses that reduce or eliminate his liability. These defenses include contributory negligence, comparative negligence, and ASSUMPTION OF RISK.

Contributory Negligence Frequently, more than one person has acted negligently to create an injury. Under the common-law rule of contributory negligence, a plaintiff whose own negligence was a contributing cause of her injury was barred from recovering from a negligent defendant. For example, a driver negligently enters an intersection in the path of an oncoming car, resulting in a collision. The other driver was driving at an excessive speed and might have avoided the collision if she had been driving more slowly. Thus, both drivers' negligence contributed to the accident. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, neither driver would be able to recover from the other, due to her own negligence in causing the accident.

The doctrine of contributory negligence seeks to keep a plaintiff from recovering from the defendant where the plaintiff is also at fault. However, this doctrine often leads to unfair results. For example, even if a defendant's negligence is the overwhelming cause of the plaintiff's injury, even slight negligence on the part of the plaintiff completely bars his recovery. Also, the negligence of many defendants such as corporations, manufacturers, and landowners creates no corresponding risk of injury to themselves. In such cases the doctrine of contributory negligence, which can completely eliminate the liability for their negligence, reduces their incentive to act safely. As a result, courts and statutes have considerably weakened the doctrine of contributory negligence.

Comparative Negligence Most states, either by court decision or statute, have now adopted some form of comparative negligence in place of pure, contributory negligence. Under comparative negligence, or comparative fault as it is sometimes known, a plaintiff's negligence is not a complete bar to her recovery. Instead the plaintiff's damages are reduced by whatever percentage her own fault contributed to the injury. This requires the jury to determine, by percentage, the fault of the plaintiff and defendant in causing the plaintiff's injury. For example, suppose a plaintiff is injured in an automobile accident and sustains $100,000 in damages. The jury determines that the plaintiff was 25 percent responsible for the accident and that the defendant was 75 percent responsible. The plaintiff will then be allowed to recover 75 percent of her damages, or $75,000.

Most states have adopted the "50 percent rule" of comparative negligence. Under this rule the plaintiff cannot recover any damages if her negligence was as great as, or greater than, the negligence of the defendant. This rule partially retains the doctrine of contributory negligence, reflecting the view that a plaintiff who is largely responsible for her own injury is unworthy of compensation. A minority of states have adopted "pure comparative fault." Under that rule even a plaintiff who is 80 percent at fault in causing her injury may still recover 20 percent of damages, reflecting the defendant's percentage of fault.

Assumption of Risk Under the assumption of risk defense, a defendant can avoid liability for his negligence by establishing that the plaintiff voluntarily consented to encounter a known danger created by the defendant's negligence. Assumption of risk may be express or implied. Under express assumption of risk, persons agree in advance that one person consents to assume the risk of the other's negligence. For example, a skier who purchases a lift ticket at a ski resort usually expressly agrees to assume the risk of any injury that might occur while skiing. Thus, even if the ski resort negligently fails to mark a hazard on a trail resulting in an injury to a skier, the ski resort may invoke the assumption of risk defense in the skier's subsequent lawsuit.

Assumption of risk may also be implied from a plaintiff's conduct. For example, the defendant gives the plaintiff, a painter, a scaffold with a badly frayed rope. The plaintiff, fully aware of the rope's condition, proceeds to use the scaffold and is injured. The defendant can raise the implied assumption of risk defense. This defense is similar to the contributory negligence defense; in the above example, the defendant might also argue that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent for using the scaffold when he knew the rope was frayed.

The implied assumption of risk defense has caused a great deal of confusion in the courts because of its similarity to contributory negligence, and with the rise of comparative fault, the defense has diminished in importance and is viable today only in a minority of jurisdictions.

Negligence - Further Readings [next] [back] Negligence - Intervening Cause

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over 3 years ago


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almost 5 years ago

A very interesting piece of information.

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over 7 years ago

pls do inform me of any one or two weeks training on defences to negligence. i am empolyed by a body that duty is to defend the doctors/nurses under there employment

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over 2 years ago

it's real very good information and have liked it.