Personal Injury

What Counts As Contributory Negligence?

If you’ve been involved in a car accident and you bring a claim one of the defences that you may come up against could be ‘contributory negligence’.

Sometimes accidents are not just one person’s fault; there are occasions when multiple people will be at fault, including the person bringing the claim. If you are injured in an accident for which you are partly responsible for it is known as you contributing to the negligence, or contributory negligence.

Contributory negligence is when the Defendant (the person who you are claiming against) states that you contributed to your damage or loss. They are admitting that they are at fault but also saying you are partly to blame.

For contributory negligence to be accepted as a partial Defence, both you and the Defendant must have committed acts or omissions that give rise to liability under Tort. In a nutshell, you both must have acted negligently in a way that caused or contributed to the accident or your injury.

One of the most common examples of contributory negligence in car accident claims is when a person forgets to wear a seatbelt. The person who forgot to wear the seatbelt was not responsible for the accident, but their injury was more severe because they were not wearing their seatbelt. Another would be when a person was not keeping a proper lookout when they crossed a road and walked into traffic that was travelling over the speed limit. Or when a driver was not keeping a proper lookout and braked suddenly to avoid a hazard causing a person travelling too closely behind them to hit them.


For the Defendant to prove that you contributed to either the cause of the accident or to your injury, they have to be able to show that:-

You failed to take proper care for your safety. A lack of proper care is a lower standard that the typical breach of duty standard, it can vary depending on the situation and children are unlikely to be found to have failed to take proper care. Examples of failing to take proper care can include:-

  • Failing to wear a seatbelt in a car
  • Failing to use a designated crossing area when crossing the road if one is available

That your failure to take care was a contributory cause of the damage suffered

Your failure must have had a direct impact on your injury or the accident itself.


Being partially responsible for an accident or your injury does not mean you do not have a claim.

As long as primary liability can be established against the Defendant, then you will be entitled to compensation. Primary liability means the bulk of the blame, as long as the Defendant was mostly (over 50%) to blame for the accident then you will still have a claim.


If you agree or the Court decides that you were partly responsible for your injury, then you will not be able to claim as much as you would have had if you not been partly at fault.

Contributory negligence is often negotiated as a percentage, so if you are agreed that you were 20% responsible for the accident, then your compensation will be reduced by 20%. Financially, this means if your compensation is award at £20,000.00 then because you were agreed to be 20% negligent you will lose £4,000.00 and receive £16,000.00. Your compensation has been reduced by 20%.


In some cases, contributory negligence does not affect the Claimant (the person bringing the claim) at all but instead will affect two (or more) Defendants. If more than one person was responsible for your accident, they will have to agree how responsible each of them was. Again, like with compensation, this will be done in percentage terms. The percentage each person is considered responsible will reflect how much of your compensation they pay. So, if person A is found to be 80% responsible and person B is 20% responsible, and you are awarded £20,000.00 compensation, person A will pay £16,000.00 which is 80% of your compensation, and person B will pay £4,000.00 which is 20% of your compensation.


In conclusion, contributory negligence is the defence used when the Claimant is partly at fault. It is negotiated at a percentage and can be agreed between the parties or decided by the Court based on the evidence. It will affect the amount of compensation received dependent on the percentage agreed.

You should now have an understanding of what contributory negligence is, how it is calculated and how it can affect your claim.