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Contributory & Comparative Negligence in Car Accident Claims


In the modern era, cars are an essential component of everyday life for most people in the United States. We rely on motor vehicles to get us to work, help us run errands, and even get to and from vacation destinations. However, with an estimated 284.4 million registered vehicles in the U.S. in 2022, our roadways have become more congested than ever before. Even the most cautious of drivers is at risk of a car accident due to the actions of other motorists, defective roadway designs, poor weather, and a myriad of other factors.

If you are unfortunate enough to experience a car accident, you probably have questions about who will pay for any injuries or damage caused by the crash. We put together this article on car accident liability in Georgia compared to other U.S. states, so you will be prepared to deal with the aftermath of a motor vehicle collision in any region of the country.

What is Negligence?

To begin, it is important to understand the general concept of “negligence.” As it relates to car accidents, a driver may generally be found negligent through the following four components:

  1. Drivers on the road have a duty to other motorists and pedestrians to operate their vehicle safely and obey traffic laws
  2. A driver involved in a crash breached their duty to drive responsibly
  3. The actions of that motorist contributed to or caused the collision
  4. The crash directly inflicted injury, monetary losses, or other damages

Proving that one or more drivers involved in a crash breached their duty to the plaintiff(s) can be a challenging task that is best left to an experienced car accident attorney. A lawyer that is knowledgeable of your state’s traffic and liability laws will be able to establish proof of negligence, calculate damages, and fight to secure the victim’s right to compensation. In some cases, it’s even possible that more than one driver can be found liable for a car crash.

What is Contributory Negligence?

When it comes to car accidents in the U.S., states use the principles of either contributory negligence or comparative negligence to determine who is at fault for a crash and what damages may be recovered. When a state uses a contributory negligence system, a plaintiff may not collect any damages from another party if they bear any degree of responsibility for the collision. Even if a crash victim bears as little as 1% liability and the other driver is found to be 99% responsible for the incident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages at all.

Relatively few states have implemented a contributory negligence system. At the time of this article’s writing, contributory negligence is in place in:

What is Comparative Negligence?

Most U.S. states currently use a comparative negligence model to determine how damages are paid out in the aftermath of a car crash. Under comparative negligence laws, a plaintiff’s damages are reduced according to the degree of liability they bear for the collision. There are three types of comparative negligence laws in the U.S.:

Pure Comparative Negligence

Rose, Klein & Marias LLP notes that, under a pure comparative negligence system, “the victim’s recovery award [is reduced] by his or her percentage of fault.” Even if a driver is found to be 99% responsible for causing a crash, they can still recover 1% of the compensation that would have otherwise been awarded. In essence, pure comparative negligence allows liability for a collision to be shared amongst a group of people, according to the role of each participant in the incident. The following twelve states currently follow this method:

Modified Comparative Negligence (50%)

In a state that has a comparative negligence threshold set at 50%, the plaintiff may not collect any damages if they are found to be 50% or more at fault for a car crash. If the victim’s degree of liability is below the 50% threshold, they may recover a corresponding amount in damages. In the rare case that two drivers bear exactly 50% responsibility for an incident, neither motorist can recover damages from the other person. Georgia is one of the states that currently uses a 50% threshold, and the others include:

Modified Comparative Negligence (51%)

In some states, the threshold for recovering damages under comparative negligence is set to 51%, as opposed to 50%. Thus, if a crash victim is not primarily responsible for the situation, they are eligible to receive compensation for any injuries or monetary expenses incurred. The Hill Law Firm notes that the amount of damages awarded will still “be reduced by a matching percentage” of fault under the 51% rule. The following 21 states currently use this type of modified comparative negligence law:

How Liability is Determined After a Georgia Car Crash

Determining liability in the aftermath of a Georgia car crash can be challenging, particularly when there are multiple vehicles or injury victims involved. Generally, if a driver violates a traffic law and their actions directly lead to the collision, they will be found to share most or all the liability for the crash. For example, a driver that runs a red light and causes a multi-car pileup will almost certainly be fully liable for the accident.

If you get into a car crash, it’s always recommended to speak to a local auto accident lawyer. They can investigate your claim, negotiate for a fair settlement, and represent you while you recover from your injuries.


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