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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

How Contributory Vs. Comparative Negligence Laws Affect Lawsuits in Indianapolis

Personal injury cases are often complicated by the different rules and legal doctrines that each state adheres to. Many victims rush to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party without stopping to consider whether they live in a contributory negligence state or one that follows comparative negligence laws.

The lines between a contributory vs. comparative negligence doctrine may seem blurred to most victims, but they exist nonetheless, and have a huge impact on the outcome of a personal injury claim.

However, dealing with a comparative fault or contributory negligence system is not something that victims can navigate on their own. If the injured party is to recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit, they will need the help of an experienced attorney.

In Indiana, no one understands the difference between comparative negligence law and contributory negligence doctrine better than Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys. Victims can call a personal injury law firm in Indianapolis and set up a free consultation.

Importance of Understanding Legal Doctrine in a Negligence Claim

Importance of Understanding Legal Doctrine in a Negligence Claim

When it comes to settling personal injury claims in the US, different states follow different doctrines, such as modified comparative negligence, pure comparative negligence, contributory negligence, etc. Understanding the particular doctrine in a particular state is the first step to determining how the lawsuit should be handled.

The legal doctrine also has a huge bearing on the amount of compensation that the victims will walk away with. This is because it determines how important the victim's contribution to the accident will be considered. In some states, being found partly to blame will reduce the damages victims can be awarded, while in others, it might mean they walk away empty-handed.

Contributory Negligence Rule - All or Nothing

The contributory negligence rule is widely regarded as an "all or nothing" doctrine because a victim can lose a personal injury claim if they are found to be even 1% at fault for an accident. This is considered to be too harsh on the victim in many states, but not all of them.

In the US, the District of Columbia and four other states (Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia) still recognize the contributory negligence doctrine.

The only saving grace for victims in a contributory negligence state is that the burden of proof lies on the defendant who is making a contributory negligence claim. This means they have to prove that the victim knew about the dangerous situation, and had the opportunity to avoid being injured. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also answer questions such as what is gross negligence?

Comparative Negligence Laws

Comparative negligence laws are a lot more accommodating to victims during personal injury cases, and have been adopted by the majority of states in the US. While the comparative negligence rule still acknowledges that the victim may be partially at fault for the accident, it does not mean that they will walk away with nothing from the case.

In comparative negligence states, victims will still walk away with damages that the court deems fair after having considered the part they played in causing their injuries. This is a far cry from the contributory negligence rule that would strip them of the right to claim any damages at all in such cases.

Regarding making a personal injury claim, there are two types of comparative negligence doctrines that victims need to consider, and these are:

Pure Comparative Negligence

Pure comparative negligence states do not take into account the extent to which the victim is at fault for the accident when awarding damages. Even if the victim is found to be 75% to blame for the crash, they will still be entitled to damages less the 75% of their share of the accident.

In such cases, the jury determines how much fault to place on the victim, as well as how much to award them from the initial value of the claim. 12 states follow pure comparative negligence laws, including California, Arizona, Florida, and others.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Modified comparative negligence laws take a slightly different approach. While still awarding partly at-fault victims damages there are two different ways the personal injury claims may be handled, and these are:

The 51% Approach

With this type of comparative negligence rule, the plaintiff's negligence should not exceed 50% for them to recover damages. If they are 50% liable for the injury claim, they will still walk away with half the value of the claim.

The 50% Approach

The 50% rule will only approve the plaintiff's damages if they are less than 50% to blame for the accident. If they are equally responsible for their injuries, they will not walk away with any damages.

Which Rule Does Indiana Follow?

Indiana is a modified comparative negligence state which follows the 51% approach. This means if victims have been injured in an accident that they are deemed to be equally at fault for, they will still be able to walk away with half the value of the personal injury claim.

However, it is important to know that unlike pure comparative negligence states, in Indiana, victims who are found to be more than 50% to blame for the accident will not be able to claim any damages from the defendants.

Proving Negligence in a Personal Injury Claim

Whether victims are in a contributory negligence state, or one which follows comparative negligence laws, proving fault is very important. The following four elements of negligence must be demonstrated:

  • Duty of are

  • Breach of duty

  • Causation

  • Damages

What Does All This Mean for Indiana Personal Injury Cases?

The fact that different states have different approaches to dealing with personal injury claims means that navigating these doctrines is made even more complicated. They can also help explain how does a no fault car insurance claim work. Without the benefit of years of legal training, there are many mistakes that victims can make, which may put their personal injury lawsuits at risk.

In Indiana, the 51% approach to modified comparative negligence laws means that proving negligence is vital to the outcome of the case. If the defendant can somehow prove that the victims are more than 50% to blame for the accident, the personal injury claim will lose merit.

A Good Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

A Good Personal Injury Attorney Can Help

As complicated as it may seem, recovering damages in an Indiana personal injury claim is quite possible with the right lawyer representing the victim. With a deep understanding of the differences between contributory vs. comparative negligence claims, Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can help victims in Indiana collect damages from the at-fault party or their insurance company.


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