What is Negligence and Comparative Negligence?

Negligence and comparative negligence form the cornerstone for all personal injury lawsuits. A personal injury suit typically isn’t considered a personal injury suit unless the injury happened as the result of a negligence-related accident. Some states practice a comparative negligence approach to tort law, which essentially attempts to determine how much each party contributed to the negligence in a personal injury case. What is negligence and comparative negligence, and why does it matter?

Without Negligence, There is No Tort

Personal injury cases are based on a body of law called tort law. Tort is a legal term referring to civil wrong that results in damages. The purpose of tort law is to help victims of negligence recover from the negligent act to the point they were in before the act occurred. The idea is to come as close as possible to erasing the harm from the act as though it had never happened.

The entire system of tort law is based on negligence. Sometimes, accidents are just accidents. They happen, and they can’t be prevented. You could be walking down the street, for example, and fall and break your ankle. If you tripped in a hole that the city knew about, had a history of causing prior accidents and had failed to repair, the city might be negligent and liable for your accident. But if the sidewalk was perfectly clear and you just tripped, the accident wouldn’t be attributable to any negligence, so there would be no tort and no personal injury case.

Comparative Negligence Attempts to Fairly Assign Negligence

Some states practice a comparative negligence policy when handling personal injury law. Comparative negligence attempts to fairly assign negligence to each party. In some accidents, it isn’t entirely one person’s fault, and comparative negligence states attempt to assign fault based on how much each person’s negligence contributed to the injury.

Consider the walking down the sidewalk example. If the city knew about a hole on the sidewalk and failed to repair it, they might be negligent. However, if you were walking down the sidewalk on a clear sunny day, it might be reasonably expected that you would see the hole and avoid it. You might have contributed your own negligence by tripping in the hole anyway. In this case, both you and the city might share negligence under comparative negligence law, so you might only receive 80% of the damages because you were 20% responsible for the accident.

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