in common-law jurisdictions is generally a defense to a claim based on negligence, an action in tort. This principle is relevant to the determination of liability and is applicable when plaintiffs/claimants have, through their own negligence, contributed to the harm they suffered. It can also be applied by the court in a tort
matter irrespective of whether it was pleaded as a defense.
For example, a pedestrian crosses a road negligently and is hit by a driver who was driving negligently. Since the pedestrian has also contributed to the accident, they may be barred from complete and full recovery of damages from the driver (or their insurer) because the accident was less likely to occur if it hadn't been for their failure to keep a proper lookout. Another example of contributory negligence is where a plaintiff actively disregards warnings or fails to take reasonable steps for his or her safety, then assumes a certain level of risk in a given activity; such as diving in shallow water without checking the depth first.
In some jurisdictions, the doctrine states that a victim who is at fault
to any degree, including only 1% at fault, may be denied compensation entirely. This is known as pure
contributory negligence. In the United States, the pure contributory negligence only applies in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. Indiana applies pure contributory negligence to medical malpractice
cases and tort claims against the state government
. In the other 45 states in the U.S., plaintiff's recovery is simply diminished by the extent to which he or she contributed to the harm: this doctrine is known as comparative negligence
In England and Wales, it is not possible to defeat a claim under contributory negligence and therefore completely deny the victim compensation. It does however allow for a reduction in damages recoverable
to the extent that the court sees fit. In India compensation in favour of victim gets reduced in proportion with his negligence.
In Australia, particularly New South Wales, the award of damages is reduced by the same percentage as the plaintiff's own negligence. For example, if the plaintiff was 50% negligent
in causing his or her own accident, but would otherwise be entitled to $100,000 in damages, a court will award only $50,000. A court may also find that 100% contributory negligence is applicable in which case the plaintiff is not entitled to any damages. Determining the extent of the contributory negligence is subjective
and heavily dependent on the evidence available. Parties will often work to negotiate a mutually satisfactory percentage figure
when engaging in alternative dispute resolution
(such as mediation). If the matter does not settle
, a percentage figure is ultimately assigned by the court at the hearing.