What Is Contributory Negligence Under New York Law?

Negligence is a legal term you frequently hear when pursuing personal injury cases. In fact, negligence is the legal basis for bringing an injury lawsuit.

What Is Negligence?

Negligence refers to the failure to act with the degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation. It can refer to actions but also to omissions, or failures to act as a reasonable person would have acted.

When a lawyer files a personal injury lawsuit, the case must include four elements to establish negligence:

  1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. In the example of a car accident, the defendant would owe other drivers the duty of care to obey traffic laws and drive safely.
  2. The defendant breached the duty. Using the car accident example, if the defendant ran a red light and crashed into another car, it would breach the traffic duty to stop at a red light.
  3. The plaintiff suffered injury. The plaintiff was injured, had to be hospitalized and went through surgery. There must be damages in order to pursue a lawsuit.
  4. The defendant’s breach caused the injury. The plaintiff in the car accident was hospitalized and received surgery because of the injury sustained when the defendant ran the red light and crashed into the plaintiff’s car.

What If More than One Person Is Responsible for Causing the Accident?

When more than one party is responsible for causing an accident, cases become complicated. Some states have laws that prevent an accident victim from recovering compensation if victim had any fault at all in causing the accident. However this is not true under New York law.

New York has a contributory negligence law, which means the court evaluates the negligence of all the parties who contributed to the accident. The court assigns each party a percentage of fault, based on New York Civ. Prac. L. & R. §§1411, et seq. The court does not bar recovery in any legal action that pursues compensation for personal injury, injury to property or wrongful death, if the injury victim or person who was killed in the accident, contributed to causing the damage. However, the court reduces the amount of recoverable compensation based on the percentage of contribution to damages.

An example would be if one driver ran a red light and crashed into another car, but the other driver was speeding. The court might determine that the extent of damages were 80% the fault of the driver running the red light and 20% the fault of the other speeding driver. If the damages were $100,000, the plaintiff (the speeding driver) could recover $80,000.

If you have suffered injury and believe it was due to another person’s negligence, contact a personal injury lawyer. A consultation to determine whether grounds exist to pursue a case is free. The attorney will explain your rights to take legal action.