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Negligence laws by state

Question: Which states have contributory negligence laws and which have comparative negligence laws?

Answer: Contributory negligence and comparative negligence laws are intended to deal with situations where more than one driver has been found to have contributed to an auto accident. (See “Who is at fault when two drivers back into each other?”)

One type of negligence law could cut back any claim you make. The other could mean you get nothing.

The following states have contributory negligence laws:

  • Alabama
  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia

With a contributory negligence rule in place, these states prohibit accident participants from recovering any compensation for their damages if they’ve been found to have contributed to the accident in any way. 

This means if you‘re involved in an accident and are found even 1 percent at fault you’d be unable to collect for your damages from the other party, though, the other driver was 99 percent at fault.

Only a few states adhere to the harsh contributory negligence rule, since it results in circumstances where a person may be found only slightly at fault but is denied any compensation.

All other states have some sort of comparative negligence law. 

Comparative negligence rules allow drivers that are at fault to be able to collect for damages -- but only to the degree to which they weren’t at fault. Comparative negligence laws can be pure or modified.

Thirteen states have a pure comparative fault rule, which means these states allow you to collect from the other driver even when you’ve been found to be mostly at fault. States with a pure comparative rule include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Washington

While these states permit you to seek compensation if you’re the driver chiefly at fault, remember your recovery will be reduced by your degree of fault. Thus, if you’re 99 percent at fault, then you’ll only be able to recover from the other party for the 1 percent you weren’t at fault. 

The remaining 33 states have modified comparative negligence laws. Each of these states has set an at-fault threshold. This means if a driver is more than a certain percentage at fault, then that individual cannot recover damages from the other party.

There are 12 states that follow a 50 percent threshold and 21 that follow a 51 percent threshold. States with a 50 percent rule don’t allow a motorist to recover if the driver is found 50 percent or more at fault. With the 51 percent rule, you can recover if you’re 50 percent or less at fault, but not if you’re 51 percent or more at fault. 

With both modified comparative rule types, your compensation will be reduced by the degree of fault that is placed upon you by the car insurance company working the claim. The states with modified comparative negligence rules are (rule threshold in parentheses):

  • Arkansas (50%)
  • Colorado (50%)
  • Connecticut (51%)
  • Delaware (51%)
  • Hawaii (51%)
  • Georgia (50%)
  • Idaho (50%)
  • Illinois (51%)
  • Indiana (51%)
  • Iowa (51%)
  • Kansas (50%)
  • Maine (50%)
  • Massachusetts (51%)
  • Michigan (51%)
  • Minnesota (51%)
  • Montana (51%)
  • Nebraska (50%)
  • Nevada (51%)
  • New Hampshire (51%)
  • New Jersey (51%)
  • North Dakota (50%)
  • Ohio (51%)
  • Oklahoma (50%)
  • Oregon (51%)
  • Pennsylvania (51%)
  • South Carolina (51%)
  • Tennessee (50%)
  • Texas (51%)
  • Utah (50%)
  • Vermont (51%)
  • West Virginia (50%)
  • Wisconsin (51%)
  • Wyoming (51%)

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