Question: What are contributory negligence and comparative negligence laws, and which states have which?

Answer: Contributory negligence and comparative negligence laws deal with situations where more than one driver has been found at fault for a car accident. They determine who will pay or receive what amount of money for the damages.

Contributory negligence law states

The following states have contributory negligence laws:

With a contributory negligence rule in place, these states prohibit drivers in an accident 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% at fault, you’d be unable to collect in damages from the other party, even though the other driver was 99% 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.

Comparative negligence law states

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 comparative” or “modified comparative.”

Pure comparative negligence

These states have pure comparative negligence laws:

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

Modified comparative negligence states

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, that individual cannot recover damages from the other party.

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

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

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Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.