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, and they determine who will pay or receive what amount of money for the damages.

Contributory negligence

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 percent at fault, you’d be unable to collect for your damages from the other party, even 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.

Comparative negligence

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 a pure comparative negligence law:

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 percent at fault, then you’ll only be able to recover from the other party for the 1 percent you weren’t at fault. 

Modified comparative negligence

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):

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Penny Gusner
Consumer Analyst/Insurance Expert

Penny has been working in the car insurance business for more than 10 years and has become an expert on procedures, rates, policies and claims. She has seen it all, and working with from its inception, she researches the routine and the bizarre with equal enthusiasm. She has three very active children and a husband with a zeal for quirky cars.