Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Contributory Negligence Definition:

The negligence of a person which, while not being the primary cause of a tort, nevertheless combined with the act or omission of the primary defendant to cause the tort, and without which the tort would not have occurred.

Related Terms: Comparative Negligence

In the 2006 edition of Charlesworth & Percy on Negligence, the authors define contributory negligence as follows:

"(Contributory negligence) applies solely to the conduct of the claimant (plaintiff). It means that there has been some act or omission on the claimant's part which has materially contributed to the damage caused and is of such a nature that it may properly be described as negligence."

In Nance, Justice Simon described contributory negligence as:

"... a sharing of responsibility for damage where a person suffers damage as a result partly of his own fault and partly of the fault of any other person or persons...."

In Pilloni, Justice Davidson of the New South Wales court wrote:

"The term contributory negligence can properly only be applied to a case where both parties, the plaintiff and the defendant, are each guilty of negligence so connected with the injury as to be a cause materially contributing to it."

Examples of contributory negligence as it plays out in a tort action include a plaintiff injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by another but not wearing a seat belt at the time of collision (Froom), walking across a road without looking for traffic, or the fact that a plaintiff, at the time the damages occurred, was under the influence of alcohol (Stinton).

Some jurisdictions do not entirely leave the law of contributory negligence to the whims of judicial assessment. For example, the 2009 version of the British Columbia Negligence Act provides, at §1:

"If by the fault of 2 or more persons damage or loss is caused to one or more of them, the liability to make good the damage or loss is in proportion to the degree to which each person was at fault....

"... if, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, it is not possible to establish different degrees of fault, the liability must be apportioned equally."

French: négligence de la victime.


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