Contributory negligence is a term which has dual meanings in the context of personal injury compensation claims. It can either relate to the contribution you have personally made to an accident or the severity of your injuries or when multiple parties – but not including yourself – have been responsible for causing an accident in which you have suffered a loss, an injury or the deterioration of an existing condition.
Accidents and injuries for which you are partly responsible due to your own lack of care are referred to as “First Party Contributory Negligence”, whereas situations which have been caused by the negligence of others are referred to as “Third Party Contributory Negligence”.
An example of first-party contributory negligence which has led to the cause of an accident would be if a piece of equipment you were using at work was regularly overheating, but you failed to report it. If the equipment subsequently overheated to such a degree that you suffered a burn injury, your contributory negligence in not reporting the fault could result in a reduction in how much compensation you would be entitled to receive to reflect your lack of care.
You would still be entitled to some compensation for your injury, as your employer has an obligation to identify hazards in the workplace by regular safety inspections and by monitoring the performance of his or her employees, but your degree of neglect to report an unsafe piece of equipment would be taken into account when calculating the settlement of injury compensation.
You may also be penalised for your own lack of care if you fail to seek medical attention as soon as you are aware that you have sustained an injury. In most cases, common sense would prevail and you would attend the Accident and Emergency department of your local hospital or make an emergency appointment to see your GP; but some people will work through the pain or while a physical condition is deteriorating – exacerbating the injury too much worse than it was when the accident which caused it occurred.
An example of first-party negligence in this instance would be if you injured your back in a manual handling accident for which your employer was to blame and, rather than seek medical attention, you carried on working until such time as you were in agony. If you had advised an employer that you had sustained an injury but – by your own choice – continued to work, your employer is not responsible for any manual handling work compensation beyond the original injury.
There are times when you – or the person responsible for your injuries – may believe that you did indeed contribute to your injuries, when in fact you did not. An example of a “grey area” when you would not be penalised would be if you were walking along the aisle of a supermarket, browsing the products on the shelves, and slipped on a pool of bright green liquid which has leaked from a refrigeration unit, fracturing your wrist.
You may believe that you had contributed to your accident as you should have looked where you were walking and noticed something as obvious as a pool of bright green liquid; however, supermarkets encourage you to look at the items on their shelves and, because of their marketing strategy, you will be considered not to have played any part in your accident or injury.
Provided that you sought professional medical attention as soon as possible – and did not solely rely on the first aid provided in the supermarket – your claim for compensation will be unaffected by contributory negligence.
The special damages element of a personal injury compensation claim enables you to recover any quantifiable financial costs you have incurred which are attributable to your injury. Should you be found to be (say) 25 per cent responsible for causing an accident or exacerbating an injury, you will only receive 75 per cent of your total compensation settlement – including special damages.
The significance of this is that special damages also include any loss of income that you may suffer while being unable to work. Consequently, if you are off work for a considerable period of time, you will have to exist on 25 per cent less income than you are accustomed to. Furthermore, any state benefits you receive prior to your personal injury compensation claim being resolved will have to be paid back at 100 per cent – reducing your net compensation settlement further still.
When multiple third parties are liable for causing an accident in which you have sustained an injury, the term contributory negligence can also be used to express the percentage liability of each party. The clearest example of this is when multiple vehicles are involved in a road traffic accident. The first driver may have caused an accident in which you were injured by his lack of care, but a second driver compounded your injuries by failing to stop in a reasonable amount of time and causing a second collision.
When multiple third parties are responsible for causing an accident in which you are injured, it does not affect your entitlement to compensation. However, it may delay the receipt of three-car crash compensation while insurance companies representing the two negligent parties negotiate the level of responsibility which should be attributed to each. If this is likely to create a financial problem for you, you are best advised to discuss with a solicitor the possibility of receiving interim payments of compensation until such time as your three-car crash claim is resolved.
Any personal injury claim in which contributory negligence applies in any form is likely to be more complicated and take longer to resolve. However, it is better for your solicitor to be aware that contributory negligence may be an issue when you first discuss the circumstances of your accident and eligibility to claim for personal injury compensation.
If you are unsure whether your claim for personal injury compensation may be affected by either your contributory negligence or the contributory negligence of others, you are advised to explain the circumstances of your accident and injury with an experienced solicitor at the first possible opportunity.