Personal injury law provides an avenue for compensation to victims who suffered harm due to the misconduct of another party. But what happens if the parties share liability for an accident? 

Every U.S. state, including Texas, has its own way of distributing compensation. Contributory negligence and comparative negligence are two of those ways. They apply to wrongful death claims as much as they do to personal injury claims.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is the “all or nothing” way of distributing damages. Under contributory negligence, the victim cannot claim any compensation if they were even one percent at fault for the accident. 

In other words, a defendant who was 99% at fault for an accident can get away with paying nothing. The system’s detractors protest that it is unfair to personal injury victims. Its advocates note that it keeps car insurance rates low. 

Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia are the only jurisdictions in the United States that still cling to the contributory fault system. Even the District of Columbia doesn’t apply it in every instance.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence differs from contributory negligence in that the law gives an injured victim at least a little leeway for fault, allowing the victim to recover in some cases where they were partially at fault. There are different types of comparative fault based on the state’s law on the matter.

Pure Comparative Negligence

Under pure comparative negligence, a court will assign each party a percentage of fault. The injury victim will lose that portion of their own damages that corresponds to their percentage of fault (35%, for example). 

There is no cutoff—you can demand 1% of your damages even if you were 99% at fault for the accident under the pure comparative fault system.  

Modified Comparative Negligence–51% Bar

Modified comparative fault with a 51% bar works like pure comparative negligence, except that any party over 50% at fault recovers nothing. 

Texas personal injury law operates under a “comparative negligence with a 51% bar” (“proportionate responsibility”) system.

Modified Comparative Negligence–50% Bar

Modified comparative negligence with a 50% bar works like pure comparative negligence, except that any party who is at least 50% at fault recovers nothing. 

Comparative Fault in Settlement Negotiations

Most personal injury cases end in settlement. At the bargaining table, the parties tend to settle for amounts they believe reflect the amount that a court is likely to award. The persuasiveness of each side’s lawyers is critically important.

If you share fault for the accident or injury, your settlement will likely reflect your portion of responsibility. Insurance companies are known for their “blame the victim” tactics. They employ them to reduce payouts, and they often don’t have evidence to prove their allegations. 

An experienced personal injury lawyer can defend you from unfair accusations of shared blame. Or, if you were partially responsible, they’ll work to reduce the percentage of fault assigned to you.

“No-Fault” Systems and Comparative Negligence

About a dozen states (not including Texas) apply a no-fault system to car accident injuries. There is no contributory fault because it doesn’t matter whose fault an accident is. Each party receives compensation from their personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. 

Only if an injury is “serious,” as some state laws define that term, can an injury victim exit the no-fault system. Only then does comparative fault become relevant. 

You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer If You’re Being Blamed For an Accident

Suppose you collided with a defendant who ran a stop light. You, on the other hand, were driving five miles over the speed limit at the time of the accident. What is your percentage of fault? 1%? 10%? 20%? 40%? The exact percentages matter a great deal, especially if you have a large claim. An experienced personal injury attorney can minimize any deduction from your damages. 

Settling a personal injury claim with an insurance company is tricky business, and you might need a lawyer for this purpose.


If you’ve been injured in an accident in Fort Worth and need legal help, contact our Fort Worth personal injury lawyers at Stephens Law Personal Injury to schedule a free consultation.

Stephens Law Personal Injury | Wrongful Death | Truck Accidents
1300 S University Dr # 300
Fort Worth, TX 76107
(817) 420 7000