What is Contributory Negligence?

By Eoin P. Campbell, LL.B., Solicitor

Contributory Negligence in Personal Injury Claims

The cause of any kind of accident is not always necessarily clear, and to know what contributory negligence is may be very important in terms of personal injury claims. Of course, one party may be completely to blame in a road traffic accident, or an employer may have shown blatant disregard to safety legislation leading to an accident at work, but there are many instances where contributory negligence in personal injury claims can affect how long it takes for an injury compensation claim to be resolved or how much compensation is awarded to the claimant.

Contributory Negligence involving Multiple Parties

It is often possible that more than one, or even many, parties contributed to an accident that has happened. When this scenario occurs, liability for the cause of an accident is distributed among the negligent parties on a percentage basis – with each then responsible for that percentage of the resulting compensation settlement.

A good example of this situation is a ‘pile-up’ road traffic accident whereby car A caused the initial accident by running a red light and crashed into car B. Car C however was driving too fast and was unable to stop in time and consequently crashed into the back of car B – causing further damage and injury.  As the claimant, B will then sue both A and C whose insurers will, in all probability, agree to accept liability for B’s injuries and damage on a percentage basis e.g. A may agree to pay 75% of B’s compensation while C will pay the remaining 25%.

Provided that the insurance companies agree quickly on the proportion of blame that should be attributed to their policyholders, there should be no delay in the receipt of your personal injury compensation settlement, but please note it is unlikely that the Injuries Board Ireland will process an application for assessment without a prior agreement concerning the division of liability and you may require the assistance of a solicitor to resolve your personal injury claim.

Personal Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence in personal injury claims can also apply when the claimant may possibly have contributed to the cause of an accident by acting in a negligent manner when faced with the obvious and known conditions or by exacerbating their injury by their own lack of care

Perhaps the most obvious example of what is contributory negligence, and that which is best recognised by the public, is the failure to wear a seatbelt in a road traffic accident. If you make a personal injury claim and the other driver can prove that you were not wearing a seatbelt when the accident took place, your total claim for compensation will normally be reduced by 25%.

The reasons behind this principle are rather straightforward. First of all, we are required by law (with very few exceptions) to wear a seatbelt whether we are driving or travelling as a passenger in a motor vehicle, and secondly, it is assumed that in all likelihood the injuries sustained by the claimant would have been less serious had he or she had been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

It is less well-known that failing to seek professional medical attention at the earliest possible opportunity after sustaining an injury in an accident for which you were not at fault can also be interpreted as contributory negligence in personal injury claims. Many potential claimants are surprised to learn that they are not entitled to a full compensation settlement for their injuries when they have made them worse by delaying a medical examination at a hospital or GP´s surgery.

The administration of first aid at the scene of an accident or treating apparently minor injuries when you return home is not sufficient evidence that an injury has occurred, and any unjustifiable gap between the date of your accident and when your injuries are recorded in your medical notes is likely to be queried by the defendant´s legal representative or their insurers.

The principle of contributory negligence in personal injury claims may subsequently be used by a defendant as a defence (or perhaps more appropriately a partial defence) in order to reduce the amount of compensation that will be paid to the claimant.


  • Contributory negligence determines the proportion of blame for an accident in which you have suffered an injury.
  • You may be accused of contributory negligence if you are not completely blameless for the accident or fail to seek immediate medical attention.
  • The degree of your contributory negligence will affect your award of personal injury compensation.
  • A solicitor will determine whether contributory negligence in personal injury claims applies to case as part of his assessment.

It is important to note that each case is unique. If you have recently been involved in an accident and feel that you have a potential personal injury claim you are advised to discuss all of the points raised in the preceding article with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.

Copyright © 2009-2019 Eoin Campbell

Eoin P. Campbell on Contributory Negligence About the Author
Eoin P. Campbell is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified solicitor whose main professional experience is in the area of litigation and in particular personal injury claims. Eoin P. Campbell is currently lecturing in law at two universities in Lyon, France.