You or someone you know may have been in a traffic accident that was not your fault. If you’ve been injured, you may want to file a personal injury claim. Often at the scene of the accident, you exchange insurance data with the person you believe to be guilty of (the defendant). However, the defendant insurance company will often assert contributory negligence.

What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence is a term used when you are deemed by another person to be partially responsible for causing an accident or contributing to the injuries suffered. If this is claimed and / or accepted, it means that the amount of damage (compensation) you receive will be reduced by a certain percentage.

The standard of care is judged to be appropriate under the given circumstances (Harrison versus MoD [1993]).

Examples of contributory negligence


An example could be that you had a head in a collision with another vehicle. The other driver might assume that you were 50% responsible for the cause of the accident. This means that, for example, if your claim was worth £ 10,000.00, if you accepted that you were 50% guilty, the compensation would be reduced to £ 5,000.00.


If you are a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident caused by another vehicle and you are not wearing a seat belt, the defendant insurer will argue that failure to use a seat belt did not cause the accident but may have contributed to the injuries you have suffered A typical example could be where you hit your head and if you had been wearing a seat belt the injury could have been avoided. The defendant insurer often claims contributory negligence of up to 25% and only 15%. This in turn means that if accepted, the compensation you get will be reduced.

Another example is if you are a passenger and you decide to get on a vehicle with a driver who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and you knew or reasonably should have known, then you are considered contributory negligence.


Contributory negligence is often alleged when a pedestrian crosses a street and does not use a pedestrian crossing when such a crossing was nearby and could have been used. A car then hits you. Or you stepped onto a street behind a parked vehicle. The defendant insurer can consider you negligent. The court has discretion and guidance as to what level of contributory negligence is appropriate, and a judge will often examine what is fair and just.


Children are often involved in accidents while pedestrians and are often found to be contributory. The determination of contributory negligence often depends on the age of the child.

Cyclists / motorcyclists

An example of contributory negligence is getting knocked down by a vehicle while riding a bike and it was not your fault, but you did not wear a helmet and sustained a head injury. Contributory negligence is often asserted here.

While you may be involved in an accident which you believe was caused by someone else, there is no guarantee that the accused will be held 100% responsible for causing your accident.