For plaintiffs in personal injury cases, the goal is to hold somebody else responsible for damages they sustained. Those damages can be physical injuries, emotional suffering, or even just a loss of money or reputation. You’re trying to prove to the judge that another party caused all of that suffering you went through and that the party should be held responsible for compensating you.

The determination of fault in personal injury cases is where it gets complicated. The judge relies on witness testimony and other evidence to go on in determining whose fault it was for the incident. Even without the challenge of finding evidence and dealing with conflicting accounts, the real world is complicated enough. It’s not always simple and easy to be able to say that one person or another is clearly responsible for a particular case. That’s why the contributory negligence fault system can be especially frustrating for people trying to seek compensation in the U.S.

Dealing with Contributory Negligence Standards

Tort law varies by state in the U.S., so each state in the country is able to set its own standards for how to judge personal injury claims. Contributory negligence is a particularly strict way of determining fault and rewarding compensation, and it is only used in 4 states and Washington, D.C. The four states are Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Under the standard of pure contributory negligence, a plaintiff in an injury case will be unable to recover any damages if they are found to be at fault in any way for the incident. If the judge says that the other driver on the road was 99 percent responsible for your injuries, but that you are 1 percent at fault for actions you failed to take, then you might not be able to get any financial reward at all.

In such cases, you will have to work extra hard in gathering evidence and getting legal counsel to help you prove that other parties are entirely responsible for the damages you suffered in any particular case. If you happened to be in one of these states when the incident occurred, then you likely have no choice but to do your best under that specific standard, as there is little chance of finding grounds to try it in a different state. If you’re outside of your home state when you’re injured, however, you might have a shot at suing in either state.

Other Systems for Considering Fault

If your state doesn’t use contributory negligence, then it very likely has a more generous way of considering fault for plaintiffs in injury cases. Other states either use pure comparative negligence or a modified version of comparative negligence. As an injured individual looking to receive damages for an incident where you share fault, you will be more likely to get compensation with one of these standards of fault.

States using a pure standard of comparative negligence will award you damages according to the exact percentages of fault. They’ll determine the total cost of damages, and then they’ll cut out a fraction of your reward depending on the precise percentage of fault you share. Many states use this system but have also modified it by adding a cut-off level of fault. In these states, you are only eligible to receive damages if your measure of fault in a case does not exceed a specified amount, which is usually 50 or 51 percent.