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What is contributory negligence in a road traffic accident?

You or someone you know may have been involved in a road traffic accident which was not your fault. If you have been injured you may be looking to bring a personal Injury claim. Often at the scene of the accident you will exchange insurance details with the person you consider to be at fault (the Defendant). However often the Defendant Insurance Company will allege contributory negligence.

What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence is a term used when you are considered by someone else to be partially responsible for causing an accident or contributing to the injuries you have suffered. If this is alleged and or accepted it means that the amount of damages (compensation) you receive will be reduced by a certain percentage.

The standard of care is what is judged as reasonable in the circumstances (Harrison v MoD [1993]).

Examples of contributory negligence


An example could be where you have had a head on collision with another vehicle. The other driver may consider you were 50% responsible for causing the accident. This means that for example if your claim was worth £10,000.00, the award of compensation would be reduced to £5,000.00 if you accept that you were 50% to blame.


If you are a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident caused by another vehicle and you were not wearing a seatbelt, the Defendant insurer will argue that whilst the failure to wear a seatbelt did not cause the accident, it may have contributed to the injuries you have suffered. A typical example could be where you strike your head and if you had been wearing a seatbelt, the injury could have been avoided. Often the Defendant Insurer will allege as much as 25% and as little as 15% contributory negligence. This again means that if this is accepted the award of compensation you receive will be reduced.

Another example is where if you are a passenger and you decide to get into a vehicle with a driver who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and you knew or ought reasonably to have known this, then you will be considered contributory negligent.


Contributory negligence is often alleged where a pedestrian crosses a road, not using a pedestrian crossing when such a crossing was near by and could have been used. A car then hits you. Or you have stepped out onto a road from behind a parked vehicle, the Defendant Insurer may consider you are contributory negligent. The court has discretionary powers and guidance as to what level of contributory negligence is suitable and a Judge will often consider what is just and equitable.


Children are often involved in accidents whilst being a pedestrian and contributory negligence is often raised against them. The finding of contributory negligence will often depend on the age of the child.


An example of contributory negligence here is where you are knocked down by a vehicle whilst on a cycle and it was not your fault, but you failed to wear a helmet and you sustained a head injury. Often contributory negligence will be alleged here.

Therefore whilst you may be involved in an accident which you consider was someone else’s fault, there is no guarantee that the Defendant will be held 100% liable for causing your accident.