Contributory Negligence – Law of Torts – Notes

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Contributory Negligence – It is a defence to a claim based on negligence, an action in tort. It applies to cases where plaintiffs have, through their own negligence, contributed to the harm they suffered. In certain jurisdictions of U.S. contributory negligence is a complete defence even if the plaintiff is at 1% fault.  In U.K. contributory negligence is a partial defence with damages being reduced as per the plaintiff’s contribution towards the tort. In certain jurisdictions plaintiff fault towards the tort must be less than 50% in order to get a claim.

Butterfield v. Forrester [103 Eng. Rep. 926 (K.B. 1809)] – Plaintiff was thrown off his horse and injured after he struck a pole. Defendant had put the pole across part of the road for the purpose of making some repairs to his house. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence. The plaintiff was not allowed damages as the court held that Plaintiff had used ordinary care, he would have seen the obstruction. Thus, no damages were provided due to contributory negligence on part of the plaintiff.

Froom v. Butcher ([1975] 3 AllER 520) – Plaintiff was driving with his wife and daughter, none of whom were wearing seatbelts. They were on the right side of the road when defendant pulled out to pass and struck them head on leading to plaintiff injuring his head and chest. The injury suffered would have been of a lesser degree had plaintiff used a seat belt. Seatbelts were not legally required at the time.  The court held that not wearing a seatbelt by the plaintiff amounts to contributory negligence even if he is not required by the law to wear them and thereby damages were reduced.

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