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    Negligence and Contributory Negligence in Road Traffic Accidents: UK and USA Perspective

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    Negligence and Contributory Negligence in Road Traffic Accidents: UK and USA Perspective

Negligence and Contributory Negligence in Road Traffic Accidents: UK and USA Perspective

Determining fault after a car accident can be challenging, especially when you fail to wear a seat belt or violate safety codes. The car accident claim can become even more complex when negligence or contributory negligence rules apply to it. The Parry v Johnson and Another (2022) case in the England and Wales high court provides insight into the negligence law and contributory negligence involving pedestrians. Let’s explore the details of the case, what the jury found, and how contributory negligence is different in the United States with Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys.

Parry v Johnson and Another (2022): Case of Negligence and Contributory Negligence

The Background of the Case

On 13th August 2019, the defendant was driving a tractor with a seeding machine on the road, with part of the seeding machine hanging over the grassy verge. Parry, the plaintiff, was walking on the side of the road with his wife at around 9 PM when they saw a tractor approaching them. The couple moved to the side of the road, but the overhung seeding machine hit Parry, causing him serious injuries.

Parry filed a personal injury claim against the first defendant for driving too fast. According to his claim, the defendant failed to notice the pedestrian, did not have sufficient lighting on their tractor, and failed to manage the overhung seeding machine. Speeding or not, farm machinery can kill unless the operator takes steps to drive safely. The first defendant and their insurance company (second defendant) refused to accept liability, stating that they could not do anything to prevent the cause of the accident.

The defendants also claimed that Parry (the plaintiff) contributed to the accident as he was negligent by wearing dark clothing and was not visible to the first defendant.

Applying Laws to the Facts of the Case

To determine whether there was contributory negligence on behalf of the claimant, the judge had to look into the following three issues:

  • Was the claimant visible?
  • Was the first defendant driving appropriately?
  • How was the claimant acting on the road?

For the judge to address all three issues, they had to review the evidence provided, which included witness statements, a statement from the accident reconstruction specialist about the incident, and police reports. 

After assessing the evidence, the judge had to go over the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, which is the United Kingdom Parliament Act that allows a judge to allocate liability for compensatory damages according to what is “just and equitable” between a defendant and the injured person who shares partial responsibility for the accident.

Under the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, the defendant cannot use partial fault as a defense to avoid liability for the damages caused by their negligence completely. However, the defendant can avoid partial liability under the Act. The judge will have to decide what is “just and equitable” when determining the extent of reducing the damages.

To determine fault, the judge referred to the Highway Code, in particular, the section that referred to pedestrian rules which provided the following guidelines:

  • If there are pavements on the road, pedestrians should use them; if not, they should keep to the extreme right side of the road so they can see incoming traffic.
  • When the roads are narrow or the lighting is poor, pedestrians must exercise extreme caution and walk in a single line.
  • Pedestrians should ensure that other road users can see them; this includes wearing brightly colored clothes during the day or reflective materials at night.

When the pedestrian is at-fault for an accident, the judge must revert to section 38 (7) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which states that failure to follow the highway code does not lead to criminal proceedings, but the actions of the pedestrian at fault can be used as a defense to reduce or eliminate liability in any civil or criminal case.

To determine the first defendant’s duty of care to pedestrians, the judge referred to the Lunt v Khelifa [2002] EWCA Civ 801 case, where the court ruled that the drivers, especially in the case of unlit equipment that overhangs on grassy verges, owes a duty of care to the pedestrian.

The Judge Rules in Favor of the Plaintiff

After reviewing the applicable laws and going over highway code guidelines, the judge dismissed the contributory negligence allegations and ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

The judge stated that Mr. Johnson, the defendant, had the duty to drive at lower speeds, and he should have used the main beam headlights to identify any pedestrians that may be walking on the road. The slow speed and the beam would’ve allowed Mr. Johnson enough time to prevent the accident from happening.

According to the judge, Mr. Johnson, who changed the facts of the case on several occasions, did further damage to the case. He also observed that the plaintiff and his wife were visible to any reasonably prudent driver.

Interestingly, the law of contributory negligence varies all over the world. For example, in France, pedestrians have the right to recover compensation regardless of whether or not they’re at fault unless their actions intend to cause harm.

Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence in Road Traffic Accidents in the United States

There are around 6 million car accidents annually in the United States, and according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 35,766 motor vehicle fatalities in 2020. 

When a car accident occurs anywhere in the United States, one party could be liable for the motor vehicle accident or multiple. There are two main theories to address this fact: comparative negligence and contributory negligence.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Some states follow the comparative negligence rule whereby even parties responsible for an accident may be able to sue the other party to recover damages. However, their degree of fault in the accident will reduce the damages they may be able to recover.

There are two types of comparative negligence, and these are:

  • Modified comparative negligence: In states that follow modified comparative negligence, injured victims can pursue a personal injury claim to obtain compensation if they’re less than 50% responsible for the accident. Some states follow the 51% rule whereby injured victims may still be able to pursue monetary damages if they’re 50% at fault for their injuries.
  • Pure comparative negligence: Under the pure comparative negligence rule, the person involved in an accident can obtain compensation even if they’re 99% at fault for their injuries.

Let’s look at an example of how the two may work out.

Lyla decides to make a left turn without using a turn signal and crashes into Janice, who’s traveling 20 mph above the speed limit. Lyla suffers $200,000 in damages and sues Janice to recover the compensation for the damages.

During the trial, the Jury determined that Lyla’s own negligence contributed 30% to the car accident and the other driver’s negligence contributed 70%. If the Jury agrees that the damages are worth $200,000, Lyla will receive $140,000 as she was 30% responsible for the car accident.

In some states where there is pure comparative negligence, if the same accident happened, Lyla could recover compensation even if she was 70% at fault for the car accident. That would mean, in those states, Lyla could recover $60,000.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Only a few states, such as Virginia, Alabama, D.C., Maryland, and North Carolina, follow contributory negligence as a legal defense. The plaintiff’s contributory negligence essentially bars injured victims from obtaining monetary damages when pursuing personal injury claims.

Contributory negligence is significant in car accident cases where injured victims in these states cannot recover compensation if they’re partially responsible for their own injuries. If they violate the duty imposed to behave reasonably, they are at fault for the accident in most cases. Using the above car accident involving Lyla and Janice, Lyla in North Carolina (a contributory negligence state that follows ordinary/reasonable care standard) cannot sue the other driver as she did not give a turn signal, and Janice did not know Lyla was going to make the turn, resulting in the accident.

Under the contributory negligence rule, Lyla’s negligence resulted in the accident, so she cannot recover compensation. The defendant can use contributory negligence as a legal defense in states that still use this rule. However, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff acted negligently and contributed to the accident, even if it was only slightly negligent. There is an exception to the contributory negligence defense, which is gross negligence, where the defendant engages in willful or wanton conduct and is primarily responsible.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

Contributory or comparative negligence rules may seem simple, but proving the fault and recovering damages is much more challenging. California follows the comparative negligence rule, which allows injured victims to pursue compensation even if they’re partially at fault.

If you’ve suffered injuries in a car accident in California or Texas, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation to discuss your case, as you may be able to seek compensation.


Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.

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