Contributory Negligence is when plaintiff fails to exercise reasonable care and caution for his/her safety and contributes in defendant’s negligence. An employee does not wear safety helmet while working on a construction site and an accident occurs because of the negligence of other party but the failure of wearing the safety helmet contributes the injury, not the accident is an example of contributory negligence. It is generally used as a defence to a tort claim by the defendant to reduce the compensation amount for damages.
What is Contributory Negligence?
Contributory negligence is a defence to a negligence-based tort claim. It occurs in some circumstances where the defendant is not completely responsible for the plaintiff’s injury, but the plaintiff may also have contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. A classic example of contributory negligence would be sitting on the roof of a bus as the driver drives carelessly, which is a very common occurrence in India. In simple terms, contributory negligence refers to both parties’ ignorance. It is the plaintiff’s failure to exercise reasonable care and caution in order to prevent the consequences of the defendant’s negligence, and this idea is loosely founded on the principle of “volenti non fit injuria.” It indicates that if one individual fails to exercise necessary diligence in order to avoid the consequences of the defendant’s negligence, both of them will be held liable for negligence.
Contributory negligence occurs when the plaintiff, via his own lack of care, contributes to the damage caused by the defendant’s negligence or wrongful act.
Principles of Contributory Negligence
- If the plaintiff fails to exercise due care and caution in order to avoid consequences and thereby becomes the direct cause of the damages, he or she is not entitled to compensation.
- The plaintiff cannot sue the defendant if both the plaintiff and the defendant took reasonable care and ordinary care to the extent that they both sought to avoid such effects.
The burden of proving Contributory Negligence
The defendant bears the burden of proof. To get the contributory negligence defence, the defendant must show that the plaintiff is just as liable as him/her, and that the plaintiff ignored due diligence that could have prevented the defendant’s negligence from having such consequences.
Cases of Contributory Negligence
HANSRAJ VS TRAM CO. 35 BOM. 478
A failed attempt to board a moving tramcar that resulted in injury. The man filed a lawsuit against the corporation. It was said that if the man had boarded the tramcar while it was still moving, he would have been able to gain a solid grasp on the handlebar and sit himself more readily. The firm was found not to be at fault.
GREAT CENTRAL RYL. VS BATED (1940), ALL.E.399
The plaintiff was injured when he fell from the lift shaft because he opened the doors backwards and stepped through them, expecting that the lift would still be in place.
As a result of his contributory negligence, he was not entitled to compensation for the damages he suffered.
When the defence of Contributory Negligence not available?
When it is not important for the plaintiff to exercise appropriate care, but the defendant was legally compelled to do so, and failing to do so will result in the defendant’s liability for negligence.
BUTTERFIELD VS FORRESTER, EAST 60, 1809
In this incident, the plaintiff met with a collision with a pole that was wrongly obstructed by the defendant, and the plaintiff could have prevented the accident if he had been more careful while driving.
The second scenario occurs when the defendant has sufficient time to seek remedy and take reasonable precautions to avoid an accident.
DAVID VS MANN
In this dispute, the defendant was speeding when he drove over the plaintiff’s donkey. He was careless and was required to compensate the plaintiff.
The third issue is when the defendant creates a circumstance in which the plaintiff has a reasonable fear of imminent danger to his or her life, and in order to preserve his or her life, he or she acts reasonably and avoids due diligence.
OBSBORNE VS. BRANDONE
In this case, the defendant was held accountable for the plaintiff’s injuries, which she incurred while attempting to save her husband from the defendant’s workmen’s negligence.
The fourth argument is that maritime law does not apply to contributory negligence.
Concept of Appropriation
When the plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence, a portion of the damages is deducted. For example, a person would be entitled to 100% damages, but if the plaintiff is found to be guilty of contributory negligence, he would only be entitled to 50% of the damages.
In some cases, contributory negligence relieves the plaintiff of all liability.
Doctrine of Last Opportunity
When a circumstance arises that has the potential to injure the person who has the last opportunity to avert the injury but fails to do so due to negligence, the last such person will be held accountable.
Z, for example, is out for a jog with her dog, although he is not wearing a leash. The dog bolted toward the road and was struck by S, who was driving recklessly. In this situation, S had one more chance to avoid the accident by pressing the brake, but he failed to do so.
CASE: BUTTERFIED VS FORRESTER
The defendant in this case was found to have recklessly left a pole across the highway. The plaintiff was driving recklessly and failed to detect the poll, resulting in an accident. It was decided that he could not claim any damages from the defendant since he failed to take reasonable care (contributory negligence) and could have avoided the accident if he had driven more cautiously.
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