What exactly is contributory negligence? I’m in the process of making a claim after I was knocked off by a car which just pulled into my path from a garage forecourt, as I was filtering through traffic. My solicitor told me that liability for the accident had been admitted by the other side and then all of a sudden, I’m being accused of contributory negligence. How could I have contributed to his negligence?
Jeff South, Swindon
An allegation of contributory negligence isn’t that they’re saying that you contributed to the other person’s negligence, but rather that your negligence contributed to the accident. Given the circumstances, I assume that they are trying to allege that your filtering speed was too fast, or that you failed to keep a proper lookout when approaching the entrance. A court could consider either of those to be a factor depending on the specific circumstances of your accident.
It sounds like what was reported to you as the Defendant admitting liability, was actually that they admitted something called “primary liability”. This is where a Defendant admits that they are liable to some extent following an accident, but they reserve the right to allege that the Claimant in some way contributed to the accident too, in an attempt to reduce the Claimant’s damages.
Most Claimants are horrified to find out that when it comes to liability, things are often far less certain than they seem, and the court often lets a Defendant withdraw even a full admission of liability, particularly if it turns out that an accident is more serious than they initially thought.