Explanation of Pure Contributory Fault

Pure contributory fault, also referred to as pure contributory negligence, is a relatively outdated legal rule still applied in the states of Alabama, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia. It primarily refers to injury accidents caused by negligence.

The rule states that if you’re in a car accident and you contributed to the accident, even in the slightest way, your claim against the more negligent driver, regardless of how much greater his negligence, fails, and you receive nothing. The rule also applies to non-driving accidents, like dog attacks, defective products, slip and fall injuries, and other injury accidents.

The best way to explain this legal concept is through an example…

Example: Car accident negligence

Ima Sainte was driving down a highway in Alabama. Ms. Sainte was driving in her lane and well within the speed limit. Suddenly, a car driven by Dewey Rekless sped into the lane next to Ms. Sainte. Mr. Rekless was traveling well above the speed limit. He suddenly changed lanes again, cutting her off and crashing into her.

As a result, Ms. Sainte’s car had damage, and she suffered severe whiplash. Ms. Sainte filed her insurance claim with Mr. Rekless’ insurance company, claiming he was solely responsible for the crash. Mr. Rekless’ insurance company denied her claim.

Sounds far-fetched? Ms. Sainte was in her lane and driving within the speed limit. The insurance company told her it based its denial on an eyewitness report from another driver who saw Ms. Sainte texting right before the crash. The insurance company told Ms. Sainte if her texting hadn’t distracted her, she would have seen Mr. Rekless crossing over and could have slowed down, thereby avoiding the crash.

Ms. Sainte retained an attorney and sued Mr. Rekless for the damage to her car, her medical and chiropractic bills, lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, and for her pain and suffering. In the lawsuit, Ms. Sainte’s attorney claimed Mr. Rekless’ negligence was pure contributory fault and accounted for 100 percent of the crash, and therefore his client, Ms. Sainte should receive full compensation for her damages.

After the trial, the court decided Mr. Rekless’ speeding and cutting Ms. Sainte off (his negligence) was indeed responsible for the collision, but that his negligence accounted for only 95 percent of the crash. The court ruled Ms. Sainte’s texting (her negligence) accounted for 5 percent of the crash. As a result, Ms. Sainte received nothing.

To award Ms. Sainte her damages, the court had to decide Ms. Sainte’s texting had nothing to do with the crash; that her texting right before the crash amounted to 0 percent of any negligence. Incidentally, if the court ruled Mr. Rekless’ negligence accounted for 99 percent of the crash, and Ms. Sainte only 1 percent, under the pure contributory fault rule in Alabama, Ms. Sainte would still receive nothing.

As you can readily see, pure contributory negligence is quite harsh. Unfortunately, it remains the present law in four states and the District of Columbia.

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