What is Contributory Negligence?
In short it is the extent to which a person injured in an accident is responsible for the injuries that were sustained.
Contributory negligence is a common law defence and plays a vital role in determining liability. As a defence, contributory negligence operates to reduce a Defendant’s liability proportionate to the degree to which the Plaintiff contributed to his/her own damage. A Plaintiff might contribute to his/her own damage by failing to take reasonable steps to care for his/her own safety or property. If the Court finds that a Plaintiff is guilty of contributing to an accident, then the degree of the contributory negligence will affect the final total of compensation that may be awarded. This defence is subject to the rules set out in the Civil Liability Act 1961.
It is important to note that the defence of contributory negligence requires a Defendant to bear the burden of proof. This means that the Defendant has to prove to the Court that the Plaintiff’s irresponsibility or lack of caution had some causative bearing on the ultimate damage.
Whilst a Defendant must prove the Plaintiff contributed to the accident, it is the Courts duty to determine the degree of negligence. In doing so, many different factors must be considered. Such factors include the nature of the duty owed by the Defendant to the Plaintiff, the extent to which the Plaintiff contributed towards the ultimate injury/damage and the extent of which the Plaintiff fell below the standard of care he/she should have taken for his own safety. Such considerations were reiterated by Walsh J in O’Sullivan v Dwyer  wherein it was stated that the fault or blame was to be measured “as against the degree of capacity or knowledge which such a person ought to have had if he were an ordinary reasonable person…. Fault or blame is to be measured against the standard of conduct required of the ordinary reasonable man in the class or category to which the party whose fault is to be measured belongs.”
It is noteworthy that if a Court finds that a Plaintiff has negligently contributed to an accident, it does so not because the Plaintiff has breached any duty he might have owed to the Defendant, but because the Plaintiff has failed to take regard to a duty he/she owes to themselves, namely the duty to take care for their own safety.
A failure to wear a seatbelt is an example of contributory negligence. In such circumstances, the Court may reduce a Defendant’s liability in instances where a Plaintiff fails to wear a seatbelt prior to a road traffic accident. This is so because it is assumed that injuries suffered by a Plaintiff would have been less serious if they were wearing their seatbelt at the time of the collision. Therefore, for example, if the Plaintiff is found to be 30% contributory negligent, the compensation awarded to the Plaintiff will be reduced by that 30%.
The failure of a Plaintiff to seek medical attention after an accident may also amount to contributory negligence as it may be seen that a failure to get professional medical attention may lead to a deterioration of his/her injuries, thus contributing to the level of personal damage/injury.
If you think that another party may have negligently contributed to an accident/ injury for which you are being held liable, we at Cantillons Solicitors can advise and deal with any queries you may have.
Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or [email protected] if you would like more information.
* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage of any award or settlement.
 O’Sullivan v Dwyer  I.R. 275 at 286 (SC)