What If I Am Partly To Blame?

Contributory Negligence

Many people don’t bother to pursue a claim because they have been told or they think they were partly or fully to blame for an accident, particularly in the case of Accidents At Work. An employer is under a duty to guard you against the risks of being injured at work so even if you or a colleague are partly to blame for the accident, you should still succeed in pursuing a claim for damages. However, the other side may successfully argue that you were Contributarily negligent which would have the effect of reducing the amount of compensation you recover rather than barring you from recovering anything at all.

What Do The Law Books Say?

Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945:

Section 1

(1)    Where any person suffers damage as the result partly of his own fault and partly of the fault of any other person or persons, a claim in respect of that damage shall not be defeated by reason of the fault of the person suffering the damage, but the damages recoverable in respect thereof shall be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the Claimant’s share in the responsibility for damage…’

Where it is believed that the Claimant ought to bear some responsibility for the accident or how their injuries were caused, the court can choose to reduce their compensation award by the percentage of blame that attaches to their actions of omissions.

When a Claimant is considered to have been contributarily negligent, their damages will be reduced accordingly.  Therefore, if a claim is valued at £2,000.00 on a 100% basis, if the Claimant was deemed to be 50% contributarily negligent, they will only receive £1,000.00. Their lawyers will still receive 100% of the costs incurred in pursuing the claim in addition to the award of personal injury compensation so the rules on contributory negligence are not applied to the legal costs of a pi claim.

Some Case Examples

In the following tripping / slipping cases, contributory negligence was found against the Claimant as they ought to have been more aware of their surroundings.

Louise Bell v Havering London Borough Council (2010)

In this case the Claimant stood on the edge of a raised brick (which was part of a brick edged rectangle once containing a tree but later filled in with concrete).  Her foot slipped off the brick and down the 4 inch drop next to it.  She suffered a fractured ankle.  The judge held that the Claimant was 33% contributarily negligent and reduced her damages accordingly as the judge felt that  she ought to have seen the brick and have been aware of it before the accident as it was very close to her home.

Susan Ellis v Bristol City Council (2007)

In this case the Claimant slipped on a pool of urine left by one of the residents of a care home on the floor of a corridor during the course of her employment as a care assistant.  It was held that although the floor was not suitable for the purpose for which it was used, the Claimant had been warned of the potential danger and should have kept a special look out.  Her damages were also reduced by 33%.

Contribution to injury

There is an accepted principle that in certain circumstances a claimant’s damages can be reduced because their actions have led to an injury being worse than it would have been had they behaved differently.

In the case of  Froom v Butcher [1976], the Claimant was involved in a road traffic accident.  They were in no way responsible for the accident but the Claimant was deemed to be responsible for some of his injuries because he was not wearing a seatbelt.

The Court provided some guidance on the reductions made in cases like this and stated that if the failure to wear a seatbelt in no way contributed to the injuries, then no reduction was to be made, where it contributed to some degree then a 15% reduction was appropriate and where it would have completely prevented the injury or substantially reduced its severity, then 25% was appropriate.  It would be up to the medical expert to comment upon this in their report and advise whether or not they consider the failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to the Claimant’s injury.


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