What is comparative negligence?

Turn on the news in Missoula, and you are likely to hear at least one story detailing a lawsuit in which a large settlement was given. If you been the victim of another’s recklessness and are thinking of seeking such a settlement yourself, you may first want to understand the standard by which negligence is measured, and how it can effect what you can recover. 

For many years, most states in the U.S. followed the philosophy of contributory negligence. This meant that if your own decisions or actions contributed in any way to your accident, you were barred from seeking damages. Say that you slipped on an icy surface and injured yourself. Immediately you might assume that the property owner who allowed the surface to ice over would be totally at fault. Yet what if you saw the icy surface and thought it might be fun to run and slide across it. Your decision to do contributed to your falling, which (according to the idea of contributory negligence), would have kept you from seeking action. 

Recent years have seen a shift away from applying contributory negligence towards a more comparative standard. Comparative negligence considers the relative faults of all parties involved in an incident. If, in such a case, your fault in contributing to your accident was less than or equal to 50 percent, you can seek damages. Indeed, per Montana’s Annotated Code, the state does follow the comparative negligence model. Keep in mind, however, that the amount of damages you can collect is reduced by whatever percentage of the fault you bear. For example, if you bear 20 percent of the responsibility, your award for damages would be reduced by that amount.