Examples of Contributory Negligence

The United States used contributory negligence, a legal doctrine that originated in England, in the 18th and 19th centuries. While only a handful of states still use this doctrine, it's important to realize how it contributed and/or harmed the justice system as a whole. Contributory negligence is a countersuit for those who are sued for negligence. The individual injured is countersued, claiming he had a part in his own injury. If the case has merit, the plaintiff receives no damages.

England: Butterfield vs. Forrester

One of the better known cases is one that occurred in 1809. Forrester had set a pole in the street at dusk while attempting to repair his home. Butterfield, while riding his horse at high speed, ran into the pole and was injured. Butterfield sued for damages and lost because he was traveling at high speed, which the jury deemed unreasonable behavior. Butterfield appealed, but he lost again. The court found there was contributory negligence, and he received no damages.

United States: Krklus vs. Stanley

Dr. Robert Stanley diagnosed Frank Krklus with high blood pressure. After the doctor found Krklus' blood pressure elevated, he was put on two medications. Over a period of time he felt ill, citing chest pains and nausea. He returned to the doctor. Frank said he was taking the medication, but his wife Biljana said he was not. The patient died less than two weeks later from an aortic dissection. His wife sued and was countersued. The court decided there was contributory negligence for a variety of reasons, including Krklus misinforming the doctor about taking his medicine, and Mrs. Krklus didn't recover damages.

England: Case Study

Dominic Rougatti injured his arm while playing football with his son. Dr. Melton set the arm in a cast and told Dominic not to use the arm for lifting. Rougatti reinjured his arm helping his daughter who had fallen off a bike. He sued Melton claiming the arm was not cast correctly. Melton's barrister contended that Rougatti should receive no award because of contributory negligence, i.e., by lifting his child. The court found for the doctor, citing Rougatti should have listened to doctor's orders and not lifted the child.

United States: Case Study

Susan, 8, was celebrating Halloween in her neighborhood going door to door. Her sight was somewhat limited due to the mask. Bill Thomas, 38, was leaving a party and discovered one headlight was out. Susan crossed the street, looking both ways, while Thomas rounded the corner. He hit Susan and she suffered two broken legs. Susan's parents sued Thomas who countersued. Thomas won with the jury finding that Susan was 1 percent negligent in the case. Susan couldn't collect damages.

Contributory law has had opponents since it was established in the United States, as well as throughout history in England. Opponents claim the law is outrageously unjust to injured plaintiffs. Numerous case studies are still continuing in order to investigate whether defendants in these cases actually escaped justice by claiming contributory negligence. Opponents also claim the doctrine is very outdated and should be replaced by all of the United States, as well as in England.