What is Contributory Negligence?

Establishing who is liable for an accident is not always straightforward. Cycling accidents aren't always the result of one person's actions or negligence. Your injuries may be the result of a blend of mistakes by multiple parties.

What happens if your actions partly contributed to your accident and can you still make a compensation claim?

Contributory negligence

Contributory negligence is a legal principle that can come into play when a person is injured in an accident and is seeking compensation for their injuries.

In the context of a cycling injury claim, contributory negligence refers to the idea that the cyclist may have contributed to the accident or their injuries in some way.

If a cyclist is involved in an accident with a motorist and is not wearing a helmet, for example, the motorist's insurance company may argue that the cyclist was partially responsible for their injuries because they did not take reasonable precautions to protect themselves.

In such cases, the amount of compensation that the cyclist can recover may be reduced to reflect their level of contribution to the accident. This reduction is typically determined by a court and is based on the degree to which the cyclist's actions contributed to their injuries (apportionment of blame).

How does the apportionment of blame work in practice?

If the defendant has admitted liability, but it is also established that the claimant was partially responsible for their injuries, liability will be apportioned between the claimant and the defendant. In some cases, contributory negligence may be found even when it isn't offered as a defence.

Although the court has guidelines for judgement, which are vague, the judgement must be "just and equitable". Each claim is considered individually, and even cases with similar circumstances to previous claims may have different outcomes, as the court examines various factors such as age, experience, and the situation of both parties before apportioning blame.

If blame is apportioned on a 50:50 basis, the claimant would receive 50% of the compensation they would otherwise have received if there was no contributory negligence.

Similarly, if blame is apportioned on a 75 (defendant): 25 (claimant) basis, the claimant would receive 75% of the compensation they would otherwise have received if there was no contributory negligence.

Liability is apportioned as a percentage of the whole compensation settlement i.e. on the total of General Damages + Special Damages.

Not always straightforward

Contributory negligence is not always a straightforward issue, and there are many factors that can influence a court's decision. For example, if a cyclist was not wearing a helmet because they had a medical condition that made it unsafe for them to do so, this may be taken into account when assessing the level of contributory negligence.

Most claims don’t go to court

Only a small percentage (1-2%) of cycling injury claims end up in court.

Most personal injury claims are settled out of court through negotiation between the claimant’s solicitor and the defendant’s insurance company, or through alternative dispute resolution. This is because it is often in the best interests of both parties to reach a settlement without the need for a court hearing, as it can save time, money, and stress for all involved.

An out of court settlement would be formalised in a 'split liability agreement'.

In cases where a settlement cannot be reached, or liability is disputed, a court hearing may be necessary.


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Personal injury-related enquiries are handled by our partners at National Accident Helpline.

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*No Win, No Fee: Under a No Win, No Fee Agreement fees may apply if a claimant refuses to cooperate or abandons their claim after the legal work has started, or if the claim is fraudulent.

Disclaimer: Nothing on this website constitutes legal advice or gives rise to a solicitor/client relationship. Specialist legal advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances.