Contributory Fault

Contributory fault is a set of legal principles designed to apportion liability when more than one party is responsible for an accident. There are several different major forms of contributory fault, and each state has enacted its own version. The four major forms of contributory fault are contributory negligence, slight fault/gross negligence, pure comparative negligence, and modified comparative negligence.

How Negligence Claims Work

How Negligence Claims Work

Contributory fault claims generally apply only to negligence claims, although each state is free to work out its own contributory fault rules. Negligence claims are the most common type of personal injury claim. You must prove the following four elements to win a negligence claim. 

Duty of Care

Every competent adult has the duty to use common sense to prevent themselves from injuring others. Someone with professional training must exercise a much higher degree of care when practicing that profession. An anesthesiologist, for example, must exercise a very high degree of care.

Breach of Duty of Care

“Breach of duty” just means failure to comply with the demands of your duty of care. There are two kinds of breaches—breaches of commission (doing something you shouldn’t do) and breaches of omission (failing to do something you should do). 

Proving a breach of duty of care proves negligence, but it doesn’t necessarily prove liability.


Generally, but not always, you must have suffered a physical injury to collect on a personal injury claim. Once you prove physical injury, you can collect compensation for psychological harm as well.


Causation is the link between negligence and damages. No matter how negligent the defendant may have been, they don’t owe you any personal injury compensation if their negligence did not actually cause you bodily injury.

In addition to this form of causation (factual cause), the relationship between the defendant’s negligence and your bodily injury must have been direct enough that an ordinary person would have been able to foresee it (proximate cause).

Standards of Fault

The following standards of fault cover the contributory fault laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Contributory Negligence

Under contributory negligence, you will lose all of your right to compensation if you were even 1% at fault for the accident. Only Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia (most of the time) follow this archaic rule.

“Slight Fault/Gross Negligence”

Under this system, the victim can recover compensation only if their fault was no more than “slight.” in addition, the defendant’s misconduct constituted “gross negligence.” Only South Dakota follows this rule.

Pure Comparative Negligence

Under pure comparative negligence, you lose whatever percentage of compensation corresponds to your percentage of fault. If you were 1% at fault, for example, you would lose 1% of your damages. 

If you were 99% at fault, you would lose 99% of your damages. Arizona applies pure comparative negligence, as do many other states, including New Mexico.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Modified comparative negligence works like pure comparative negligence, except that the law applies a bar at the 50% fault level or the 51% fault level. 

  • In a 50% bar state, a party that is 50% or more at fault will lose all of its damages. If they are less than 50% at fault, they will lose a corresponding amount of their damages.
  • In a 51% bar state, a party that is 51% or more at fault will lose all of its damages. If they are less than 50% or less at fault, they will lose a corresponding amount of their damages.

Arkansas is an example of a state that applies a 50% bar. Connecticut is an example of a state that applies a 51% bar. More states adhere to modified comparative negligence than any other single model. 

What if You’re From Out of State?

With rare exceptions, you are subject to the laws of the state where the accident occurred. For example, if you are from Florida and you cause an accident in Arizona, the judge will apply Arizona law. 

The location of the accident could significantly affect the value of a personal injury claim if the defendant was, say, 60% at fault for the accident. They would lose 60% of their damages if the accident happened in Arizona, but all of their damages if the accident happened in Nevada. 

Keep in mind also that your auto insurance coverage might change if you cause a car accident in another state.

A Good Personal Injury Lawyer Can Dramatically Influence the Attribution of Fault

Maybe you were 0% at fault. On the other hand, maybe you were 20% at fault. Or perhaps you were 60% at fault. It makes a big difference, even in states like Arizona and New Mexico that apply no special bar to compensation. An experienced personal injury attorney can protect your interests and ensure you aren’t allocated undue blame. Contact the lawyers Curiel & Runion Personal Injury Lawyers by calling (602) 595-5559 for a free consultation to discuss your case.