Understanding Contributory Fault

Understanding Contributory Fault

When someone is at fault for causing your injuries, you may be entitled to damages. However, fault is not always clear cut. Multiple people may share fault for your accident or injuries, including yourself.

If you share blame for your injuries, it may not be fair to hold another at-fault party (the defendant) for all of your injury damages.

Contributory fault is the law’s way of dealing with this problem.

Say a defendant is found to be at fault for your injury and monetary damages. Contributory fault limits the amount a defendant owes you for your damages if you share blame for the accident. 

Whenever there are multiple parties that might be at fault, states follow one of two approaches to contributory fault:

  1. Contributory fault. This doctrine bars the plaintiff from recovering damages from a defendant if they contributed to their injury at all. In other words, you would be unable to recover any damages if you share any blame for your accident - regardless of whether the defendant might be more at fault. Only four states plus the District of Columbia follow this rule. 
  2. Comparative fault. This rule allows a plaintiff to recover damages even if they were partially at fault for their injuries. However, their damages are reduced by their share of blame. Most states follow the comparative fault rule but may implement it differently.

Contributory Fault in Oklahoma 

In Oklahoma, contributory fault is not a complete bar to recovery. You can recover damages even if you contributed to your accident. However, Oklahoma’s comparative fault law employs what is known as a “51% bar.” If a plaintiff is 51% or more at fault for their injury, then they cannot recover damages from the defendant.

However, if the suing party is found to be 50% at fault or less, they would be able to recover compensation from the defendant - reduced to account for their share of fault.

Who Determines Contributory Fault? 

The jury in a personal injury case determines whether a plaintiff is comparatively or contributorily at fault. Oklahoma law notes that contributory fault is a question of fact which the jury must resolve. However, contributory fault is an “affirmative defense.” This means the defendant must raise the issue and prove you were more than 50% at fault for the accident that caused your injuries to escape liability for your damages.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose that you are shopping at a grocery store, walking from isle to isle. You get distracted by your phone, and you continue walking while looking down. A store employee is in the aisle and carrying too many canned goods. She does not see you, and the two of you run into each other. You injure your arm as a result of the canned goods falling on you. If you bring a personal injury case against the grocery store, the jury could find that you were partially at fault for the accident. The jury will determine how much.

The jury might determine that you were 40% at fault for your injuries because you were not paying attention while walking down the aisle. This means the jury found the grocery store to be 60% at-fault for your injuries. Here, you are not barred from recovering damages since you are not more than 50% responsible for the accident. 

If the jury finds that your damages are $10,000, then it would reduce your award by 40% to account for your share of fault. Therefore, your $10,000 would be reduced by 40%, leaving you with $6000.

Comparative and contributory fault concepts are complex and can vary by state. You should consult an attorney if you are being blamed for an accident.