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Contributory Negligence & Irish Tort Law: An Overview

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Contributory negligence is a legal concept in tort law where a plaintiff (the injured party) is found to have contributed to their own harm or loss. If a plaintiff’s actions or inactions partially caused the incident leading to their injury or damage, this principle can reduce the amount of compensation they receive.

Our personal injury team is often asked how contributory negligence works and here we have provided some answers to the questions that are often posed to us.

How is contributory negligence assessed?

It’s assessed by determining the extent to which the plaintiff’s own actions or lack thereof contributed to their harm or loss. This assessment typically occurs during a civil lawsuit where the defendant alleges that the plaintiff bears some responsibility for the damage they suffered. The court evaluates the evidence and circumstances of the case to establish the degree of fault attributable to both parties. This process involves a careful analysis of the actions of both the plaintiff and the defendant leading up to the incident. Factors considered include the level of care expected in the given situation, any statutory or regulatory breaches, and the reasonableness of the parties’ behaviour.

Once the court decides that contributory negligence is applicable, it then determines the proportion of fault attributable to each party. The damages awarded to the plaintiff are then reduced in accordance with their percentage of fault. For instance, if a plaintiff is found to be 30% responsible for their injuries, their compensation will be reduced by 30%. This system ensures that compensation is fair and proportionate to each party’s contribution to the harm or loss experienced.

What are examples of contributory negligence?

Examples of contributory negligence include the following:

  • A driver not wearing a seatbelt is injured in a car accident caused by another driver’s negligence. The injured driver’s failure to wear a seatbelt may be considered contributory negligence, potentially reducing their compensation.
  • A cyclist collides with a car after running a red light, where both the motorist’s and the cyclist’s actions contribute to the accident. The cyclist’s disregard for traffic signals can be seen as contributory negligence.
  • In a workplace accident, if an employee is injured but had failed to use provided safety equipment or follow safety protocols, this lack of adherence can constitute contributory negligence.
  • A shopper in a supermarket slips and falls in an aisle, but the spillage had been clearly marked with warning signs. The shopper’s failure to notice or heed these warnings might be viewed as contributory negligence.

These are just a few examples of how contributory negligence may come into play in personal injury law cases. There are, of course, many other scenarios where the defendant may allege that the plaintiff bears some level of responsibility.

What law governs the apportionment of liability in cases of contributory negligence?

Section 34 of the Civil Liability Act, 1961 addresses the apportionment of liability in cases of contributory negligence. This section outlines that when damage is suffered partly due to the plaintiff’s own fault and partly due to the fault of any other person or persons, a claim for damages shall not be defeated because of the contributory negligence of the plaintiff. However, the amount recoverable in respect of the damage shall be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the claimant’s share in the responsibility for the damage. This is a key principle in Irish tort law, ensuring that damages can still be recovered even when the plaintiff is partly at fault, but appropriately adjusted to reflect their contribution to their own harm.

What is Irish tort law?

Irish tort law is a significant part of the legal system in Ireland, dealing with civil wrongs that cause harm or loss to individuals. The primary objective of tort law is to provide relief to individuals harmed by the wrongful acts of others and to deter others from committing similar harmful acts. It covers various areas such as negligence, where someone breaches a duty of care causing harm, defamation, which involves harming another’s reputation through false statements, and trespass, both to person and property.

Unlike criminal law, which deals with offenses against the state and society, tort law addresses wrongs against individuals, providing remedies typically in the form of monetary compensation. These laws are grounded in both legislation, such as the Defamation Act 2009, and in common law, derived from judicial decisions over time. The principles and precedents set in these laws and cases guide how individuals and organisations should act to avoid harming others and establish the framework for resolving disputes when harm does occur. Overall, Irish tort law plays a crucial role in maintaining social order and protecting individual rights by holding parties accountable for their actions that cause harm to others.

Are there situations where a case may have both civil and criminal legal implications?

Yes, there are situations where a case may have both civil and criminal legal implications. This typically occurs when an action constitutes a breach of public law as well as private law. For example, in cases of assault, the perpetrator may face criminal charges due to the violation of public laws against violence, potentially leading to penalties like imprisonment or fines imposed by the state. Simultaneously, the victim may file a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for damages such as medical expenses, pain, and suffering, or lost wages resulting from the assault. This is because the civil component addresses the individual harm and seeks to compensate the victim, while the criminal aspect focuses on punishing the offender and deterring future offenses against society.

It’s important to note that these are separate legal processes with different standards of proof: criminal cases require proof ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ whereas civil cases are often decided on the ‘balance of probabilities.’ Both processes can run concurrently or separately, depending on the specifics of the case and the decisions of the parties involved.

How does a personal injury solicitor help in cases involving contributory negligence?

A solicitor helps by evaluating the claim, gathering evidence to support the client’s case, and negotiating with the other party’s insurers. They provide expert advice on legal rights and the potential impact of contributory negligence on the claim, work to minimise the client’s liability, and aim to maximise the compensation received, ensuring a fair settlement that reflects the extent of the client’s responsibility in the incident.

Concerned about the impact of contributory negligence in your injury case?

If you are considering bringing an injury claim but you have some doubts regarding the extent of your liability, our personal injury team will be glad to assist you. Call us on 1800 816 597 and an experienced member of the team will discuss your situation and potential next steps. You can also email and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.


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