How Does Contributory Negligence Work in Arkansas?

Accidents and personal injuries can be incredibly mentally taxing and stressful on top of the obvious physical pain and discomfort that is likely to accompany them. The last thing you want to be worrying about when you are pursuing a personal injury lawsuit is whether part of it is really your fault and whether there is some strange law or rule that makes it impossible for you to get the compensation you need.

Contributory negligence is a legal standard that prevents plaintiffs who are in any way at fault for their injuries from recovering damages. Fortunately, despite its name, contributory negligence in Arkansas does not operate as such. Arkansas’s standard is a modified version of this principle. You are not barred from getting compensation in the form of damages if you were partially at fault for an accident. However, your damages may be reduced based on how much of the accident is deemed to be your fault.

For help with your case, call our Arkansas personal injury lawyers at the number (479) 316-0438 and get a free case review.

What is Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is a legal principle that asserts that if any part of an accident is the plaintiff’s fault, they cannot recover damages. It is an incredibly strict rule that prevents many otherwise deserving plaintiffs from getting the help they need.

Historically, this rule existed as a way to encourage personal responsibility and reasonableness. However, as previously stated, it is an incredibly draconian system, and many defense attorneys could easily win cases by pointing out the smallest role that a plaintiff had in causing their injuries. This could mean that defendants who were clearly in the wrong might get away with seriously injuring an almost entirely blameless plaintiff.

While a handful of states have continued to use pure contributory negligence, the vast majority have moved onto a comparative fault system or modified comparative fault system, which is far more forgiving to plaintiffs who may have been a little bit at fault.

Comparative/Contributory Negligence in Arkansas Explained

In Arkansas, contributory negligence works in a very different way than what the traditional definition would suggest. Contributory negligence in Arkansas acts like comparative fault, not contributory negligence. In fact, the laws of the state call it comparative fault.

In Arkansas, “fault” is any act, failure to act, conduct, or breach of duty that is the proximate cause of the injuries pertaining to the lawsuit. “Proximate cause” is a very important legal term to understand for personal injury lawsuits. Essentially, it means that plaintiffs must prove not only that the defendant was a cause of their injuries but that the defendant was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, suppose a defendant got cut off in traffic and then, frustrated, moved into your lane, hitting your vehicle. The defendant is the proximate cause of your injuries because they ran into you. Even though the reason they moved into your land and ultimately hit you was because another driver cut them off, the actions of the defendant-driver are what ended up injuring you.

Under Ark. Code § 16-64-122, personal injury lawsuit damages are determined by comparing the relative fault of the plaintiff to the relative fault of the defendant or defendants. Generally, this works by diminishing damages by a percentage based on the plaintiff’s relative fault. For example, if a plaintiff is awarded $100 in damages but they are found to be 10% at fault for their injuries, the plaintiff will instead receive $90 in damages.

Exceptions to the General Comparative Fault Rule in Arkansas

There are some changes in the way that comparative negligence works in Arkansas. First, and probably most impactfully, the rules are much less lenient on plaintiffs who are found to be more than 50% at fault for their accident. In those cases, the rule operates like traditional pure contributory negligence rules and bars the defendant from getting any kind of damages.

Another exception is found under Ark. Code § 16-118-109. This provision states that victims of human trafficking cannot be found to be at fault for their injuries and, therefore, are not subject to comparative fault in Arkansas. A successful human trafficking plaintiff will not need to worry about their damages being diminished because of something they did.

Negligence in Arkansas

When discussing contributory negligence, it may also be a good idea to have a general understanding of what negligence means in a personal injury lawsuit context. In law, negligence means that somebody did something careless or irresponsible and that action caused someone else to get injured. This is what the plaintiff must prove in court in order to hold the defendant liable and recover damages.

There are four elements of negligence that you need to prove: duty, breach, causation, and injury. A duty is simply something that one party owes to another. For example, drivers have a duty to observe speed limits and to drive safely. Breach is the act of failing to uphold that duty, say, by speeding. Injury is the fact that you are actually injured. Causation has already been discussed; you need to prove that the defendant directly caused your injuries. Finally, injury is exactly what it sounds like. You have to actually have been injured to recover damages in court.

In a contributory negligence or comparative fault context, both sides of the personal injury lawsuit are actually trying to establish negligence. So, while you are trying to prove that the defendant was negligent, the defendant’s lawyer is trying to do the exact same thing to you, with the goal of either lowering the damages that the defendant has to pay or establishing that the accident was more than half your fault and therefore not be held liable for any injuries. Our lawyers are skilled at highlighting the defendant’s negligence while minimizing any part you may have played in the accident that caused your injuries taking place.

Talk to Our Arkansas Personal Injury Lawyers Now

Our Bentonville personal injury lawyers are ready to hear about your case when you call us at (479) 316-0438.