Contributory Negligence: It is Time for a Change in Alabama

by: Prince, Glover & Hayes Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Although well known among practicing attorneys and the majority of law school students, the defense of contributory negligence is generally unknown to citizens in Alabama. Contributory negligence is an old-fashioned defense that is unfair to the citizens of this State; yet, Alabama continues to follow the doctrine.
The basic definition of the defense of contributory negligence is that a damaged party, the plaintiff, cannot recover any damages if he or she is even one (1) percent at fault.

To illustrate the unfairness of the doctrine, consider a real case that was decided in Alabama. In this case, several boys who were around the age of 14 were setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July under the supervision of their parents. One of the boys shot a bottle rocket that struck one of the boys in his leg. Unfortunately, the boy had placed some fireworks in the pocket where the bottle rocket hit and the sparks from the bottle rocket ignited the fireworks in his pocket. In a panic to put out the flames, the boy fell through a sliding glass door. As a result, the boy suffered severe injuries and burns. In basic terms, the Court denied the boy recovery because the boy knew fireworks were dangerous and he should not have placed the fireworks in his pocket.

Citizens must be aware that contributory negligence is the law of this State. Sadly, for injured citizens, the harsh application of the defense of contributory negligence is usually not known until you, a family member or a close friend is seriously injured. The injustice of contributory negligence is obvious. In fact, the injustice and severe application of contributory negligence is so apparent that 46 states in the U.S. have abolished contributory negligence and expressly stated that contributory negligence is unjust. In addition, almost every common law jurisdiction in the world, including England where contributory negligence first originated, has abolished contributory negligence. Yet, in Alabama, contributory negligence continues in the face of substantial opposition.

It is time to follow the other 46 states that have abolished contributory negligence.

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