Comparative negligence comes into play when it is contended that two or more parties failed to perform at the standard of the "ordinary reasonable person". For example, suppose one person was driving too fast in a patch of dense fog on the highway and hit a car -- but the car that was hit did not have its lights on as it should have.
In a situation where each party has some degree of negligence in causing an accident, the responsibility to the other person(s) is reduced by the others' degree of negligence. For example suppose a jury decides that the driver going too fast in the fog was 60% responsible for the accident, while the driver without vehicle lights on is 40% responsible. If the driver who didn't have his lights on would have recovered $10,000, his recovery would be reduced to $6,000 because of his 40% contributory negligence. Whether the speeding driver would recover anything will depend on state law -- in some states the driver who bears over 50% of the responsibility would recover nothing, not the 40% of his damages.
Comparative negligence is not a legal option in all states.
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