Fault in Car AccidentsIn the aftermath of a car accident, one of the first questions people typically ask is: “Who is at fault?” While that might seem like a simple question, the answer is not always straightforward. Even if you believe that you are the victim of someone else’s negligent actions, the other person’s insurance company will likely argue that your actions contributed to the accident and your injuries. This is where contributory negligence tort law comes in. 

What is Contributory Negligence?

In a personal injury case, there are two opposing parties involved: the plaintiff (the injured person) and the defendant (the person who caused the injuries). Contributory negligence refers to the plaintiff’s failure to exercise reasonable care for their safety. In other words, when a person does not take reasonable steps to avoid danger, that person can be held entirely or partially responsible for the resulting injury, even though another party was involved in the accident. As a result, contributory negligence can prevent or reduce the compensation a plaintiff receives if their actions had any part to play in the accident that caused their injury.  

Nova Scotia Law on Contributory Negligence

According to the Nova Scotia Contributory Negligence Act, if damage or loss is caused by one or more of the parties involved in an accident, liability to recover compensation is proportional to the degree in which each person is at fault. In the event that it is not possible to establish different degrees of fault, the liability will be shared equally. Traditionally, contributory negligence was a harsh rule. The Nova Scotia Act replaces the strict common law of contributory negligence in Canada, limiting the plaintiff from recovering damages if they are partially responsible for the accident.  

Consider this example of contributory negligence in a car accident. Driver A makes a left-hand turn without using a turn signal and is hit by Driver B, travelling 15km over the speed limit. Driver A is suing Driver B for $100,000 in damages. The courts must determine what percentage of the accident was caused by Driver B speeding and what percentage of the accident was caused by Driver A failing to use the proper turn signal. Suppose Driver A is found to be 30% at fault for the accident. Damages awarded to Driver A will be reduced by the degree of responsibility. In this case, the compensation Driver A receives will be reduced by 30%. 

How Degree of Fault is Determined in Contributory Negligence

When damage or loss is caused by two or more individuals, Nova Scotia courts will determine the degree to which each person is at fault. This is done by considering the actions immediately before, during, and to some extent, after the accident. The burden of proof falls on the defendant to show that the plaintiff’s actions contributed to the accident and resulting injuries.  

First, the defence must prove that the plaintiff owed a duty of reasonable care to protect themself from getting injured. Secondly, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff failed to act in a reasonable way or breached their duty of care. Finally, the defence team must show that this breach of duty caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.  

What Can You Do to Prevent a Finding of Contributory Negligence?

While no one wants to find themselves in court arguing against allegations of contributory negligence, there is a more important message to consider. Practicing safe, defensive, and attentive driving can help prevent collisions and injuries from happening in the first place. Wearing your seatbelt, proper car maintenance, and obeying traffic signals are just a few simple ways to keep you safe on the road.  

Reduce Distractions 

In some parts of Canada, the number of distracted driving fatalities has surpassed the number of impaired driving fatalities. Smartphones are one of the most common distractions for drivers, with 47% of Canadians admitting that they have typed a text message or used the voice-memo feature to send a text message while driving. It is not uncommon for parties in a lawsuit to request cellphone data to investigate if the driver was using their cellular device when the car accident occurred. Staying off your cellphone while driving will not only keep you safe, it will help to discredit any argument that you were distracted by a handheld device.

Gather Evidence 

Gather as much evidence following a car accident as you can by taking videos and photos of the scene, property damage, and your injuries. Using a dashcam can also capture the accident as it occurs, which can be very valuable in disproving a claim of contributory negligence. Additional sources of video footage can be found through traffic cameras, storefronts, and residential security cameras. Security footage is often deleted shortly after recording, so it is crucial to request this evidence as quickly as possible.

Get Reports 

Call 911 as soon as possible to get examined by a medical professional and file an official police report. In Nova Scotia, a police report is required by law if there is more than $2,000 worth of property damage to either vehicle. Request copies of all reports taken at the scene, in addition to the name and contact information of the responding police officer and medical examiner. You should also book an appointment with your doctor to discuss your injuries and treatment options. Be sure to comply with all recommendations from your doctor and treating physician.  

Identify Witnesses 

Witnesses can be an excellent source of information. Scan the scene for pedestrians or other drivers that saw the car accident happen. These witnesses may have recorded the collision, or the aftermath of the crash, with their smartphones. Collecting contact information and any footage they have can be crucial to your case. If possible, request that these witnesses give a police report.

Our Nova Scotia Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help

If you (or a family member) have been injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. Seeking legal advice following a car accident can help ensure that all of the important evidence about how the accident happened is properly preserved. An experienced personal injury lawyer from Valent Legal will help you navigate the insurance claims process and improve your chances of refuting claims that you contributed to your injuries or losses. Contact Valent Legal today for your free case review. 

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