Contributory Negligence

Contributory Negligence in a Trip/Slip and Fall

Picture the following. As you walk through a mall parking lot, you trip over a broken piece of the macadam or a pothole. Or let’s say you are walking down a sidewalk and trip over a raised portion of the sidewalk. You severely injure your ankle, need surgery, and are out of work for 2 months. Slam dunk personal injury case, right? Wrong. It is true that property owners have a duty under Pennsylvania law to keep their property free of dangerous conditions. However, pedestrians also have a duty to watch where they walk.

Pennsylvania Courts have routinely ruled that property owners have limited or no liability for pedestrians harmed by an “open and obvious” dangerous condition. In other words, if that pothole or raised portion of the sidewalk should have been obvious to a reasonably prudent pedestrian, failure to see and avoid it may be deemed to be the sole cause of the injury. Therefore, the injured will have no right to recover any damages from the property owner. In fact, if the dangerous condition was so obvious, the case may never make it to a jury.

Levels of Negligence

On the other hand, if your case makes it to a jury, any award could be severely reduced (or eliminated entirely). The reduction depends on how negligent a jury determines you were in failing to see and avoid the dangerous condition. Under Pennsylvania Law, a plaintiff’s award is reduced by the percentage of their own negligence. In other words, if a jury awards a plaintiff $100,000 but finds that the plaintiff was 20% at fault for their accident, the award is reduced to $80,000. If a jury finds that the plaintiff was 51% or more at fault, the plaintiff gets nothing. The legal term for this concept is contributory negligence

If you have questions about a personal injury case or contributory negligence, give us a call for a free case evaluation.


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