As I indicated last week, to recover damages in a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) case, there is a requirement that the Railroad act negligently in producing a Railroader’s injuries. Contributory negligence is a similar concept except that it’s an action or inaction on the part of the Railroader which leads in some manner to his/her own injury. In determining whether a Railroader was contributory negligence a determination is made as to whether he/she took, or failed to take, actions which a reasonably prudent person would have taken under the circumstances. If there is a finding that Railroader acted negligently and that negligence played any part in bringing about his/her own injuries that person will be deemed to be contributorily negligent.
A determination of contributory negligence does not bar a Railroader from recovering damages for his/her injuries. It does result in a reduction of damages in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the injured Railroader. This is the concept of comparative negligence. If the finder-of-fact (usually a jury) determines that the Railroader was contributorily negligent, it then must determine the percentage to which the Railroader’s own negligence contributed to his/her injuries. That percentage of negligence is then used to reduce the Railroader’s damages. For example, a jury determines that a Railroader is entitled to damages for his/her injuries in the amount of $1,000.000.00. The jury also makes the determination that the Railroader was contributorily negligent in causing his/her own injuries and that contributory negligence contributed 25% to those injuries. The Court would then reduce the damage award by 25% to $750,000.00.
The real importance of the concepts of contributory and comparative negligence is the fact that a Railroader can recover damages for his/her injuries event if he/she was partially at fault in causing them.