In America’s early days, each of the states adopted the rule of contributory negligence: an injured person could not recover damages if that person was also negligent. The degree of negligence did not matter; a person who was one percent at fault could not recover from a person who may have been 99% at fault.
In the first half of the twentieth century, state legislatures began to realize the unfairness of the contributory negligence rule. Many states began to experiment with statutes that allocated blame based upon each person’s percentage of fault. In 1975, the Montana legislature passed the state’s first law limiting the rule of contributory negligence.
Contributory negligence abolished
This statute has been amended several times, but its current form has existed since 1997. The law states that contributory negligence does not prevent a plaintiff from recovering compensation in an action for damages for death or injury, so long as the plaintiff’s contribution of negligence was not greater than the combined negligence of the other defendant or defendants.
In other words, a plaintiff’s claim will not be defeated if the plaintiff’s degree of fault is 50% or less and the combined fault of all defendants is at least 51% or more.
The statute also provides that the damages awarded to the plaintiff must be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed by the jury to the plaintiff.
Application of comparative fault rule
The application of the comparative fault rule can be complicated, especially in cases where two or more defendants may be jointly and severally liable. Anyone considering bringing a lawsuit for damages against two or more parties may wish to consult an experienced personal injury attorney for an evaluation of the evidence and how the application of the comparative fault rule might affect the outcome.