Legal Eagle: Be aware of ‘contributory negligence’ when seeking compensation

A damaged pavement.
A damaged pavement.

I got injured when I tripped over on a defective pavement. I got hurt badly – my arm was broken in more than one place. The council accepted it was responsible to pay me compensation because it had not noticed that the pavement was defective and should have done and should have fixed the pavement. But the council wants to pay me only 75% of the full value of my case because of “contributory negligence”. I do not understand this, especially because my injuries were so bad.

The council had a duty of care to you as it does to any pedestrian to keep the pavement in a fit state of repair so that people could walk on it safely without risk of injury.

Failing to discharge that duty of care amounted to negligence and it is good news that the council has accepted responsibility for its negligence.

However – harsh as it may seem – the council, or anyone else who has been negligent, is free to argue for contributory negligence.

Broadly speaking, this means that the council can claim that you yourself were negligent in terms of looking after your own safety.

This point is frequently raised by councils in fact in tripping and slipping cases like yours.

It is very important to note that it is up to the council to prove that you were contributorily negligent.

Sometimes councils seem to have an unrealistic view about what people do when they are walking down the street and find difficulty in accepting that people don’t look at the ground all the time when walking.

After all – if at least part of the time you don’t look ahead of you when walking, rather than at the ground – you might place yourself at risk of bumping into other hazards rather than falling foul of pavements in disrepair.

So you should ask the council WHY they say the accident was partly your fault; they have to provide reasons.

I am afraid how serious your accident was is not relevant to issues of negligence or contributory negligence.

The first question in an accident claim is: whose fault was the accident? Only after that do you go on to thinking about how much the injuries suffered are worth.

This means that if a court were to conclude that you were contributorily negligent to the extent of 25%, then whether you broke your arm badly or just got an ankle sprain that got better inside a week, that 25% comes off the value of your claim whatever the value may turn out to be.

Ben Hoare Bell LLP solicitors has several Personal Injury specialists. To speak to a solicitor please phone 0191 565 3112 or email For more information please visit