Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary

Contributory Negligence

A doctrine of common law that if a person's own negligence contributes to causing an accident in which that person is injured, the injured party can't collect any damages (money) from another party who caused the accident. Because this doctrine often ended in unfair results (where a person only slightly negligent was prohibited from recovering damages from a person who was much more so), most states now use a comparative negligence test instead, in which the relative percentages of negligence by each person are used to determine how much the injured person recovers.