Comparative Negligence and Automobile Liability Insurance

The purpose of this article is not to re-plow the ground of history, case law, and statutory developments which has been so competently tilled by others. Nor is the purpose to give a detailed consideration of each of the practical matters mentioned above. Instead, the focus of this article is on the relationship between comparative negligence and automobile liability insurance. Insurance rates and accident statistics, rather than rules of law and cases, are the primary materials. Such a consideration of the subject it might be hoped would give a positive and substantiated answer to the frequently debated but never documented question of whether adoption of comparative negligence would result in an increase in automobile liability insurance premium rates. As will appear, however, such precision does not seem to be possible. Nevertheless it does appear possible to draw some meaningful conclusions about the limits within or extent to which comparative negligence does affect premium rates, if indeed it has any effect. The insurance statistics also contain information with respect to the effect of comparative negligence in stimulating the filing of claims and the size of claim settlements. Further observations may be made with respect to the frequently expressed view that even in states in which the contributory negligence rule prevails comparative negligence is in fact practiced by all concerned, including adjusters, attorneys, juries, and even judges. In this way it is hoped something will be added to the information available for evaluation of the practical considerations which appear to control the decision to adopt or reject a comparative negligence standard in lieu of the contributory negligence rule.