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Negligence can be defined as a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.  The behaviour usually consists of actions, but can also consist of omissions when there is some duty to act.

Four elements are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence: 

  1. the existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff

  2. defendant's breach of that duty

  3. plaintiff's sufferance of an injury

  4. proof that defendant's breach caused the injury

Types of negligence-

A. Composite negligence refers to the negligence on the part of two or more persons. Where a person is injured as a result of negligence on the part of two or more wrong doers, it is said that the person was injured on account of the composite negligence of those wrong-doers.

In case of accident caused by negligence of joint tort feasors, all the persons who aid or counsel or direct or join in committal of a wrongful act, are liable. In such case, the liability is always joint and several. The extent of negligence of joint tort feasors in such a case is immaterial for satisfaction of the claim of the plaintiff/claimant and need not be determined by the Court. However, in case all the joint tort feasors are before the court, it may determine the extent of their liability for the purpose of adjusting inter-se equities between them at appropriate stage.

A case worth mentioning at this point is Hira Devi V. Bhaba Kanti Das.The facts were that due to negligence of the driver of a State Transport bus and the driver of a car, there was an accident resulting in the death of a person travelling in another car and injury to some other persons in that car. The tribunal made apportionment of damages as between the owners of the bus and the car. The Guwahati High Court, however, held that the tribunal was in error in apportionment the damages between the two tortfeasors. The court stated that this is a case of joint tortfeasors and that the liability of the owner of the car has not been established. The claimants were held entitled to recover the entire amount of the claim from the owner of the bus i.e., State of Assam. The court also observed that this does not affect the right of the State to claim contribution from the other tortfeasor, namely the owner of the bus.

Similarly, in Satbir Singh v. Balwant Singh , there was a collision between a motor cycle and a truck, resulting in the death of pillion rider and injuries to the motor cyclist. The court found negligence of the motor cyclist to the extent of two-third and that of truck driver one-third. There was no negligence of the pillion rider. Thus, there was composite negligence of the truck driver and the motor cyclist against the pillion rider. The court held that the widow of the pillion rider was entitled to claim the whole amount from the truck owner and his insurance company Thereafter, the truck owner and the insurance company could claim the amount from the motor cyclist to the extent of his liability.

B. Contributory negligence, in law, behaviour that contributes to one’s own injury or loss and fails to meet the standard of prudence that one should observe for one’s own good. Contributory negligence of the plaintiff is frequently pleaded in defence to a charge of negligence.

Where the injured is guilty of some negligence, his claim for damages is not defeated merely by reason of the negligence on his part but the damages recoverable by him in respect of the injuries stands reduced in proportion to his contributory negligence.

Therefore, when two vehicles are involved in an accident, and one of the drivers claims compensation from the other driver alleging negligence, and the other driver denies negligence or claims that the injured claimant himself was negligent, then it becomes necessary to consider whether the injured claimant was negligent and if so, whether he was solely or partly responsible for the accident and the extent of his responsibility, that is his contributory negligence.


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