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Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945

Brief Background

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 is a piece of legislation that enables the courts to designate liability in a just and equitable manner for damages between an injured party and a defendant liable in tort in the United Kingdom. This was an important piece of legislation in the context of governing the laws for negligence to allow injured parties, who may have been partly at fault for their injury, to still be able to claim for damages.

Why was it introduced?

Up until the Act was passed, the defence of contributory negligence in tort law was considered to be a full defence to negligence claims that may have been raised. This had the opportunity to lead to a number of circumstances where a dominant party would avoid having to pay compensation on the basis that the claimant had been marginally at fault for the injury that was caused. This was particularly applicable to employers and employees with regards to workplace injuries where the employer could escape having to pay high costs in damages. However, contributory negligence also occurred in circumstances outside of the workplace were inequitable decisions had occurred and therefore it was felt that the law needed to be addressed.

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 was passed shortly after the Second World War had been concluded along with a number of improvements to workplace regulations such as the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948.

What was the aim of the Act?

At the time of the introduction of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, there were defences that assisted employers in guarding against claims in negligence for workplace injuries. Contributory negligence was a prominent and full defence that could be used by employers to prevent claims of negligence in the workplace. This meant that employers could avoid paying compensation if it could be proved that the worker was at least partly to blame for the accident that caused the injury, even if the employee’s blame was severely less than the employer’s. Aside from this, employers could also argue for ‘volenti non fit injuria’ which essentially restricted liability against negligence claims on the basis that the employee had willingly placed themselves in a situation where they might be injured and had therefore accepted the risk, absolving the employer of any liability.

Therefore, the aim of the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 was intended to provide greater protection to parties that had a claim in damages for negligence but were prohibited from succeeding on the basis that they had been partly to blame for the damage that had been caused. This protection would be helpful to limit circumstances that had created clearly unjust decisions as seen in the common law before the introduction of the Act.

What main changes did it make to the law?

In legal terms, the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 changed the law regarding the defence of contributory negligence and rather than allowing it to be employed as a full defence, ensured that it would be fairly considered by courts to reasonably apportion blame and damages to the relevant parties in a negligence dispute. Further to this, the Act also defines the appropriate method for the courts to consider the damages that are owed to the parties in such situations.

Key Sections

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 section 1 (1), states that where a person suffers damage by his own fault and by the fault of a negligent party, a claim shall not be defeated on the basis that the claimant was partly at fault. This is a fundamental section of the Act. Section 1 (2) of the Act defines the method in understanding the level of damages that might be owed to the claimant.

It is worth noting at this stage that the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, section 2 was repealed soon after its introduction by the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1946 and is no longer in effect.

The Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, section 4 defines certain important terms that are listed under the Act such as ‘court’, ‘damage’ and ‘fault’ which goes on to clearly define what is meant in a claim for negligence. It is worth noting that section 5 deals with the application of the Act in Scotland, under broadly the same terms as that in the earlier sections of the Act. The Act does not apply to Northern Ireland as per Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, section 6.


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