What Is Clean Hands Doctrine?

ELI5: Negligence

Clean Hands Doctrine and Personal Injury

 “What if I’m partially at fault for the accident? Do I still have a claim?” If you’ve been injured due to your actions and someone else’s actions, you may still have a claim.

What Is Clean Hands Doctrine?

In the simplest terms, clean hands doctrine is an affirmative defense that states that the plaintiff cannot seek compensation because they were acting in bad faith, criminally, or otherwise did something to contribute to the nature or extent of their injury or damages at or after the time of the accident. Its important to note that clean hands doctrine isn’t a law; it’s a defense that the other party can use to argue that for some reason, usually something you did, you aren’t entitled to the relief you’re asking for the court to give you. For example, if you get hit by a car while crossing the street, the defense may argue that they are entitled to the defense of the “clean hands doctrine” because you weren’t in a crosswalk, but were jaywalking. They may use this to argue that had you not been jaywalking, you wouldn’t have been hit, and therefore, your damages are your own fault. 

When Gross Negligence Is Involved

What if the defendant was grossly negligent? Gross negligence is a lot like ordinary negligence, however a defendant may be considered to be grossly negligent when they’ve demonstrated a particular disregard for the safety of others, and the prevention of injury. Additionally, a person may be considered grossly negligent if they intentionally cause the injury of another person. This may make it less effective if they try to argue you were somehow at fault, or had “unclean hands” with respect to how you were injured. The point is that the plaintiff isn’t always able to collect  for their injuries sustained if they caused the injuries to occur, or somehow acted in a way that made their injuries worse, or caused the injuries to occur. However, there are many situations where a plaintiff can be liable for their own injuries due to the fact the injuries were sustained while not following the law.

Proximate Cause

In order for a defendant to be  successful in using the unclean hands defense, the plaintiff’s conduct itself needs to be the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Here’s a good example: let’s say your friend has had a lot to drink and offers to drive you home. You know your friend is extremely intoxicated, but you decide to accept a ride anyway. If you’re injured due to your friend’s drunk driving, you may have a hard time winning compensation for your injuries. Your friend’s insurance may try to argue that you have unclean hands because you knowingly got in the car with a drunk driver. If the immediate cause of your injuries was the fact that you were behaving illegally, unethically, or did something to contribute to the cause of your injuries, it’s less likely that you’ll have a successful personal injury claim.

How Clean Hands Affects Your Claim

Clean hands doctrine can affect your claim any time the defendant can successfully prove that you have somehow contributed to your own injuries. In many cases, this will result in reduced compensation. In some situations, a person may have too much fault to file a claim. Even if your injuries were somewhat caused by another person’s negligence, it may be difficult to win compensation if you were too much at fault. In some states, a person may be “too much” at fault when they’re more than 50% liable for their injuries. How much liability you have, and whether or not you can still file a claim, will depend on the circumstances and your location. Even though you may be more than 50% liable, it’s still a good idea to get the advice of an attorney before making the decision not to file a claim.

When You’ve Been Injured

If you’ve been injured, regardless of who you think may be at fault, it’s always a good idea to speak with a personal injury attorney. At Moxie Law Group, we give free consultations to those who have sustained injury so that our potential clients can make informed decisions regarding their case, without having to worry about risking a lot of money. The free consultation is stress-free and fast: you can even text us or call us from the comfort of your home. If we determine that we can help you get the compensation you need to recover, we’ll start working on your case right away. If you’ve been injured, don’t wait; call Moxie Law Group today.


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