What is the “Last Clear Chance Rule” in Personal Injury Law?


The “last chance” rule, also known as “last clear opportunity” doctrine, is a legal concept that has been used in some personal injury cases. It applies to cases in which both plaintiff and defendant share some responsibility for the accident leading to the case. We’ll show you how the “last chance” rule works and what it might mean for certain types of personal injuries cases.

Personal Injury Cases: Contributory Negligence

“Common law” is the source of the “last chance” rule. Common law is a legal rule made by judges in court decisions that have been handed down over time, and not a rule codified in a statute or law.

“Last clear opportunity” was created as an exception to “contributory negligence”, which is one of the most common defenses in personal injuries cases. It may be a good idea to begin with an explanation about contributory negligence.

The very plaintiff-unfriendly contributory neglect rule applies to personal injury cases. It states that if the plaintiff is found to be negligent in any way and that negligence caused the accident, the plaintiff can not seek damages from the at-fault parties. Learn more about personal injury damages. Most states have replaced contributory negligence with comparative negligence. More details will follow. (Note: Alabama and Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C. still adhere to contributory negligence rules.

Definition of “Last Clear Chance.”

Judges created the last chance rule to alleviate the severe effects of contributory negligence. In states that have contributory negligence, judges believed that negligent plaintiffs should be able to receive some compensation in certain circumstances rather than being left with nothing.

Although the exact language of this last clear chance rule varies from one state to the next, it states that even if the plaintiff is negligent in an accident, they can still recover damages if defendant could have prevented the accident entirely by exercising ordinary care and reasonable prudential. Find out more about negligence, “reasonable care”, fault for an accident.

The plaintiff must usually prove the following in order to be able to use the “last clear opportunity” rule:

  • The plaintiff was in danger of death and could not be saved.
  • The defendant was aware of the danger and
  • The defendant had a reasonable chance to avoid the injury or accident.

The last clear chance rule sounds exactly like it is in some ways. A negligent plaintiff must show that the defendant had the last chance to alter course and not injure the plaintiff.

Let’s take a look at an example to show how the last clear opportunity rule could be applied in practice. Let’s suppose that the plaintiff was crossing a railroad bridge. The bridge did not have “No Pedestrians” signage or a walkway so that the plaintiff could not move when a train arrived. Even though the plaintiff was clearly negligent in his actions, he/she could still claim damages if the train driver exercised ordinary care and could have seen the plaintiff. The train would have been able stop safely before it hit the plaintiff. The train driver had the best chance of avoiding the accident in this instance.

What is Comparative Negligence instead of “Last Clear Chance?”

As stated above, the majority of states have abandoned contributory neglect and adopted comparative negligent schemes. This effectively moves on from the last clear opportunity rule, although it is still referenced in some personal injuries cases.

The plaintiff can still seek damages for an accident if the plaintiff’s negligence was less than 50% of the accident’s cause. Let’s take, for example, a case involving a car accident. The jury determines that the plaintiff was 30% responsible for the crash and awards $100,000 in damages. The plaintiff would see his or her damages reduced by 30% (equal to the plaintiff’s share of the fault) and would only receive $70,000. The state may also follow “pure” comparate negligence. This means that the plaintiff can still receive damages even though his or her negligence was more 50% of the accident’s cause.