Under § 27-1-702, contributory negligence does not bar recovery in an action for negligence resulting in death or injury to person or property if the contributory negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person or the combined negligence of all persons against whom recovery is sought. This means that a plaintiff could be found partially negligent but he could still recover damages from his suit.
For example, imagine that Fred is bicycling down the road when he is struck by Ben who is driving on the same road. Even if the jury finds that Fred was negligent in his bike riding because he was wearing headphones while riding, he can still recover damages in a suit against Ben so long as the jury finds that Ben’s negligence was greater than Fred’s. To put a number on it, so long as Fred was only 49% negligent, Ben’s negligence is greater than Fred’s and Fred can still prevail.
However, “any damages allowed must be diminished in the proportion to the percentage of negligence attributable to the person recovering.” This means that while Fred can recover damages in his suit against Ben, those damages must be reduced by whatever percentage negligent Fred was. So, in the earlier example where Fred was 49% negligent, any damages that were awarded to Fred in his suit would be reduced by 49%. He can still recover 51% of whatever is awarded to him, the percentage that Ben was responsible for.
If the jury finds that Fred’s negligence is equal to or greater than Ben’s negligence, then Fred will be unable to collect any damages under the rule. In a case with multiple defendants, the combined negligence of all the defendants is compared with that of the plaintiff to make the same determination.