Joe Hoagland: How Kansas Passed the First Comparative Negligence Law
Interviewed by Richard Walker
This short clip from Joe Hoagland's Oral History Interview describes how the first comparative negligence law in the country was enacted. The complete interview is found in our Statehouse Conversations collection and can also be downloaded there.
Joe Hoagland was chair of the House Judiciary Committee when this legislation was developed and passed. Bob Alderson was a lawyer in the Revisor of Statutes Office who drafted the law.
RW: What other big pieces of legislative work are you most happy with or I think most significant?
JH: I think one of the things that I authored was the Kansas Comparative Negligence Act, which abolished the harsh doctrine in tort law of contributory negligence. What it allowed was you could compare the negligence of parties and give partial damages to somebody. Even if the injuries they had were partly their fault, they wouldn’t be banned from recovering anything. They would get something attributed to the wrongful party.
I authored that and got it past, and it became a model for other states. The way we did it was you couldn’t recover unless you were less negligent than the defendant, the person you were suing. And that model was enacted verbatim in seventeen other states. So I feel kind of proud of that piece of legislation.
Interestingly, I was able to try one of the first comparative negligence cases as a lawyer, and it was a classic case where comparative negligence was involved. It involved a highway construction worker working on a summer road crew and a person going through the construction zone, speeding through the construction zone, and, of course, my client immediately told the police on the police report, “I never saw the car. I never saw what hit me.”
Of course, that meant that he wasn’t looking, and therefore he was negligent, but the person driving the car at a high rate of speed through a construction zone was also negligent. So we tried that case, and he was able to collect some of his damages as a result.
December 14, 1947