How Contributory Negligence Works in Virginia

contributory negligence

When you suffer an injury because of someone else’s negligence, you may consider recovering your financial losses with a personal injury claim. This may be a bit more challenging in Virginia due to the state’s contributory negligence statute, which makes it harder for a victim to receive compensation if there’s any evidence that they are partially at fault. As a result, it is crucial for an injury victim to talk to a personal injury lawyer before they discuss their injuries with the insurance company or any other involved parties.

Ready to take the first step in your personal injury claim? Choose Pack Law Group. Call 540-586-7225 to schedule a consultation now.

What is Contributory Negligence?

In the United States, there are a few different rules that determine a victim’s right to compensation in a personal injury case. The most common is comparative negligence. If an accident victim has partial responsibility for an accident, their compensation is decreased in proportion to the amount of liability they have. States with partial comparative negligence rules prevent a victim from recovering compensation if they have 50% or more responsibility for their own injuries.

The other is pure contributory negligence, which is utilized in Virginia. Under contributory negligence statutes, a victim of an accident cannot recover any compensation if the court finds them to be at all responsible for their injuries. This obviously makes it very difficult for accident victims. Even if you’re involved in an accident that is clearly the other driver’s fault, it’s likely that there’s something you could have done to lessen the damage. Many believe that this statute essentially punishes victims for their own injuries.

Changes in Contributory Negligence Over Time

While Virginia has not yet gotten rid of these laws, the courts have clarified contributory negligence over the decades. While the law sounds harsh—and in many ways, is harsh—the courts have ruled in favor of victims in many individual cases. Even if the plaintiff has some fault, they may still be able to receive compensation if the defendant had the last obvious opportunity to avoid an accident but did not act on it. This has given victims a little bit of breathing room when their cases go to court.

Consider the recent case of Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation. A man was killed while walking along railroad tracks, unaware of an oncoming train because he was listening to music in his earbuds. The transportation company argued that the man was negligent up until the moment he was struck, so the “last chance” doctrine should not apply to them. The court found that the man did not know he was in danger, but the conductor saw him and should have taken action to avoid the accident.

How This Affects Your Settlement Options

This applies to cases that go to court, but as you may know, most personal injury cases are settled outside of court. How does this affect you during negotiations? First, know that insurance companies might be less flexible in contributory negligence states than they are in comparative negligence states. Even if it is clear that their client caused an accident that led to your injuries, they may have less motivation to settle if they believe they can prove that you also contributed to the accident.

This is why it’s so important to reach out to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after an accident. The insurance company will try to get to you first—if they can get you to agree to a recorded statement, they have the opportunity to find ways to pin some blame on you and decrease or deny a settlement entirely. You need an advocate whose only priority is what is best for you. An experienced Virginia personal injury attorney will be able to sort through the evidence and fight for your right to compensation, even in light of Virginia’s contributory negligence law.

Reach Out to Pack Law Group Today

The sooner you connect with Pack Law Group after an accident, the sooner we can start fighting on your behalf. Personal injury claims can be tricky in Virginia, and you deserve an attorney willing to do what is best for you. Set up a meeting with our team now by calling us at 540-586-7225 or reaching out to us online.