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Understanding How Contributory Negligence Can Impact a Virginia Personal Injury Case

contributory negligenceWhen a person sustains injuries as a result of another party’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing, Virginia personal injury law allows the injured party to seek compensation by filing a civil lawsuit. Personal injury law allows parties to sue for a wide variety of injuries that occur in many different contexts, including but not limited to car accidents, pedestrian accidents, slips and falls, and other premises liability accidents. When a plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit, that plaintiff typically seeks compensatory damages as compensation for both economic and noneconomic losses. Yet what happens when the defendant argues that the plaintiff bears some responsibility for the accident?

This question raises the issue of contributory negligence. Virginia is what is known as a pure contributory negligence state, which means that a plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages if a court determines that the plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident or for her own injuries. We want to say more about how Virginia’s contributory negligence law works and how it can impact a personal injury claim.

What is Contributory Negligence?

In most states, pure contributory negligence laws have been replaced with comparative fault or comparative negligence laws. As the Cornell Legal Information Institute (LII) explains, contributory negligence has been abolished in most jurisdictions, but it remains in a handful of states, including Virginia. Under a pure contributory negligence scheme, a plaintiff is completely barred from recovery if she was even slightly negligent in terms of causation for the accident and her injuries. This means that the plaintiff is barred from recovery whether she is 1 percent or 99 percent to blame.

To give you a hypothetical example, imagine that a plaintiff is severely injured in a car accident in the Fairfax area. The plaintiff’s car was struck head on when a drunk driver crossed over the median into the other lane, causing a wrong-way crash. However, the plaintiff was speeding at the time of the crash. The court might determine that the plaintiff’s own negligence in violating the speed limit made her 1 percent responsible for the accident. In such a situation, Virginia’s contributory negligence law says that the plaintiff is completely barred from recovery.

Contributory Negligence as a Defense

Who raises the issue of contributory negligence in a personal injury lawsuit? Contributory negligence is a defense that the defendant can raise. In other words, when the plaintiff files a lawsuit alleging that the defendant’s negligence caused the accident in which she was injured, the defendant can argue that contributory negligence is a factor and that the plaintiff should not recover anything.

How does contributory negligence differ from comparative fault? Unlike pure contributory negligence states like Virginia, states that use comparative fault apportion fault and then reduce a plaintiff’s damages award by his or her own percentage of fault. Some states do bar recovery when a plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in Fairfax

If you are concerned about whether you may be partially to blame for an accident in which you were injured, or if you simply want more information about filing a personal injury lawsuit, a Fairfax personal injury attorney can assist you today. Contact Whitestone Young, PC to speak with an advocate at our firm.

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