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Understanding Contributory Negligence in Virginia

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Key Takeaways


  • Contributory negligence in Virginia presents a significant hurdle for personal injury victims, barring compensation even when they are minimally responsible for their injuries.

  • Defendants and insurers in Virginia often utilize contributory negligence to evade liability, leveraging the strict legal doctrine to their advantage.

  • Virginia’s rigid contributory negligence standard contrasts sharply with the more flexible jurisdictions that use a comparative negligence standard.

  • Securing high-quality legal representation is essential to overcoming the obstacles set by the contributory negligence in Virginia.

Personal injury cases are complex. Contributory negligence in Virginia makes them even more so. This harsh legal doctrine has been phased out in nearly all states, but it persists in Virginia.

The rule prohibits accident victims from recovering compensation if they are minimally responsible for their injuries. Unsurprisingly, defendants and insurers love comparative negligence because it allows them to avoid paying compensation—even when they are 99 percent at fault!

If you were injured in an auto accident, The Car Crash Experts at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers can help you overcome Virginia’s strict contributory negligence standard. Schedule your free, no-obligation consultation by calling (757) 333-3333 or filling out our online contact form.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Most personal injury cases are based on the legal concept of negligence, which refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care. More specifically, to prove negligence, you must show by a preponderance of the evidence that you incurred compensable damages when the defendant breached their legal duty to take reasonable care to avoid harming others through their actions.

Contributory negligence is a related rule that bars injured plaintiffs from recovering compensation from at-fault defendants if their negligence also contributed to the accident. Only five jurisdictions in the U.S. use a contributory negligence standard: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Contributory negligence sets a high bar when seeking compensation in a personal injury case. Even a slight fault completely bars plaintiffs from recovering damages. Therefore, contributory negligence is a common defense raised by negligent drivers and other defendants in Virginia personal injury lawsuits.

It can be very difficult to secure legal compensation without an experienced lawyer to fight back when defendants argue contributory negligence. Therefore, if you were injured in a car accident, you should consult our experienced personal injury attorneys as soon as possible. Our top-tier legal team and world-class staff are standing by to help.

Proving Fault in a Virginia Accident

If you are in an accident, do not discuss potential causes with anyone at the scene, post about it on social media, or agree to speak with the other party’s insurance company. Insurance adjusters are aware of contributory negligence in Virginia and will use it to deny claims or force lowball settlements.

Dealing with auto insurers after an accident can be tricky. You need solid legal representation to push back when they try to argue that you contributed to the accident. Our personal injury attorneys will use a wide variety of evidence to prove the at-fault party’s full liability, including things like:

  • Accident reports
  • Photographs of the accident scene
  • Witness statements
  • Medical records
  • Repair estimates/invoices
  • Insurance policies
  • Traffic citations
  • Communication records (with insurers, medical providers, etc.)
  • Vehicle maintenance records
  • Expert opinions (accident reconstructions, medical evaluations, etc.)

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Contributory negligence is not the only legal standard used for allocating fault in accidents in the United States. In fact, this old-fashioned doctrine has been abandoned in most jurisdictions due to its potential for harsh and unfair outcomes.

Comparative negligence allows for a more nuanced approach when determining fault in accidents. In jurisdictions that follow a “pure” comparative negligence doctrine, plaintiffs can recover damages even if they are primarily responsible. Their compensation is simply reduced by their percentage of fault. States that follow this rule include California, Florida, and New York.

Other states follow a “modified” comparative negligence rule, which allows partially at-fault plaintiffs to recover compensation so long as their degree of fault remains below a certain threshold, typically 50 percent or 51 percent. Their compensable damages are reduced in proportion to their degree of fault beneath the threshold. If they go over the threshold, their damages are reduced to zero. States that follow this rule include Texas, Arkansas, and Colorado.

Examples of Contributory Negligence

At the end of the day, it is impossible to list all the scenarios that may give rise to a personal injury case. That said, recurring auto accident causes do emerge. For example, contributory negligence may apply in cases involving:

To learn more about personal injury laws in Virginia, explore our FAQs page, podcast, and other free resources. Our attorneys are standing by to address your questions and concerns. We will make sure you know your full legal rights and options.

Trust an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer From Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers

Our Virginia personal injury attorneys have over 120 years of combined experience fighting for accident victims just like you. Despite the high bar set by contributory negligence in Virginia, we have a solid history of securing high-value case results for our clients, including:

  • $7 million for a motorcycle accident victim whose foot was amputated after a collision with a driver who did not yield the right of way.
  • $6.5 million for a victim in a three-car collision. Opposing counsel argued that our client contributed to their injuries by improperly stopping on the roadway. We did not back down.
  • $5 million for a woman who suffered severe injuries after being hit by a construction truck.
  • $4.725 million for a passenger in a car accident. Liability in the case was contested.

If you were injured in a Virginia auto accident, schedule your free, no-obligation consultation by calling (757) 333-3333 or filling out our online contact form. We have nine meeting locations throughout Hampton Roads. If you cannot come to us due to your injuries, we can come to you. We take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, so you pay nothing unless we secure compensation on your behalf.

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