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What Virginia’s “contributory negligence” laws mean to you

By John Singleton on December 26, 2018

“Negligence” is a word lawyers use a lot. But what does it mean?

Well, negligence may be someone acting irresponsibly, or someone failing to act with a proper degree of care toward others—a degree which would be expected from a reasonable person in the same situation.

For example, a reasonable person would not attempt to drive a car after having five beers. If that person drives drunk, he would be committing an act of negligence. From a legal standpoint, he could be held financially responsible for the costs of the accident.

“Negligence” could also be said about a person who texts while driving, or who knowingly allows a hazardous condition to exist in her home.

If a person is injured by the negligent behavior of another person, the injured person can sue the negligent person for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and much more. Because most people have insurance coverage to pay for these costs, filing a claim can be very helpful to the victim.

However, the Commonwealth of Virginia has a higher standard when it comes to the question, “Who’s to blame for an accident?” That’s where we get into “contributory negligence.”

What is contributory negligence?

Virginia is one of the few states that still follows the principle of “pure contributory negligence” when it comes to injury claims. Pure contributory negligence means that if the injured victim shares ANY responsibility for the injury (even 1 percent), he cannot collect ANY money from the at-fault person.

For example: It’s dusk. Driver A is drunk, runs a red light, T-bones your car, and causes you severe injuries—a fractured neck and spinal cord damage. Under normal circumstances, you could sue Driver A for the cost of your medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. However, suppose a witness says that your headlights weren’t on. In such a case, a jury may determine that Driver A was 90 percent at fault for the accident, but you were 10 percent at fault because your lights weren’t on, and it was dark. This would mean you could not collect any damages from Driver A.

Now, other factors can come into play in a claim. So after a crash, you should immediately contact a Virginia car accident lawyer to investigate what happened and look for other factors.

For example, one exception to pure contributory negligence that our state allows is for injuries that occur on “common carriers.” A common carrier is someone who transports people or goods for a fee. This includes buses, taxis, Ubers, Lyft drivers, ferries, etc. So if you were injured in a bus accident, you could sue both the bus company and the bus driver—regardless of whether you shared any negligence.

What is comparative negligence?

Contrary to Virginia, most states follow what’s known as “comparative negligence.” Comparative negligence allows an injured party to sue for compensation if he or she was less than 50 percent at fault for the injury. However, the compensation will reflect the victim’s degree of fault. In other words, your compensation could be reduced by your percent at fault.

In the example featuring Driver A and you, it would work like this: if a jury decides you deserve $100,000 for all your damages, you would only be awarded $90,000 because the jury also decided you were 10 percent at fault for the crash. ($100,000 – 10% = $90,000.)

What if my accident might be a little bit my fault?

Fortunately for accident victims, the burden of proving contributory negligence lies on the defendant (Driver A). So in court, the defendant’s attorneys would have to show that your negligence was a “proximate, direct, efficient, and contributing cause of your injuries,” which would then be up to a judge or jury to decide.

However, most personal injury claims don’t end up going to trial—they are negotiated by the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s insurance companies. That’s why, to have a successful personal injury claim in Virginia, you need to be represented by an experienced lawyer.

Who can help me if I’m injured in a wreck?

At GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys, we are well-versed in all facets of personal injury law. In fact, I used to work for a large insurance defense firm. Meanwhile my partner, Ken Gibson, was prosecuting criminals in state and federal courtrooms. We work together to make sure our clients are compensated for their injuries to the full extent of the law.

If you’ve been injured by another party’s negligence, you may be eligible for significant compensation. To find out more about your legal rights and options, call (804) 413-6777 for a free consultation. You owe us nothing unless we recover money for you, and that’s our no-fee guarantee.

Remember, there are deadlines for filing a claim, so don’t wait to come see us.

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Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
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    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
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    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.