Contributory Negligence in Virginia: Explained

determining fault after accident

In Virginia, many injured accident victims experience a harsh reality when their claims for compensation are denied due to the state’s contributory negligence rule. This rule can restrict an injured victim’s ability to seek financial recovery if they contributed in any way to the accident.

When you are being denied compensation on grounds that you bear fault for your injuries, turn to Arrington Schelin. For more than 40 years, our skilled personal injury attorneys have represented victims of motor vehicle accidents when insurance companies try to deny them the fair compensation they deserve.

If you have questions about how Virginia’s contributory negligence law may affect your personal injury case, contact Arrington Schelin today for a free consultation.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence refers to the legal rule in Virginia that affects an injured person’s eligibility to pursue a claim for compensation from others at fault for their injuries. Under the contributory negligence rule, an injured party is barred from recovering any compensation for their injuries or losses when they bear any share of fault for the accident that led to those injuries and losses.

Even if an injured party is assigned only 1 percent fault, they are legally precluded from pursuing a claim against a party that bears the other 99 percent share of responsibility. Due to the potentially harsh results possible under the contributory negligence rule, most states in the U.S. have moved away from contributory negligence to other, more forgiving systems.

In Virginia, it is critical to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side who can prove fault and protect you from insurance companies trying to shift the blame.

Here’s a Contributory Negligence Example

In a car accident claim, contributory negligence can cause an injured driver to lose their right to recover compensation. Let’s say that a driver was rear-ended on the highway by another driver who was speeding. The driver in the rear is usually presumed to be at fault for a rear-end collision, and the fact that the driver was speeding would tend to support that presumption.

However, if the driver who was rear-ended cut in front of the speeding driver without signaling a lane change, the rear-ended driver may be assigned some share of fault for the crash. Even if the driver who was rear-ended is only assigned a tiny share of fault for the accident due to the failure to signal, the contributory negligence rule renders them ineligible to recover compensation for their injuries.

What You Need to Know About Insurance and Contributory Negligence

In Virginia, insurance companies sometimes rely on the contributory negligence system to avoid paying compensation to injured victims. If an insurer can pin even the slightest shred of blame on an injury victim, they have a legal basis to fully deny the victim’s insurance claim. This makes it critical to seek out the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer, who can push back when an insurance company tries to argue that you bear some share of responsibility for your injuries.

States That Recognize Contributory Negligence

The contributory negligence rule originally served as the universal rule governing personal injury claims. Today, only a handful of jurisdictions in the United States still recognize the traditional contributory negligence rule, including:

  • Virginia
  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • The District of Columbia

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

Over the decades, all but a few jurisdictions in the U.S. have adopted some form of the comparative negligence rule. Unlike the contributory negligence rule, the comparative negligence rule allows an injured party to pursue a personal injury claim even if they have some fault for their injuries. However, the total compensation they would be entitled to for their injuries and losses can be reduced in proportion to their share of fault.

For example, if an injured party sustained $100,000 in losses in an accident and they are later deemed to be 25 percent at fault, their compensation could be reduced by $25,000 to reflect their share of responsibility.

The comparative negligence rule comes in two basic forms: the pure comparative negligence rule and the modified comparative negligence rule.

Under the pure comparative negligence system, an injured party can pursue a claim for compensation following an accident even if they bear 99 percent responsibility for it. They would then be entitled to recover 1 percent of their losses.

In modified comparative negligence systems, an injured party’s share of fault cannot exceed a certain threshold established by law, usually 49 or 50 percent. If it does, the injured party is barred from pursuing a personal injury claim against the other at-fault parties.

Tips for Protecting Your Rights After an Accident

After you have been involved in an accident, you can take steps to protect your rights and options for recovering compensation:

  • Document the scene of the accident, including taking photos of the scene and visible injuries you have suffered, speaking to eyewitnesses to get their contact information, and preserving any physical evidence
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible to diagnose the injuries you sustained and follow all treatment recommendations so the at-fault parties or insurance companies cannot argue that you contributed to your injuries by not seeking prompt treatment
  • Record your expenses and personal losses that you incur due to your injuries
  • Avoid discussing the accident or your injuries on social media, as insurance companies often monitor injury victims’ accounts for anything they can use to contradict a victim’s official claim
  • Speak to a Virginia personal injury lawyer to learn more about what you can do to protect yourself from having blame unfairly pinned on you.

Talk to an Experienced Virginia Car Accident Lawyer Now

After you have been injured in a car or other motor vehicle accident, reach out to Arrington Schelin for a free initial case evaluation to learn how our firm can help you seek the compensation you deserve. We’ll work hard to protect your rights when those at fault for the accident or their insurance companies try to deny your rightful financial recovery.