Contributory Negligence: It’s All or Nothing

by | Nov 11, 2013

Virginia is one of the few states left in the country that recognizes the doctrine of contributory negligence. Most other states have some form of “comparative negligence.” The doctrine of comparative negligence provides for the finder of fact (the judge or a jury) to measure the negligence of each party and consider that in arriving at a verdict.

Contributory negligence in Virginia is an absolute bar to a plaintiff’s personal injury claim. Consider the following example: A is driving, running late for a doctor’s appointment and runs a red light. B is driving, highly intoxicated, speeding and also runs a red light. The two cars collide in the intersection and A is seriously injured. A files suit against B for personal injuries. In states with comparative negligence, generally speaking, the judge or the jury is permitted to assign “levels” of blame, or percentages of negligence to the two parties in deciding what A’s award should be. In the example, A is negligent for running a red light, but B is “more negligent” because he too ran a red light, but he was speeding and intoxicated. Thus, A’s award from the judge or the jury would be reduced by the percentage of A’s negligence causing the crash that the judge or the jury determines. In Virginia, contributory negligence would bar A’s claim completely if B can establish that A’s negligence in running the red light caused or contributed to causing the crash.

A plaintiff’s own negligence, even if it only caused or contributed to a crash by 1% is a complete bar to a personal injury action. Contributory negligence is a very difficult doctrine for plaintiffs in Virginia and good counsel is important to overcome it in a personal injury case. For more information about your contributory negligence and how it may affect your right to compensation, contact a

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