What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is a legal standard that bars an injured plaintiff from recovering damages from the defendant if they contributed to their injury in any way. In states that follow a contributory negligence rule, a plaintiff deemed even one percent responsible for their injuries may not be successful in a claim against another party for damages. Most states do not follow contributory negligence laws, but Virginia is one of a handful of states that does.

Contributory negligence can apply to a number of personal injuries and civil tort cases: car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, dog bites, slip-and-fall accidents, and medical malpractice. If you suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, it is important to work with an attorney who understands contributory negligence and how it could affect your case.

Contributory Negligence vs. Comparative Negligence

PLF Infographic Contributory Negligence vs Comparative Negligence

Most states do not have contributory negligence rules. Instead, they follow some form of a comparative negligence rule: either pure comparative negligence or modified comparative negligence. Under a comparative negligence system, a small degree of fault or negligence does not prevent an injured plaintiff from recovering damages.

Pure Comparative Negligence

Pure comparative negligence laws allow an injured party to pursue damages no matter their degree of fault, short of 100 percent. If a car accident victim suffers $10,000 in damages and was 90 percent at fault for the crash, they can still go after the other party for the other 10 percent, or $1,000. Even 99 percent fault does not preclude a plaintiff from seeking redress for the other one percent.

Modified Comparative Negligence

A modified comparative negligence rule works similarly to a pure comparative negligence rule, but it caps an injured party’s ability to recover damages at a certain percentage of fault — either 50 or 51 percent.

Contributory Negligence

Virginia and a few other states follow a contributory negligence rule. It precludes anyone whose level of fault is above zero percent from recovering damages.

Consider a car accident scenario in which a driver zips through a red light and broadsides another vehicle that was proceeding on green. The driver who had the green light suffers severe injuries that result in $100,000 in medical bills.

This might seem like an easy case. After all, the wreck occurred in an intersection where one driver had a green light and the other had a red light.

However, in a contributory negligence state such as Virginia, the driver who ran the red light and their attorney simply have to find a way to make the other driver one percent responsible for the crash to get out of any liability for damages.

Types of Personal Injury Cases Subject to Contributory Negligence Laws

Car accidents are not the only type of personal injury case in Virginia to which contributory negligence laws apply. An injured plaintiff can also lose their ability to recover damages based on a tiny degree of negligence in the following situations:

An Injury Lawyer Can Help Navigate Virginia’s Contributory Negligence Laws

A personal injury lawyer can help you navigate Virginia’s contributory negligence laws. While evidence is vital to any personal injury case, it is even more critical in a state with contributory negligence laws, as it can mean the difference between recovering a large sum and recovering nothing.

A lawyer can collect and assemble evidence surrounding your accident and injuries to prove that you shoulder no blame for the event that caused your injury.

What Damages Could You Recover if Your Claim Is Successful?

It is understandable for accident victims to seek retribution for their injuries and losses. However, Virginia’s pure contributory fault laws can have a devastating impact on the amount of compensation an injury victim may be entitled to

Fortunately, when you have an attorney on your side who ensures liability is correctly evaluated in your case, you may be better able to fight a contributory negligence ruling. There are a variety of damages you could be awarded as part of your personal injury claim.

Economic Damages

The damages you have the right to recover are called compensatory damages. These include economic damages and non-economic damages. First, let’s look at economic damages. Economic damages are easier to calculate because they have a fixed monetary value. 

You can prove the value of your economic damages with financial records, bills, quotes, receipts, bank statements, and other hard proof of your financial losses. Examples of economic damages that could be awarded in personal injury claims include:

  • Costs of childcare expenses and necessary household care you performed yourself before your injury
  • Your loss of future potential earnings including employer contributions to your retirement savings accounts, potential bonuses, raises, holiday pay, vacation time, and more
  • The wages you lost when you had to take time off of work
  • The entirety of your medical expenses including equipment fees, accommodations to your home, prescription medication costs, co-pays, and transportation to and from your physician appointments

Non-Economic Damages

Economic damages are not the only loss you are entitled to. You also have the right to be compensated for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages do not have a documented monetary value. They need to be quantified by your lawyer based on their severity and impact on your life. 

Examples of non-economic damages you could recover include:

  • “Pain and suffering” and inconvenience
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Disfiguring scars

While these losses don’t always come with a receipt, they still impact your finances and every other aspect of your life. Compensation may help to offset the challenges you face as a result of these losses.

Compensation from Insurance Settlements May Not Be Enough

You may also have the opportunity to settle your case outside of court with the insurance company. Insurance settlements are based on the types and amounts of coverage the policyholder purchases and a payout is still determined through the pure contributory negligence system.

If you are dealing with a car accident insurance claim, the defendant will likely have purchased bodily injury liability coverage, property damage liability coverage, and potentially other types of insurance coverage. These funds are set aside for victims of an accident for which the policyholder is 100 percent responsible.

Bodily injury liability coverage would cover your medical expenses while property damage liability coverage would cover the costs of repairing or replacing your vehicle. However, other types of economic damages and non-economic damages may not be recoverable through insurance settlements alone. A personal injury lawyer can help to ensure you take the best path to compensation for your specific losses.

Call for a Free Case Evaluation with a Personal Injury Lawyer in Virginia

If you have suffered an injury, the Parrish Law Firm, PLLC can help you recover damages. Our founding attorney, Jim Parrish, spent years working for insurance companies as their legal counsel and used the defense of contributory negligence hundreds of times. 

Because of his vast experience with contributory negligence from the insurance side of the personal injury practice, he knows how to defeat this tactic for his clients. He also uses the knowledge he gained during that time to negotiate and recover favorable settlements for his clients. To schedule a free case evaluation today, call us.

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