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 the handful of states that does.

Contributory negligence can apply to a number of personal injury 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 for 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:

How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Navigate Virginia’s Contributory Negligence Laws

A personal injury lawyer can help you navigate Virginia’s personal injury laws no matter which side of the case you are on. 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 to make it clear you shoulder no blame for the event that caused your injury.

Call 571-229-1800 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 claims of this defense against 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 at 571-229-1800.

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