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How Can Contributory Negligence Affect My Case?

Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine you may have to navigate during a personal injury lawsuit in Virginia. It is a common type of defense a defendant might use to dispute liability and potentially shrink your compensatory award – or eliminate it completely.

Learning about contributory negligence and the state’s related law could help you understand what to expect during your claim and how it could affect your case.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence refers to a plaintiff’s own contributions to his or her injuries. Many personal injury claims are not black and white. Contributory negligence cases in particular involve shared fault among multiple parties, creating gray areas.

One of these gray areas is a plaintiff’s negligence. Sometimes, the victim claiming damages contributed to the accident. If a plaintiff is partially at fault for the injuries or damages in question, they have lower odds of recovering compensation. In Virginia, those odds can drop to 0% under Virginia Code § 8.01-34.

Most states have done away with what is known as pure contributory negligence laws due to their harsh consequences for plaintiffs. Pure contributory negligence rules state that if a plaintiff contributed at all to the accident, he or she will lose any right to financial recovery. Even 1% of fault could bar a plaintiff from receiving compensation from the defendant.

Contributory Negligence in Virginia

Although most former contributory negligence states have transitioned to a more enlightened version of the rule, known as comparative negligence, Virginia still abides by a pure contributory negligence law.

Virginia’s contributory negligence law states that a defendant must bear 100% of fault for an accident to be liable for a victim’s damages. Any degree of fault by the victim will take away his or her right to obtain compensation entirely.

An exception to the rule exists in Virginia, however. If you suffer injuries while on a carrier such as a bus or airplane, contributory negligence will not bar you from recovering from the carrier if it violated a safety code

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What Is Comparative Negligence?

Only a few states still use the contributory negligence system: Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Alabama and Washington D.C. Other states use some version of a comparative negligence law, instead.

Comparative negligence laws are not as sastrict. In comparative negligence states, the courts will diminish the plaintiff’s recovery by an amount equivalent to his or her percentage of fault. 25% comparative fault, for example, would lead to a plaintiff taking away $75,000 of a $100,000 jury verdict.

The defendant would only have to pay 75% of the award based on his or her 75% of fault for the injuries. Pure comparative negligence allows plaintiffs to recover even with up to 99% fault, while modified comparative negligence states cap recovery ability, often at 49 to 51%. After this point, the plaintiff will be unable to recover.

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Does Contributory Negligence Impact Insurance Claims and Civil Suits?

Virginia’s contributory negligence law impacts all aspects of your accident recovery. If you can be found at fault for part of your accident, your insurer may deny your claim for coverage. Similarly, Virginia courts will be under no obligation to view a related civil suit. This is the case regardless of whether or not you file your claim within the state’s statute of limitations.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t file for compensation in Virginia. Instead, pursue claims through your insurer and civil court with the help of an attorney. Experienced teams can contest any fault that either party tries to assign you to better fight for your financial interests.

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How does Virginia Determine Accident Fault?

Insurance providers operating in Virginia work to establish fault as soon as you submit your accident claim. Because the state operates on an at-fault policy, either you or another party involved in your accident will be deemed financially responsible for the related losses.

To make the process of proving fault simpler, you can work with a personal injury attorney to provide evidence of an accident’s cause. Applicable evidence can include:

  • Police reports from the scene
  • Damage reports
  • Video or photo footage of the accident
  • Witness testimony

While establishing that another party bears the bulk of the responsibility for your accident, you’ll also need to prepare arguments asserting your lack of fault. Phone records and dashcam footage can disprove distraction. That said, you can consult an attorney to further refute other assertions of alleged responsibility for your own accident.

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How Could Accusations of Negligence Impact Your Case?

Contributory negligence could significantly impact your case in Virginia. The state’s severe negligence law means you could lose 100% of a compensatory award if the defendant can prove you contributed to the accident in any way, to any degree.

It is critical to use an attorney to help you combat a contributory negligence defense. A personal injury lawyer in Virginia may be able to:

  • Investigate your accident
  • Collect evidence to prove negligence on the part of the defendant
  • File a demand letter
  • Navigate the state’s pure contributory negligence law on your behalf

An attorney will understand the ins and outs of this legal theory and how to combat a contributory negligence defense using aggressive legal tactics. After any accident in Virginia, contact a personal injury lawyer to help you with your case.

How Can an Attorney Contest Accusations of Negligence?

If you are accused of contributing to your accident, you can take action to challenge your insurer’s (or the court’s) decision. Alert the party in question that you disagree with their assertion of fault. Follow this phone call up with an email or letter informing the appropriate party that you intend to present new evidence of your lack of fault.

If you can schedule an appointment with an insurance adjuster, you can present your side of the story. In turn, you can present evidence detailing your behavior at the time of the accident. This can include photo evidence, bystander testimony, or black box information. You can also request amendments to any police reports filed at the time of the accident.

Finally, don’t hesitate to contact an attorney. We can represent you in the midst of your argument while also finding new evidence to challenge accusations of fault.

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