If you are injured in a personal injury accident, you have the right to file a claim and recover compensation from the party responsible. However, Virginia’s pure contributory negligence laws can significantly impact the outcome.
What is Contributory Negligence?
Virginia is one of four states that uses a pure contributory negligence system. Under this law, if you are found even partially at fault for the accident which caused your injury, you cannot recover any compensation. As a result, you must be able to prove that another party was 100% responsible for your injury to receive payment for your related expenses and losses. This harsh system is why many states have adopted a comparative negligence law. Under comparative negligence, a plaintiff’s (victim’s) compensation is reduced by their percentage of fault rather than eliminated.
Exceptions to Pure Contributory Negligence
An important exception to Virginia’s contributory negligence rule is accidents involving common carriers. A common carrier is any business that transports goods or people at set rates—for example, rideshare drivers/companies, taxis, buses, trains, airplanes, etc. Since common carriers owe a heightened duty of care to keep passengers and others safe, whether a plaintiff was partially to blame does not matter if a safety code was violated.
Another vital exception has to do with car accident cases. Whether or not you were wearing a seat belt when the crash occurred does not impact your degree of negligence. In other words, you cannot be found partially or entirely at fault for a collision because you were not wearing a seat belt.
Willful or Wanton Conduct
When a defendant (at-fault party) is found by the court to have engaged in “willful or wanton” conduct, Virginia’s contributory negligence law does not prohibit a plaintiff from pursuing a claim. This is behavior that goes beyond gross negligence but is not quite intentional, meaning the defendant knows their behavior would probably cause another harm. For example, a drunk driver causing an accident.
“Last Clear Chance”
In some cases, the state’s contributory negligence rule will not apply if the defendant had the “last clear chance” to avoid causing the accident and failed to act when given a reasonable opportunity to.
How to Ensure the At-Fault Party is Held Responsible?
To avoid a situation where your compensation is unfairly eliminated, it is critical to hire an experienced lawyer. They will ensure you have a strong case so that no amount of fault is attributed to your actions. To hold another party responsible, you must be able to prove the following four elements of negligence:
- Duty of Care: The defendant owed you a duty of care. For example, suppose your case involves a car accident caused by the defendant. Drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road to follow traffic laws and prevent harm to others.
- Breach of Duty: The defendant breached their duty of care by failing to act how another reasonable person would in a similar situation—for instance if the defendant ran a red light or was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Causation: The defendant’s actions directly led to your harm. In other words, you would not have been injured but for the defendant’s behavior.
- Damages: You suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence. (e.g., evidence of medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, etc.)
If you or a loved one has been injured, proving the elements of negligence and ensuring contributory negligence does not impact your claim will require substantial evidence. Contact a Virginia Car Accident Attorney to get started on your case as soon as possible.