Virginia Car Accidents: What Is Contributory Negligence?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Liability for car accidents in Virginia is based on contributory negligence – a term which is often misunderstood. In a recent interview, Doug Stevens, an attorney who has practiced law for 30 years and whose firm focuses on personal injury and car accident matters in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, explained this type of liability.

VA Liability

Virginia is a negligence and contributory negligence state, according to Stevens, a legal theory that generally prevents a party from recovering for damages if he or she contributed in any way to the injury. In Virginia, the contributory negligence of the claimant must be a proximate cause of the accident – which means that it was the substantial cause of the accident. Stevens provided some insight:

In the old days, when comparative negligence came along, a lot of people thought it was going to be a much better system because people had been faced with the heartbreak of being only a small percentage negligent for an accident and having the other person being severely negligent. In that case, the victim ended up with nothing.

The idea came along that if a case was worth $100,000 for a broken arm and the plaintiff was 20 percent liable, then the jury could reduce the amount of the reward from $100,000 to $80,000. It sounds like a wonderful system, but unfortunately in practice, it’s turned into a system whereby people yearn for the old days of contributory negligence instruction.

Stevens says that the main reason for that is that the proper instruction and ruling of a judge is that the plaintiff’s contributory negligence has to be a substantial or proximate cause of the accident. So that gives the jury the chance to actually do justice and then you don’t have to be faced with the diminution of your verdict. Virginia is part of only a handful of states that continue to use contributory negligence, so if you’ve been involved in a car accident in Virginia, make sure to retain an experienced Virginia car accident attorney in order to maximize your recovery.

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