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Dulaney, Lauer & Thomas

Insurance Companies Love Virginia’s Contributory Negligence Law!

You would expect Virginia to have discarded an ancient common law and sided with the overwhelming majority of states for a more just rule.

Wrong. Along with just three other states and the District of Columbia, Virginia stands for the pure contributory negligence doctrine that says that if an injured person has made any contribution to the accident, even as small as 1 percent, the defendant does not owe any compensation, even if the defendant is 99 percent at fault.

The doctrine rests on the assumption that a person always has to act for his or her own safety, or this person cannot be compensated. Most states have opted for a system apportioning the fault between the two parties, thus reducing the compensation owed by the defendant to the plaintiff in proportion to the plaintiff's own fault. This is called comparative negligence.

Under a pure comparative negligence rule, the driver of a car that was rear-ended can be found to have been at fault for 10 percent if the car's brake lights didn't function. The amount of the compensation to be paid by the driver who struck the car from behind would then be reduced by 10 percent. Under Virginia's contributory negligence rule, such a case would probably deny the plaintiff any compensation, because his or her negligence contributed to the crash.

It is not surprising that insurance companies love this rule. If they can only find an element of negligence in the injured person's behavior, they may bar the plaintiff from any recovery.

True, any negligent act by the plaintiff is not enough to bar his or her claim. The act of negligence must be a "proximate cause" of the injury, which means that the negligence of the plaintiff has a natural "cause to effect" link to his or her injuries. If a car is traveling five miles over the speed limit when another car runs a stop sign and hits it, driving five miles per hour over the limit cannot be held as a "proximate cause" of the accident, since the crash would have happened anyway.

However, the contributory negligence rule creates a dangerous situation for Virginia victims of auto accidents. Both the insurance companies and their experienced lawyers will do whatever it takes to deny compensation, arguing that you contributed to the accident. They could save millions if their argument about your negligence prevails in court, and you could lose everything.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Virginia auto accident, please contact our Warrenton or Culpeper office today. You can discuss your accident case with one of our skilled and dedicated attorneys to see how we can help you secure fair compensation.
 

DULANEY, LAUER & THOMAS, LLP
Warrenton Office
98 Alexandria Pike, Suite 11
Warrenton, VA 20186
Toll Free: 888.907.2631
Local: 540.349.2631
Culpeper Office
209 N. West Street
Culpeper, VA 22701
Toll Free: 800.741.1012
Local: 540.825.6046
Andrew Thomas
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Andrew Thomas is an experienced civil litigation attorney in Virginia and is AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell.