A personal injury case is a legal claim for compensation by a person who receives injuries caused by another person. Examples include auto accidents, defective products, and slip-and-fall cases. In Virginia, the legal principle of negligence is one of the criteria that establish legal liability of the person who caused the injury. An at-fault party can defend against a personal injury claim by asserting that contributory negligence of the injured person partially caused the injury. Under Virginia law, contributory negligence can prevent an injured person from receiving any compensation at all from the person who caused the injury.
What Is Contributory Negligence?
Establishing negligence of an at-fault party is one of several requirements for recovering compensation in a personal injury claim. Negligence is a legal principle that generally means a failure to act as a reasonable person would under the same circumstances. A closely related principle called contributory negligence applies to the conduct of the injured person.
Contributory negligence of an injured person means the failure to act as a reasonable person would have acted for their own safety under the same circumstances. Under Virginia law, if the injured person’s contributory negligence is even partly to blame for their injuries, the victim cannot recover any compensation at all from the at-fault party.
Virginia is one of only a handful of states that have this strict or pure contributory negligence rule. Most states have adopted some version of a comparative negligence rule, where the fault of both parties is taken into account in determining the amount of compensation.
The Virginia pure contributory negligence standard is extremely harsh. It can have shocking results in some cases. Even an injured person whose negligence only slightly contributed to the accident can be denied recovery. The rule significantly impacts every personal injury claim, because the at-fault person can raise the defense of contributory negligence as an attempt to avoid all legal liability.
If you receive injuries that may be the fault of another person, you should never try to evaluate negligence and contributory negligence on your own. Making those legal judgments requires gathering and analyzing evidence relating to the accident and injury, and then applying complex legal principles to the facts and circumstances. A personal injury lawyer has the training, knowledge, and experience to make those evaluations and legal conclusions. That is one of the most important reasons why you should talk to a lawyer if you may have any type of personal injury claim.
Contributory Negligence in Virginia Personal Injury Cases
If a personal injury case goes to trial, the jury determines negligence and contributory negligence. However, most cases do not go to trial but are settled between the parties in discussions with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
The contributory negligence rule is an obvious way for an at-fault party to try to avoid legal liability for injuries they cause to another person. For that reason, the insurance agent for a person who caused an accident or injury ruthlessly pursues every opportunity to try to establish contributory negligence of the injured person.
Given the opportunity to talk with the injured person, the at-fault party’s insurance agent tries to manipulate the victim to get them to make an admission or any statement that could be interpreted as fault contributing to the injury. If the agent succeeds and obtains a statement amounting to contributory negligence, they will deny the claim completely.
The contributory negligence rule is one of the primary reasons why an injured party should never talk directly with the insurance company for an at-fault party and instead should retain an attorney to handle an injury claim. An injured person who talks with the insurance agent could make innocent statements that unintentionally ruin their ability to recover anything for their injuries.
Both negligence of the at-fault party and contributory negligence of the injured party are determined by the facts and circumstances of the accident. In the absence of statements from the victim, the insurance company may use other evidence in the case to try to establish contributory negligence of the victim. Witness testimony, police reports, videos and photos of the accident, and other information in the case may include factual evidence that demonstrates the negligence of the at-fault party, the contributory negligence of the injured person, or both.
How a Lawyer Helps with Your Personal Injury Claim
If you receive an injury that may be caused by another person’s negligence, your top priority is getting professional medical treatment. When you recover to the point where you can discuss the accident, your first step should be to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. That is the only way to make certain you protect all your legal rights.
Until you can talk with a lawyer, you should not accept any calls or inquiries from the at-fault party’s insurance company. Simply tell them (or better yet, have a family member or friend tell them) that your lawyer will contact them.
Your attorney handles all aspects of your case. That includes gathering evidence and documentation, investigating the accident, calculating the compensation you deserve, and making a claim with the insurance company. After filing the claim, your lawyer discusses the case with the insurance company.
From the beginning, your lawyer navigates contributory negligence issues very carefully. Your lawyer has proven strategies for dealing with all the ploys that insurance agents use to try to minimize or deny a claim, including asserting contributory negligence as a defense.
Discussions between your attorney and the insurance company for the at-fault party eventually focus on settlement negotiations and the amount of compensation. Calculating damages requires a complex analysis. Your attorney’s goal is to recover the full amount of compensation you deserve. Throughout a personal injury case, your lawyer keeps you informed of all developments, including the progress of settlement negotiations.
For additional information about personal injury claims, please visit the Virginia Personal Injury FAQ page.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Virginia Personal Injury Attorneys
If you received injuries that may provide the basis for a personal injury claim, you should talk with a lawyer at the earliest opportunity. Our Virginia personal injury attorneys at Renfro & Renfro take pride in our client-focused approach to injury cases and our steadfast commitment to getting each client the full compensation they deserve. We welcome you to contact us for a free consultation.