Contributory Negligence: How 1% Can Make You Lose Your Virginia Auto Accident Case

Did you know that there is a way to meet all of the other elements required to win your Virginia auto accident case at trial and still lose because of an ancient rule? That’s right, Virginia is one of the few places in the nation where if you are found to be 1% at fault for your car accident, you cannot recover a single penny.

Only Maryland, D.C., North Carolina and Alabama are in this group with Virginia. In all other states, the fault for the accident gets compared between the two parties and their damages are apportioned accordingly.

The law is called contributory negligence. What it means for Virginia car accident victims is that if you are even the slightest bit at fault for the crash, you cannot recover for your medical bills and you cannot recover for your property damage.

How can I be 1% at fault for a crash?
It’s helpful to have a couple of examples:

  • If you’re going through a green light in Fairfax at ten miles over the speed limit and a driver comes from your right and runs a red light, t-boning you, the insurance company might argue that your speed contributed to the crash because if you’d been going a little bit slower, you might have seen the other driver coming.
  • If you’re driving down a highway in Arlington at dusk without your headlights on and a car makes a left turn directly in front of you, the insurance company might argue that your lack of headlights contributed to the crash because if they’d been on the other driver would have seen you coming and avoided making the turn.

Contributory negligence is a tough law. In most other states, in either of the two scenarios, the insurance company might say “ok, our driver was 95% at fault for the crash, but since we think you were 5% at fault, we’ll make you an offer to settle at 95% of the value of the case.” You might not like the result, but at least you’d be able to pay your medical bills from the crash. In Virginia, there would likely be no offer made in either case and you would have to take your case all the way to trial.

If you’re wondering how other states work, follow this link.


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