Unfortunately, NO!

When accidents happen, the first question asked is usually “who was at fault?” Contributory negligence is conduct by an individual which contributes to the harm they have suffered. When contributory negligence is found, it constitutes a complete defense to the individual’s (plaintiff’s) case.

Contributory negligence is a common law doctrine that states if a person is injured in part due to his own negligence (i.e. he “contributed” to the accident, the injured party would not be entitled to collect any damages (money) from another party who supposedly caused the accident. Under this law, an injured individual who only slightly contributed to the incident could not win in court against a defendant who may be 99% at fault.

Contributory negligence is a frequent defense raised by insurance companies.             If the insurance carrier or defense attorney can prove that the plaintiff contributed slightly to a wreck then the plaintiff will not be able to recover no matter how significant the plaintiff’s injuries are. If Bill was driving drunk and speeding, and Mary was driving the speed limit but her car was six inches over the center line, Mary likely would be precluded from recovery (receiving money for injuries) from a car wreck.

Contributory negligence is a severe legal doctrine that dates back to the early 1800’s. Forty-six states have abolished this archaic, and often unfair, law. Only Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia still continue to recognize the defense of contributory negligence.

Most states have adopted a comparative negligence law which is generally less severe. Under comparative negligence, the extent of the plaintiff’s own negligence will only come in to play when determining the amount of compensation. Comparative negligence law, rather than barring a recovery by the plaintiff, reduces the plaintiff’s recovery in proportion to the plaintiff’s fault.

Under a comparable negligence approach, if a plaintiff was awarded $10,000.00 and the Judge or jury determined that the plaintiff was twenty-five percent responsible for her injury, she would be awarded $7,500.00.

Comparative negligence is clearly the better legal doctrine. But Virginia has been slow to even consider a change at this point.