Steve is driving home from work, approaching a 4-way intersection.  Steve does not have a stop sign, but traffic on the side-street, attempting to enter the intersection from Steve’s right or left does, so Steve has the right of way.  Steve is driving in his lane, under the speed limit, doing everything right, except . . . he’s texting.  At the same time, John is driving a car that is approaching the intersection from Steve’s right.  John is in a hurry, is speeding and distracted, and does not see the stop sign.  John blows through the stop sign and the two cars collide.  In the Commonwealth of Virginia, does Steve have a winnable claim against John?  Maybe not.  Why?  Virginia is one of a handful of states that still follows the law of contributory negligence.  Let’s take a look at contributory negligence and how can it affect your potential car accident case?

What is contributory negligence?

Negligence is the failure to exercise the proper degree of care expected of a reasonable person in a given situation.  Proving negligence involves, first, defining what a reasonable person’s duty is in a particular situation.  In general, every driver has the duty to give full time and attention to her driving, to keep a proper lookout, and to maintain proper control over her vehicle.  Traffic laws and regulations, the “Rules of the Road”, provide additional guidance in defining a reasonable driver’s duty in certain specific situations.  For example, speed limit laws and signs define how fast a driver should travel on a particular road.  Right-of-way laws define who has the right-of-way at intersections and in other situations.  Legally then, in the context of an auto collision case, “negligence” is failing to fulfill the duty of a reasonable driver of the specific circumstances of the situation.  More simply put, it is doing something you should not have done (like speeding or texting while driving) or failing to do something you should have done (like not stopping at a stop sign).

“Contributory negligence” is nothing more than doing something, yourself, that the law considers to be “negligent”, that contributes to causing your collision.

Virginia contributory negligence law

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, contributory negligence is a complete bar to recovering money from the other driver involved in a collision. This means that if you and I are involved in a collision and the collision is “mostly” my fault, but you were also negligent, and your negligence helped cause the collision, you cannot recover anything from me or my auto insurance company.  Some attorneys call this the “1%” rule, meaning that if the other driver was 99% responsible for the collision, but you were even 1% at fault for causing it you do not have a winnable claim.

This is why it’s important to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, if you’ve been injured in an auto accident.  As soon as you contact the other driver’s auto insurance company to make a claim, they will begin investigating the claim to determine if their insured is at fault for the accident.  Part of that investigation will involve trying to find out if they can prove that you were also negligent so that they can deny your claim based on the contributory negligence rule.

A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer, with experience and expertise in auto accidents and injuries, will ask you the right questions and investigate the facts of your accident to evaluate whether or not the contributory negligence rule might apply in your case.  This is also why it’s very important, when you do contact an auto accident lawyer, to be completely honest about how the collision occurred and what you did or did not do, because it can be frustrating and expensive to pursue a claim only to have a jury find against you for your own contributory negligence.

About the Bergeron Law Firm

Bergeron Law is a personal injury practice serving the Northern Virginia area.  Our mission is to provide all our clients with the highest quality of legal representation and unsurpassed dedication and customer service.

Steve Bergeron understands that a successful attorney-client relationship depends on his ability to understand each client’s needs and objectives.  Bergeron Law will be there for you with the information, advice, and advocacy you need to help you get back to your life.

For more information about contributory negligence and personal injury, contact our office today at 703.813.6460, or visit our website: