In a classic, textbook scenario of a car accident, one driver is clearly at fault and the other driver is clearly blameless. For instance, let’s say one driver is stopped at a stoplight when another driver fails to hit the brakes and smashes into the back of the stopped car. In this type of case, it’s reasonably obvious that the second driver caused the accident through negligence and can be held liable for the damages suffered by the first driver.
That said, there are a lot of accidents where questions of fault are more complicated. For instance, if two cars collide, and an investigation finds that both drivers were speeding, then both drivers acted negligently. Both drivers may have been partially at fault.
Now comes the tricky question: If one of these drivers was injured in the accident, can they hold the other driver liable for their damages?
Under Virginia law, the simple and unsatisfying answer is no. But the details are important.
In this type of case, the Commonwealth of Virginia sticks to a traditional legal principle known as contributory negligence. Because the injured driver’s negligence contributed to the accident, the injured driver cannot hold the other driver liable.
This principle is very unforgiving and can lead to some results that seem wildly unfair. Many states have abandoned the contributory negligence standard and adopted more forgiving standards. Virginia is not one of them.
Common carrier exceptions
There are some exceptions to the contributory negligence rule in Virginia. These include special provisions involving common carriers. This term refers to buses and other vehicles that transport passengers. In accidents involving an employee or passenger of a common carrier who was injured in an accident, the plaintiff’s contributory negligence is not necessarily a bar to recovering compensation.
In such a case, if the plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the accident, the court will reduce their recovery in proportion to their share of fault for the accident. In other words, if the court finds the plaintiff was 25% at fault, it will reduce their award by 25%. If the common carrier company violated a safety regulation, the plaintiff’s recovery is not reduced at all.
Virginia’s law can lead to some harsh results, but if you have been injured in a car accident, you shouldn’t let it stop you from learning about your legal options. An experienced attorney can help you see how the law may apply to the facts of your accident, and talk to you about your options for recovering compensation.