Contributory Negligence, or “It’s All Your Fault”

Virginia is one of the few states with a doctrine called contributory negligence, which holds that if the injured person was negligent in any way that contributed to the happening of the accident, that person cannot recover anything.  Insurance companies therefore have a powerful incentive to blame the victim.  Some typical cases:

  • AP was cresting a hill on a four-lane highway when he saw a delivery truck basically stopped in the road, trying to make a very difficult turn into a narrow driveway.  AP could not stop, and hit the truck.  The insurance company defended by blaming AP for not seeing the truck stopped in the middle of the highway.
  • BD was traveling 60 mph on U.S. Route 29, where the speed limit was 55 mph.  Suddenly someone pulled across the road and BD hit her broadside.  The insurance company refused to pay, saying that BD was negligent because he was going too fast.  Simple high school math and physics could show that if BD had been traveling at 55 mph over the distance that the other driver could see him coming, the difference in the point of impact would have been about 2 feet.  In other words, the additional 5 miles per hour made no difference — the crash would still have happened.

This is what we deal with all the time.  We know how to deal with these frivolous defenses.