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If you are bringing civil actions for workplace injuries, you need to understand how Virginia's doctrine of contributory negligence comes into play. 

Contributory negligence law can be confusing if this is your first time encountering it. Learn about how this doctrine can affect your workplace or personal injury lawsuit.

What Is Contributory Negligence in Law?

What is contributory negligence?

Contributory negligence is a tort rule seen in common law in some U.S. states. You may have a case against a clearly negligent defendant. However, contributory negligence bars plaintiffs from recovering damages based on another party's negligence if the plaintiff is also found negligent in causing the damages. 

Many states have replaced contributory negligence with comparative negligence because they consider it a fairer standard. In a contributory negligence state, the courts care less about the injured party's percentage of fault and more about whether you shared any fault.

The states that continue to employ contributory negligence in legal practice are: 

  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • District of Columbia

Examples of Contributory Negligence

Under Virginia's doctrine of contributory negligence, the court will bar you from collecting any damage awards if any negligence is attributable to you.

Examples of how an employee could be contributorily negligent include:

  • The employee was injured after they failed to follow the workplace's safety protocol, even though their workplace was also negligent.
  • The employee chose to operate a machine for an unintended purpose.
  • The employee was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the accident occurred.
  • The employee ingested harmful toxins after eating or drinking in an area where the employer had banned food or drink, even though the employer was negligent in exposing the employee to those toxins.
  • The employee suffered a head injury after a heavy item came loose that the employer should have inspected. However, the employee chose not to wear their safety gear in an area where it was required. 

In each scenario, the employee is at least partially negligent for their injuries, even when the employer may have been more negligent. In situations where the employee shares contributory negligence, it will significantly affect their ability to receive damage awards.

Its Effect on Damages Awarded

As a contributory negligence state, Virginia views negligence as an all-or-nothing issue. Either you contributed to the accident, or you did not. If the court finds that a plaintiff contributed even slightly to their accident, the plaintiff will not be allowed to collect damages.

For example, under Virginia's contributory negligence laws, the following employee choices would have significantly different effects on the court's award of damages:

Example 1: An employee using defective machinery is injured, resulting in serious eye injuries and damages estimated at $100,000. The employer negligently skipped the recent and required safety review of the machine. The injured employee followed every safety precaution and was not found to have contributed to the negligence that caused the accident. The court will find that the employee can receive damages in this example.

Example 2: This is a similar situation as Example 1; however, in this case, the employee was slightly negligent in failing to follow the manufacturer's directions on operating the machinery, resulting in a knee injury. Even if the court finds that the employee was only 1% responsible for the accident, the employee will be barred from recovering any damages related to this accident.

To be successful in your case, you cannot have shared contributory negligence for your accident. Any evidence of your negligence could ruin your case. 

What a Defendant Must Prove in a Contributory Negligence Defense

When you bring a lawsuit alleging your workplace was responsible for your damages, the defendant must disprove certain elements to convince the court that they are not liable. Even if the workplace is a clearly negligent defendant, your employer may evade paying damages. 

If the defendant can prove the points outlined below, the court will not order them to pay your damages. Before investing time and money into a lawsuit, ensuring a reasonable likelihood of winning is important. As the plaintiff, you will be arguing several elements, and you must prove them all. If you are unable to do so, your case will not succeed. Meanwhile, the defendant will be trying to disprove your arguments.

As the plaintiff, you should be confident that the defendant will not be able to convince the court of the conditions listed below. If unsure, speak with a legal representative about your potential liability.

The Plaintiff's Duty To Steer Clear of Harm

While you, as the plaintiff, will argue that the defendant owed you a duty of care, the defendant will attempt to defend against this point. In some cases, they may argue that you had and breached a duty to avoid harm. They may also try to argue that by accepting your position, there was an assumption of risk for the accident you suffered.

Their Failure To Act as a Reasonable Person Would Have Acted

After proving the defendant owed you a duty, you will try to convince the court that the defendant breached that duty to you. Meanwhile, the defendant may attempt to claim that you failed to act like a reasonable person. To do this, they may say that you did not take reasonable care to prevent your injuries or accident.

How That Failure Contributed to the Accident

Finally, you will attempt to convince the court that you suffered harm because the defendant breached the duty they owed to you. In response, the defendant may claim that your failure to act as a reasonable person makes you contributorily negligent for your damages. If they succeed in this argument, the court will bar you from recovering any damages from the defendant.

If you are unsure whether a contributory negligence defense may risk your chance of recovering damages, you should consult an experienced workers' compensation lawyer. An attorney experienced in these issues can carefully analyze the details of your case and evaluate its likelihood of success. You can also consider reviewing Virginia statutes on the topic.

Contact a Lawyer for Personal Injury Matters

If you or a loved one have been injured by a workplace accident or personal injury matter, the Commonwealth Law Group can help. We can answer your questions and provide an honest review of your case and its likelihood of success. 

Of course, no one knows for sure how any legal case will turn out. However, our experienced attorneys are skilled at analyzing personal injury matters before they move to court. Contact us today for a free consultation.

If you have been injured at work or through the negligence of another individual or entity, contact us at (804) 999-9999 or or use the form below to connect with our legal team. We will fight to get you the justice you deserve.