Contributory Negligence in Virginia

Contributory Negligence in Virginia

What is Contributory Negligence in Virginia?

Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine used as a defense in personal injury lawsuits in Virginia. While the majority of States use comparative negligence principles, Virginia is a pure contributory negligent State. As a result, many people are surprised to learn what pure contributory negligence laws mean and what the impact is for their personal injury case in Virginia.

Comparative Versus Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence means that if the plaintiff in a personal injury case contributed through negligence, even slightly, to the accident or injury, then the plaintiff cannot recover any damages through a lawsuit. By contrast, certain comparative negligence States allow a victim to receive compensation so long as they were less than 50 percent at fault, sometimes reducing the damages by the plaintiff’s percentage of responsibility. In both scenarios, it is in the insurance company’s best interest to claim that the victim was actually at fault.

Thus, it is important to illustrate you were not at fault, but in a contributory negligence State, like Virginia, it is even more critical. If you are found even one percent at fault for the accident or injury, you will not receive any compensation. Due to this important factor, hiring an attorney before a recorded statement can make a big difference in whether you recover or not. 

Contributory Negligence of Very Young Children – Can a Child Be Negligent in Virginia?

It depends on the situation, but in some cases, yes. Contributory negligence of children will be considered in specific circumstances.

There are certain exceptions in how contributory negligence is interpreted, particularly with regard to young children. For example, if an adult ignores a crosswalk signal and steps out in front of a car, it is likely that they will be found contributorily negligent, even if the driver was going a bit over the speed limit through the intersection. But what if a toddler runs out against the crosswalk signal? Is the toddler contributorily negligent?

No. Children under 7 years old are considered “incapable” of being negligent since they are not yet capable of understanding whatever dangers they may have exposed themselves to.

What about older kids and teens who are still minors? Children between the ages of 7 and 14 are assumed to be incapable of negligence, thus, they are presumed to not be negligent unless it is proven otherwise. 

To prove negligence for this age group, the other party must show that the child could understand the danger, and that their behavior was outside the norm with other children of their age, intelligence, and experience in a similar situation. For example, if a 13-year-old ignores a crosswalk signal and steps out in front of a car, the driver could argue that a 13 year old is old enough to understand how crosswalks work and that other 13-year-olds would not have acted similarly.

For teenagers between 14 and 18 years of age, minors’ negligence is presumed unless it can be shown that they were not capable of being negligent. The standard is to decide if the teen acted like another reasonable person of their age would act in the same situation. A jury might decide that most reasonable16 year-olds would not ignore a crosswalk signal and walk out in front of a car. There is one important exception: In cases involving car accidents where the driver is a teenager, the teen will be held to the same standards as an adult. This is based on the idea that if you are old enough to drive a car, you are presumed capable of understanding the potential dangers to others.

Making an Insurance Claim for Your Minor Child

If your minor child has been hurt in a car accident or other incident caused by the negligence of another party, please contact a personal injury lawyer right away. Due to the contributory negligence laws, the possibility of a claim denial based on fault is high, even if the victim is a minor. Your lawyer will work to gather evidence and demonstrate that your child does not meet the standards for minors’ exception to the contributory negligence law under Virginia law.

In Virginia, most personal injury claims must be initiated with the Court within two years of the accident or injury. The law makes an exception for injured minors. Minors have until two years after they turn 18 to settle a personal injury claim for an injury that occurred when they were a minor. Minor parents may pursue a claim on their behalf of their child right away. Aside from medical bills for the minor, the recovery is considered to belong to the minor, and should only be spent on their care and education. Settlements for minors often need to be approved by a judge, who may appoint an independent guardian-ad-litem for the child. In many cases, a judge may require that the parents place the settlement money in an account earmarked for the child’s expenses.

Accidents and Parental Liability

What if your child causes an accident or injury? Are you responsible for the damages?

This issues commonly arises in car accident cases. If your teenager causes an accident while driving, in most cases you will not be held responsible. Presumably, your teenager is covered by either your insurance policy or a separate policy they purchased, and this liability insurance should cover the damages up to the policy limit. (Although you can pay a $500 fee to drive your car without insurance in Virginia, this is not recommended – especially for a new or inexperienced driver.) If the teen driver is included on your policy, your insurance rates will probably go up because of this accident.

There are also exceptions to the rule that parents are not responsible for injuries caused by minors. For example, if a parent lets a child younger than 16 or who has a suspended/revoked license, drive their vehicle, they could be found liable under a concept called negligent entrustment.

Negligent entrustment also applies in any situation where you allow someone to drive your car knowing that they are likely to drive it in an unsafe manner. Do not let someone borrow your car knowing they are intoxicated or have some physical or mental impairment that would prevent them from driving safely, this could also be considered negligent entrustment. In these cases, the plaintiff will have to prove that you knew the driver would probably use the car in an unsafe way or that you should have “reasonably foreseen” that this was likely to happen.

Virginia law does state that parents are responsible for up to $2,500 in public or private property damage caused by their children, so long as the child lives with the parent being held liable. Therefore, if your child crashes your car into a neighbor’s garage door, you could be held liable for up to $2,500 in damages. Fortunately, $2,500 is the statutory cap so even if the damage is more significant, that is the most you could be liable for.

Get Help from a Virginia Car Accident Lawyer Today

If you have questions about contributory negligence or your child has suffered damages in a car accident and you have questions about liability or insurance coverage, or other concerns about your claim(s), please contact Lugar Law for a free case evaluation. We will be happy to answer your questions, and if we take your case, there is no fee until we win. Please call today to discuss your claim.