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One would expect that if a car hits a pedestrian crossing the street or rear-ends another vehicle, the at-fault driver would be responsible for the damages caused. But what happens if the pedestrian is not in a marked crosswalk or the car that was rear-ended made a sudden lane change right before the accident? Who is at fault in scenarios such as these? And who is responsible for the injuries? If you happen to live in a state that still follows the rule of contributory negligence, it could be no one. 

What does this mean, and why should you care? 

Contributory negligence is a defense that is often raised in personal injury cases. It means that if you are injured in an accident and somehow contributed to it, you could be barred from receiving compensation from anyone who contributed to the accident. While most states have replaced the archaic contributory negligence defense, it’s still allowed in Virginia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina and Washington D.C., and has serious consequences for injured people in these states. 

Virginia’s civil model jury instruction No. 6.000 states, “Contributory negligence is the failure to act as a reasonable person would have acted for his own safety under the circumstances of this case.” A reasonable person is defined as someone acting sensibly and with appropriate caution under all possible circumstances. When a person does not act reasonably, he/she may be held entirely or partially responsible for the resulting injury, even though another party may have significantly caused the accident. 

If you’ve been injured and decide to file a lawsuit, contributory negligence can significantly affect your case. 

Contributory negligence is an affirmative defense for an at-fault party and, if successful, prevents any type of recovery for the plaintiff. If a judge or jury finds that you, the plaintiff, are even slightly responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, you will not be awarded anything for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, or other losses. The defendant prevails. 

The harsh defense of contributory negligence does not compare fault between the injured person and the other party involved in the accident. If the injured person is even 1% at fault and the other person is 99% at fault, the injured person still cannot recover for their losses against the other party in Virginia. Which means all of the financial consequences from the accident fall on the injured person if they are found even remotely at fault.

If you have suffered injuries due to an accident and need more information regarding the contributory negligence rule and how it could affect your legal options, call us at 703-836-3366, email, or visit us at

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