Virginia is one of only a few states that still applies the common-law doctrine of contributory negligence. Under a contributory negligence analysis, a plaintiff who bears any responsibility for the accident resulting in their injuries is precluded from recovering from any other at-fault party. Thus, in any Virginia personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff who is found to be just 5% at fault for an accident can be barred from recovering for their injuries against a party who was 95% at fault, as an example.
As noted above, most other states have shifted away from the contributory negligence doctrine and implemented a comparative fault rule. Under a comparative fault analysis, an at-fault plaintiff will be permitted to recover for their injuries regardless of their own fault. However, a plaintiff’s total recovery amount will be reduced by their percentage of fault. Some jurisdictions apply a “pure” comparative fault rule, allowing a plaintiff to pursue a claim regardless of their own percentage of fault; however, most states use a “modified” rule, allowing only those plaintiffs to recover who are less than 50% at fault.
Virginia’s contributory negligence law applies in almost all negligence cases, and often leads to relatively harsh results. However, contributory negligence is especially difficult to overcome (although far from impossible) in Virginia premises liability cases. This is because a defendant in a Virginia slip-and-fall case may be able to defeat a plaintiff’s claim by showing they were even the slightest bit at fault. For example, this may be done by arguing that a plaintiff was not looking out where they were going or by not wearing appropriate footwear.