Court Determines a Plaintiff’s Alleged Negligence Is Not Relevant in Crashworthiness Case

Virginia courts apply the doctrine of contributory negligence when determining which parties will be able to seek damages following an accident. Under the doctrine of contributory negligence, an accident victim’s negligence can completely bar their ability to receive compensation for their injuries. This is even the case if the plaintiff is just 5% responsible for the accident.

Whether an accident victim is considered “at fault” is usually a matter for the jury to determine. However, a recent case out of South Carolina held that a plaintiff’s potential negligence is not relevant to cases claiming that a vehicle was not safely designed to withstand the force of an accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger in a Chevy Pick-up truck being driven by a friend. The two had been smoking synthetic marijuana and were driving on the highway when the driver ran a stop sign. As the pick-up truck entered the intersection, it was struck by another vehicle that had the right-of-way.

The pick-up truck caught fire immediately after the accident. The driver of the truck was killed in the fire, and the plaintiff was seriously injured. Following the accident, the plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the truck’s manufacturer, arguing that the placement of the gas tank resulted in the fire that worsened his injuries. The case was filed in federal court.

The federal court handling the case determined that South Carolina law applied, and it asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to answer the following question:  is a plaintiff’s potential negligence relevant in a crashworthiness case?

The South Carolina Supreme Court concluded that the plaintiff’s potential negligence in getting into the vehicle with a driver he knew to be impaired was not relevant to his product liability case against the vehicle manufacturer. The court began by noting that this issue had never come up in South Carolina, so the court looked to other states for guidance. As it turns out, the majority of states that have decided the issue require a plaintiff’s negligence to be considered in these cases. However, most of those states have laws requiring courts to consider the evidence. Since the South Carolina legislature had not passed any law one way or the other on the issue, the court determined that evidence of the plaintiff’s negligence was not relevant to his case against the truck’s manufacturer.

Importantly, Virginia does not have a law regarding the admissibility of a plaintiff’s potential negligence in crashworthiness cases. It may be that this case is instructive to a Virginia court when the issue does arise.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. As noted above, Virginia courts employ very strict rules when determining which accident victims are eligible for financial recovery. Thus, it is very important that you discuss your case with a dedicated and experienced personal injury attorney prior to filing your case. To learn more about how Virginia law may apply to your case, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney.

See More Blog Posts:

The Importance of Properly Serving All Defendants in Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuits, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, May 1, 2017.

Tire Manufacturer Withholds Evidence, Although Court-Imposed Fine Reversed, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, May 10, 2017.

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