Comparative Negligence in Virginia

Virginia’s contributory negligence law means you can’t collect compensation after an accident if you were even partially at fault.
Written by Cassandra Hamilton
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
is a contributory negligence state, which means that if you are injured in an accident and you are found to be at fault to any degree, you are no longer entitled to financial compensation for any damages or injuries.
Car accidents feel surreal, but you’re snapped back to reality when you see the damage done. The process of assigning blame begins, and you hope the blame doesn’t fall back on you. A state’s comparative negligence law decides how much you can claim in damages—or if you can claim anything at all—so you need to know the laws in your home state.
, has compiled a guide to Virginia’s comparative negligence laws, so you can be ready in the case of an accident.
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What is comparative negligence?

Plaintiffs can collect damages in accordance with their amount of fault under comparative negligence laws.
 If you’re in an accident and the insurance company determines that 20% of it was your fault, you’ll be responsible for paying 20% of the damages in comparative negligence states. The other driver will have to cover the remaining 80%.
 The comparative negligence laws apply to both personal injury lawsuits and third-party insurance claims—like a claim you file against another driver’s insurance. Judges and juries assign responsibility in personal injury suits while insurance companies decide what percentage of damages will be paid using comparative negligence laws.

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

Comparative negligence falls under one of three categories: pure comparative negligence, partial/modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Every state has one of these three laws. 
  • Pure comparative negligence means the injured party can collect damages in line with their percentage of fault.
  • Partial/modified comparative negligence means the injured party can collect damages in line with their percentage of fault unless it is higher than either 50% or 51%. This percentage varies from state to state.
  • Contributory negligence means the injured party can’t collect any damages if they share in any percentage of fault, even if it’s 10% or less.
There are 12 states with pure comparative negligence laws and 5 states with pure contributory negligence laws.

What is Virginia’s comparative negligence law? 

Virginia is, unfortunately, one of the five states with pure contributory negligence laws. This means that, by law, if you share any of the responsibility for an accident, you are no longer entitled to any damages.
Even one mistake, like speeding, could contribute to you colliding with a car that was
running a red light
. In this case, you’d be responsible for your own injuries and property damage even though the other driver ran a light.

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

If the fault cannot be assigned to just one driver, each party will be responsible for their own damages. If you are 100% fault-free and are the victim of two or more other parties, damages will be paid out between the other two insurance companies.

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

Insurance companies use an abundance of information to determine fault in the case of a car accident. Some of the information they collect includes:
  • The makes and models of the cars involved
  • Time of day
  • Weather conditions at the time of the accident
  • Witness testimonials
  • Photographs of the damage
  • Police reports and records
 These details, plus additional evidence, help the insurance company determine fault.

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

Virginia is a pure contributory negligence state, which means that the burden of proof is extremely high. You won’t be able to claim any damages unless you can show that the other driver was 100% at fault for the accident.
Here’s an example: You’re driving in Virginia and come to a stop at a red light. You were following too closely and didn’t leave a lot of space between you and the car in front of you. 
A driver behind you is distracted and fails to see the red light or the cars stopped in front of it. As a result, the driver hits the brakes too late. The car slams into you, and the force of the impact causes you to rear-end the car in front of you.
Because you were following the other car too closely, you aren’t entitled to any damages being paid out. The car in front of you isn’t at fault, so your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company will pay damages to them.
Virginia’s contributory negligence law is very strict, and it makes settling car accident disputes very difficult without an attorney who understands the law. 
What you should do after an accident is gather as much evidence as you can, such as photographs of the vehicles, debris, and surroundings, and call your insurance company. Do not accept blame or assign blame to others.
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Your insurance will go up if you’re at fault in an accident. Every insurance company has its own process of calculating premium increases, but every company takes demographics and driving history along with other factors into account. The average rate increase after an at-fault accident is 20%.
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