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What is a Contributory Negligence Jurisdiction And How Does it Impact a Personal Injury Claims?

(Understanding Contributory & Comparative Negligence Doctrines) June 12, 2023

When you’re driving, if you spend any amount of time glancing at your phone, grooming yourself, or just generally not paying 100% attention to the operation of your vehicle, you may have experienced a “near miss” or had to hit the brakes a little harder than usual. You may think, ”If I can avoid accidents, my driving is just fine!” But, would it change your point of view to discover that if you were to get into an accident while doing any of these things, you might not be able to file a personal injury claim? A few states are considered contributory negligence jurisdictions, which greatly impacts your ability to pursue a personal injury case. In this blog, we’ll explain the importance of understanding what that means and all the implications it could have on your driving. 

What is a Contributory Negligence Jurisdiction?

The relative fault of motorists involved in a collision always plays a role in allocating responsibility under the law.  The person who caused or is “at-fault” for the accident is liable for the injuries and damages they caused to other parties. If you’re injured in a collision that was caused by someone else, you have a right to seek compensation for your injuries and damages from the at-fault party, or their insurance company. On the other hand, if you caused the accident, you cannot recover any damages from any party.

Comparative and Contributory Negligence

If you’ve been in an accident, you may be relieved to find that the at-fault party is responsible for damages, but what if you were also at fault? If you are in a contributory negligence jurisdiction, and you are also partly to blame for the collision, you cannot win your case.  For example, if someone failed to yield the right of way to you, but you were sending a text message and crashed into them, neither you nor the other party is able to file a personal injury claim. Reportedly, only five jurisdictions follow this strict rule of contributory negligence: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. As you can see, we are blessed with three of those jurisdictions right here in the DMV area.

Most states adhere to the doctrine of comparative negligence. In these states, a person can recover damages even if they are partially at fault. The compensation for a personal injury claim is usually determined by the level of fault for the accident. In some cases, if it is determined that the claimant is 25% at fault for the accident, they may only be able to recover 75% of the damages as compensation. 

Investigating Negligence

Regardless of where your accident occurs, both of these legal doctrines explain the importance of investigating an accident to determine fault. To make a personal injury claim in Virginia, Maryland, or the District of Columbia, you have to prove the accident happened due to negligence, how it happened, who was at fault, and that the damages and injuries for which you seek compensation were caused by the accident. You and your attorney can work together to build a solid case

Some investigation examples include gathering evidence like taking photos of the scene, collecting witness statements, video footage, and police reports. Your attorney may also work with experts like accident reconstruction engineers to illustrate the accident from an outside perspective or medical professionals who can write reports detailing the injuries caused by the accident. All of these moving pieces can be put together to illustrate how the accident impacted your life for the benefit of your claim.

Understanding your rights to a personal injury claim in an at-fault state is essential. It could completely change your driving style and how you view driving in general. In the event that you get into an accident, you should rightfully assume that the other party may be working on their own case against you, which is why it's important to find experienced and effective legal counsel as soon as possible. Contact the Alexandria Injury Attorney today to schedule a free consultation by calling (703) 879-5910 and learn how we can help you get the compensation you deserve.