Understanding Contributory Negligence in the DMV

In many accident situations, several factors combine together to create the “perfect storm” that leads to injuries. For instance, someone might knock over and spill a bottle of canola oil just after store employees set up a stack of merchandise that blocks your full view of the aisle so that you can’t see the oil until you’ve slipped in it and hit the ground. Or one driver might decide to change lanes without signaling at the same time another driver takes their gaze off the road to glance at a text message.

When one of those factors involves the person who suffers injuries in the accident, the situation can fall under the contributory or comparative negligence rules. That can have a profound impact on the victim’s ability to recover compensation for injuries and other losses.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is an old legal doctrine that many states no longer use. It basically prevents a victim from recovering compensation if the victim’s conduct played a role in creating the injury. The rule is defined primarily by case law, meaning the ruling passed down by high court judges some time ago. 

In Maryland, a person is barred from recovering if their conduct is a legally contributing cause of the accident and that conduct ”falls below the standard to which he should conform for his protection.” In Virginia, the doctrine holds that an individual cannot recover damages for harm “occasioned by his own act or his own neglect.” In DC, if someone can prove that the injured person’s behavior specifically contributed to the injuries, then the injured person cannot recover compensation.

Comparative Negligence – the Standard Used Almost Everywhere Else

Almost every jurisdiction in the U.S. outside the DMV uses a doctrine known as the comparative negligence rule. This doctrine recognizes that just because an injured person’s actions contributed to their injuries, they shouldn’t be denied recovery when someone else was also clearly responsible. In most states, an injured person can recover if the majority of fault for the accident lies with someone else. In a few states, an accident victim can seek compensation even if their own conduct was the primary reason for their injuries. 

When this rule is applied, the court determines the percentage of fault of the victim, and then the amount they would receive is reduced by that percentage. So if the person filing the lawsuit was considered to be 10% at fault in a car accident because they were driving slightly too fast for the weather conditions, and the jury awarded them $100,000, the award would be reduced by 10% to $90,000.

Laws in DMV Will Change Soon…Hopefully

Judges have lamented in numerous cases in the DMV that the legal principles behind the contributory negligence rule are unfair. The legislature in DC has affirmatively changed the rule in cases involving ‘vulnerable users’ on public roads. Pedestrians, and riders on bicycles and many other types of vehicles can now recover unless they bear the majority of fault for causing the accident. Hopefully, more change will be coming soon in the DMV.

In the meantime, accident victims sometimes benefit from the “last clear chance” rule, which allows them to recover if the other person had an opportunity to avoid the accident and failed to act.

Work with an Attorney Prepared to Make All the Best Arguments on Your Behalf

Attorneys for accident victims in the DMV have to work extra hard and take advantage of every available argument to overcome the contributory negligence doctrine. The team at Johnnie Bond Law is dedicated to obtaining justice and a fair recovery for our clients, and we have the knowledge and dedication to succeed. For a free consultation to learn how we could assist in your case, contact us today.