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Doug Landau
Doug Landau
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What is "Contributory Negligence" in a slip and fall case ?

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If you’ve been the victim of a slip and fall accident, it definitely seems like the process for seeking recovery should be relatively straight-forward. For example, if you slipped and fell on a wet, soapy floor while you were walking through a store and now you have thousands of dollars of medical bills? Most likely, you probably feel like the store owner failed you in some way—that the store owner has an obligation to make sure that their premises are safe. Your gut reaction is correct, and it is because of this obligation—or what in legal terms is called a “duty of care”—that you might be able to bring a lawsuit against the business owner.

But anyone who has been through a negligence lawsuit before knows that the law has some interesting—and sometimes unfair—twists and turns built into it. One of those is the principle of “contributory negligence.” When you bring a negligence suit, in addition to asking whether the defendant—in the example, the store owner—was at fault, the law also requires us to ask whether you had any role in the accident. That’s why the defendant, most likely through their insurance company, might ask you some questions about your own behavior right before the accident. Were you watching where you were going? Were you distracted in some way? Were you looking out for your own well-being? These questions are all aimed at figuring out if you also had a role in causing the accident.

And what happens if you did have some role in causing the accident? Unfortunately, in the state of Virginia, this means that you will not recover any money from the defendant. This unjust outcome is a result of what is known as “contributory negligence”. At its most basic level, contributory negligence is a rule that simply means that if the plaintiff shares any amount of responsibility—no matter how small—for causing the injury, then the defendant is completely relieved of all responsibility.

Not all states follow this rule anymore. In fact, Virginia is one of very few states that still have this level of protection for defendants. Most states instead try to figure out how much each side was at fault and then divide up the amount of recovery accordingly. Sadly, in Virginia, the victim is put at a disadvantage and ends up bearing the burden of expenses in the wake of an accident. At ABRAMS LANDAU, we advise callers if "Contributory Negligence" will be a problem in their potential injury case.

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  1. up arrow

    North Carolina has the same contributory negligence law. I’d guess probably 90 percent of those cases have some element of contributory negligence. The best thing we can do is tell those clients when there is potential negligence. Great to see other attorneys tell individuals what the issues are upfront!

  2. Doug Landau says:
    up arrow

    Defense lawyer take advantage of this law to ask if the injured person was looking ahead to see where they were going. Then when they say “yes,” these crafty lawyers then say, “So, you were not looking down to see what was on the ground before you slipped, tripped, etc.” It’s a case of “your damned if you did and your damned if you didn’t !”