Do you wonder what contributory negligence means? Recently, the Virginia Supreme Court demonstrated how complicated it can be.

In RGR LLC v. Settle, a jury awarded the Plaintiff $2.5 million dollars when he was struck by an oncoming train at a train crossing.  The Plaintiff’s argument was that, at the time of the accident, the defendant had stacked lumber near the crossing, effectively blocking the Plaintiff’s view of the oncoming train.   Despite crossing “very slowly,” the Plaintiff drove in the path of a train traveling at approximately 45 mph. 

Initially, the Supreme Court said the jury got it wrong due to contributory negligence.  Under contributory negligence, if a plaintiff is even 1% at fault, he is barred from recovery.  A majority of the Supreme Court found that, by driving over the train crossing with a blocked view, the Plaintiff contributed to his own injuries. 

Surprisingly, however, the Court reversed itself.  In a split decision, the majority of the Court found that it was the jury’s decision to make as to whether the defendant proved contributory negligence.  It was certainly a bold and gutsy move by the Court - one that should be commended. 

While ultimately I believe the Court got it right, RGR LLC v. Settle demonstrates how truly devastating contributory negligence can be for Virginia accident victims.   Even in a case where substantial and permanent injuries are suffered, if the Court believes the defense has an argument for contributory negligence, it’s not afraid to make the hard decisions. 

If you’ve got a question about Virginia’s contributory negligence rules or you, your friends, or family need help, give us a call at BenGlassLaw.

You can also check out the article about this case at:  http://valawyersweekly.com/2014/11/10/reversing-course-supreme-court-switches-its-view-on-contributory-negligence-issue/

James S. Abrenio