Virginia Personal Injury Laws & Liability Rules

Virginia's statute of limitations deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit, the state's "contributory negligence" rule, and more injury-related laws.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

If you're injured as a result of any kind of accidental or intentional act in Virginia—from a car accident to an assault—it's important to get familiar with the different state laws that could affect any injury-related insurance claim or lawsuit you decide to pursue.

What Is Virginia's Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits?

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit in court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different deadlines depending on what kind of case you're filing.

When you're injured because of someone else's wrongdoing in Virginia (including any accident caused by negligence), any lawsuit you want to bring against the at-fault party will need to be filed within two years, usually starting on the date of the accident. This statute of limitations can be found at Code of Virginia section 8.01-243.

Learn more about deadlines for filing a personal injury lawsuit.

What Happens If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline In Virginia?

If the two-year window closes before you're able to get your personal injury lawsuit filed in Virginia's court system, you'll almost certainly lose your right to a legal remedy against the party who caused your harm. This harsh result only serves to illustrate the importance of understanding and complying with the statute of limitations deadline.

Are There Ways to Extend the Personal Injury Statute of Limitations In Virginia?

In some situations, the statutory time limit for filing the lawsuit might be extended in Virginia, or the starting of the statute of limitations "clock" might be delayed. Let's look at a few examples.

"Obstruction" By the At-Fault Party. If the person you're trying to sue "obstructs" the filing of the personal injury lawsuit, the time during which the obstruction is going on probably won't be counted as part of the statutory period—the "clock" won't start until the obstruction stops or is removed, in other words. This rule can be found at Code of Virginia section 8.01-229(D). Examples of "obstruction" under Virginia law include situations where the at-fault person:

  • files for bankruptcy
  • lives under a false name
  • leaves the state in an effort to avoid being "served" with the lawsuit, or
  • takes other action in an attempt to prevent or delay the lawsuit.

When the Injured Person Is a Minor or Is "Incapacitated." If, at the time of the accident or incident, the injured person was under 18 years of age or was considered "incapacitated," the two-year clock usually won't start until they turn 18 or re-gain the proper mental capacity. Note that if an incapacitated person is represented by a conservator or guardian, the representative will usually have at least one year after their appointment to get the personal injury lawsuit filed. Code of Virginia section 8.01-229(A).

How and Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit In Virginia?

The first thing to know here is that an experienced personal injury attorney can handle the ins and outs of how and where to file your personal injury lawsuit, so that your case is best positioned for success. But generally speaking, a Virginia personal injury lawsuit will be filed in one of the two main branches of the judicial system in which civil court trials are held. The main consideration is how much you're planning on seeking from the at-fault party as compensation for your loss.

If your injury-related losses ("damages") look like they'll add up to less than $50,000, you'll likely file your lawsuit in one of Virginia's General District Courts. Learn more about Virginia's General District Courts (from vacourts.gov).

If your damages will probably amount to more than $50,000, one of the state's Circuit Courts is typically the right place to file your personal injury lawsuit. Get more details on Virginia's Circuit Courts (from vacourts.gov).

Learn more about how to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Are There Caps on Damages In Virginia Personal Injury Cases?

Like many states, Virginia has passed laws limiting the amount and types of damages that an injured person can receive in certain kinds of court cases. So, even when the injured person's lawsuit goes to trial and the jury decides in their favor, these caps will limit how much compensation they can receive.

There's no generally applicable cap on damages that applies to all injury-related lawsuits in Virginia, but there are two specific caps to keep in mind.

Virginia's Medical Malpractice Damages Cap

In most states that have a medical malpractice damages cap, the law applies only to non-economic damages (like compensation awarded for the injured patient's "pain and suffering"). But Code of Virginia section 8.01-581.15 caps all kinds of compensation that an injured patient can receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit, whether it's lost income resulting from the malpractice, the cost of future medical care, or any other harm (including pain and suffering). Get the details on Virginia's medical malpractice laws.

Virginia's Punitive Damages Cap

Under Virginia law (specifically, Code of Virginia section 8.01-38.1), punitive damages are capped at $350,000. It's important to note that punitive damages are very rarely awarded in injury cases, but it helps to be aware of this rule. Learn more about punitive damages and gross negligence in personal injury cases.

What If the Claimant Is Partially At Fault for Their Injury In Virginia?

In some situations, the defendant you're suing for personal injury may argue that you're partially to blame for the underlying accident. This is a fairly common tactic, and in many states it's part of the back-and-forth between the injured person and others involved in the accident (and their insurers). But in Virginia, if you do share some degree of liability for your accident, the state's plaintiff-unfriendly "contributory negligence" rule could spell doom for your case.

Only a handful of states still follow this rule, which says that if the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit is found to bear any amount of fault for the accident that led to the claim, they're barred from collecting compensation from other parties in court.

Does Virginia's Contributory Negligence Rule Apply to Insurance Claims?

The contributory negligence rule applies in personal injury lawsuits that make it all the way to trial in Virginia. At that point, if the injured person (the plaintiff) is found to bear any amount of fault for the accident, they're barred from recovering any compensation at all from the defendant.

But the overwhelming majority of personal injury lawsuits don't make it all the way to trial. Most injury cases settle through the insurance claim process, sometimes before a lawsuit is even filed in court. Still, any insurance adjuster is going to conduct settlement negotiations with an eye toward what might happen in court. So if it's pretty clear that you bear at least some level of liability for the underlying accident, it's probably going to be pretty tough to come away with a fair settlement that accounts for all of your losses.

Dog Owner Liability for Bites and Other Injuries In Virginia

Virginia dog owners will usually be held liable for injuries caused by their animal if the injured person can show that the owner was somehow negligent in connection with the incident (they failed to reasonably control the dog based on the circumstances, for example). That's especially true when the owner knew (or should have known) that the animal presented a danger.

Virginia has also passed a number of laws relating to dogs that have been deemed "dangerous," a finding that can be made after proceedings are initiated by an animal control or law enforcement officer. Learn more about dog bite laws in Virginia.

Get More Information on Personal Injury Cases

If you're looking for more details on how personal injury claims work and what to expect from the process, check out these articles:

For legal advice that's tailored to your specific situation in Virginia, you might want to discuss your potential case with a personal injury lawyer.

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