Earlier this month, a Virginia appellate court issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case that was brought by the wife of a man who was killed when he was struck by a train. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss how the “last clear chance doctrine” may allow recovery for a plaintiff whose own negligence placed him in a dangerous situation. Ultimately, the court held that a defendant who is able to avoid an accident but fails to do so may be held liable in some circumstances.
The plaintiff’s husband was walking along a set of railroad tracks, listening to music on his phone, when a passing train struck him. The man was instantly killed. His wife, the plaintiff, filed a wrongful death case against the company that operated the train, as well as against the train’s engineer and conductor. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants saw that her husband was dangerously close to the tracks, and they should have brought the train to a stop before it struck him.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s husband’s own negligence prevented the lawsuit from moving forward. Normally, in Virginia personal injury cases, under the doctrine of contributory negligence, if an accident victim is even partially at fault for the accident resulting in their injuries, the accident victim will not be permitted to recover damages. However, the plaintiff argued that under the last clear chance doctrine, the defendants should be held liable for failing to avoid the accident.