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Application of Last Clear Chance

August 5, 2020

In Coutlakis v. CSK Transp., Inc., 293 Va. 212, 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017), the scope of the “last clear chance” doctrine was analyzed by the court. 

The complaint alleged wrongful death of the Plaintiff who was killed by a passing train when he was walking along the tracks while wearing earbuds.  In the pleadings, Defendant alleged contributory negligence on the part of the Plaintiff who in turn asserted that the Defendant had the last clear chance.

Defendant brought a demurrer arguing that because the Plaintiff’s contributory negligence continued until the moment of the accident, the last clear chance doctrine does not apply.  The trial judge agreed and sustained the demurrer.  The case made it to the Virginia Supreme Court where the Justices answered any question regarding the asserted limitation of the last clear chance doctrine.

The Supreme Court held that a continuation of a plaintiff’s contributory negligence up until the accident does not bar application of the last clear chance doctrine to remove the contributory negligence bar when, as in this case, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant had the last clear chance to avoid the accident.