July 2022 First Example Ten-point Answers to Virginia Essay Questions


      2. Two friends, Amy and Zia, rented a remote home in Bath County, Virginia, in late March 2021, for their children’s spring break. Amy traveled to Virginia from her home in Florida with her 18-year-old son, Abe. Zia traveled to Virginia from New Hampshire with her 13-year-old son, Zach, and his best friend of the same age, Walt.

      After they arrived, a spring snowstorm hit the area one morning and left 8 inches of fresh snow. Given the poor road conditions that day, Amy and Zia cancelled a planned group outing and the boys played in the snow around the house and in the nearby woods. The temperature dipped below freezing in the late afternoon forcing the exhausted boys to retreat to the house. Abe told Zach and Walt that he had never played in snow and that they were lucky to live in New Hampshire.

      That night, the boys were watching a movie when Amy and Zia went to bed and fell asleep at around 10:00 pm. Around 1:00 am Walt, knowing Abe was a licensed driver, suggested the boys go driving around in the snow and said that the keys to Amy’s car were hanging by the front door. Abe responded that he had never driven in snowy or icy conditions, and he was scared. Additionally, although he often drove Amy’s sedan, it had rear-wheel drive which he understood was not good in snow. Walt told Abe that he was a junior snowmobile champion and he could guide him through it. Walt and Zach encouraged Abe and said that it would be “an adventure.” Abe gave in to the pressure, took the keys to Amy’s car, and the boys drove away from the house undetected.

      Abe drove very slowly and cautiously at first. Walt was sitting in the front passenger seat and told Abe to speed up. At the next curve, Walt told Abe that he needed to counter-steer to the right. Attempting to follow Walt’s instructions, Abe lost control of the car and struck a tree. All of the boys sustained minor injuries and Walt suffered multiple fractures to his right arm and elbow.

      Walt, through his mother, Wanda, filed a proper and timely Complaint in Bath County Circuit Court against Abe and Amy, seeking damages for Walt’s personal injuries sustained in the accident. The suit alleges negligence against Abe for his operation of the vehicle and negligent entrustment liability against Amy for her son’s negligent operation of her vehicle. Abe filed an Answer to the Complaint, admitting his own negligence but asserting the defenses of contributory negligence and assumption of the risk by Walt. Amy filed an Answer denying she negligently entrusted her vehicle to Abe and also alleging contributory negligence and assumption of the risk by Walt.

  (a) What arguments should be made for and against the claim that Amy negligently entrusted her vehicle to Abe? Who is likely to prevail? Explain fully.
  (b) What arguments should be made for and against the defense of contributory negligence? Who is likely to prevail? Explain fully.
  (c) What arguments should be made for and against the defense of assumption of the risk? Who is likely to prevail? Explain fully.


a) Considering the factors and circumstances at hand, it is unlikely that Amy will be liable for negligently entrusting her car to Abe, both because Abe was 18 and because Amy did not expressly entrust her car to her adult son.

Under Virginia law, as at common law, one cannot be liable for tort unless it can be proven that they (i) owed a duty (ii) breached that duty (iii) and that this breach both legally and actually caused (iv) damages. Also under Virginia law, an owner of a motor vehicle is not automatically liable for the harms caused from the use of the motor vehicle by family members or friends.

Here, Amy can argue that she did not actually entrust the vehicle to Abe; in fact, she did not even know he had taken the car because she was asleep. Rather, Abe took the keys without her consent, permission, or knowledge. It is not as if Amy expressly condoned this behavior or told Abe it would be fun to try driving in 8 inches of snow without any experience on roads in poor condition. As a result, Amy can argue she cannot be liable because she breached no duty.

However, Wanda can argue that Amy's lack of express knowledge or consent is immaterial. Amy nevertheless had a duty, as the mother of Abe, to supervise his activity and to ensure that he did not act in grossly negligent or reckless fashion. Amy breached this duty by failing to supervise Abe, and by leaving the keys in an easily accessible and visible location by the front door in the midst of a snowstorm, and was both a but-for (as the accident would not have happened without her leaving the keys where she did) and proximate cause (as it was the natural and probable consequence of her negligence, and was foreseeable) of damage resulting to Walt (his multiple fractures).

Amy can counter that, as Abe was an adult at 18 years of age, she actually did not have a duty to closely supervise his activity as she would with a young minor child, and thus she cannot be liable for negligence in supervising his activity. In conjunction with the fact that Amy did not knowingly or expressly entrust the car to Abe, Amy is likely to prevail. As noted above, in Virginia Amy cannot be strictly liable for the damage caused by a family member using her car.

b) It is unlikely that Abe and Amy will prevail against Walt with their contributory negligence defense, largely because Walt is only 13 and thus 18 year-old Abe's negligence significantly outweighs Walt's negligence, rendering Walt's negligence not a "substantial cause of the harm".

Under Virginia law, the doctrine of contributory negligence is recognized as a complete bar to a plaintiff's recovery if it can be sufficiently proven. Proving contributory negligence requires a showing that (i) the plaintiff's contributory negligence was a substantial cause of the harm, and (ii) that the contributory negligence occurred at the same time (or during the same act or ommission) as the defendant's alleged negligence.

Also under Virginia law, an individual under 7 years of age is generally considered unable to be found liable for negligence. An indidivual between 7 and 13 is rebuttably presumed to be incapable of negligence. The standard to which children are held is generally compared to children of like age, knowledge, understanding, and experience.

Here, both Abe and Amy assert that Walt was contributorily negligent. While it is true that (i) Walt's urging of Abe to drive in the snow (while knowing Abe lacked any experience driving in the snow), plus (ii) Walt's assertion that he was a junior snowmobile champion, as well as (iii) Walt's sitting in the passenger seat and giving instructions to Abe all appear to be substantial causes of the harm that Walt suffered and also all three occurred at the same time as Abe's alleged negligence, it is still unlikely to overcome the presumption to which Walt is entitled given his age (under 14 years). As Walt is under 14, he is entitled to a presumption that his acts are not negligent, especially in this case at hand because the party accused of negligence, namely Abe, was 18 years old. Had Walt taken the car for a drive himself, perhaps he would have been found negligent, as a 13 year old of similar age, knowledge, and circumstances should reasonably understand the dangers of driving a car on icy roads without experience. However, since Walt merely convinced an adult (18-year-old Abe)to drive in the snow with Walt sitting in the passenger seat to provide advice if needed, there is probably insufficient grounds for contributory negligence.

Essentially, Abe's negligence dramatically outweighs Walt's alleged contributory negligence to such an extent that Walt's alleged contributory negligence cannot be considered a "substantial cause of the harm". Abe was an adult, was the one actually driving the car, and finally should not have allowed a 13 year old to convince him to drive on icy roads when Abe had never had any experience with snow in his lifetime.

As a result, the contributory negligence claim against Walt likely fails.

c) Abe and Amy have a better chance of succeeding in their assumption of the risk argument, because Walt, despite his youth, clearly both knowingly and voluntarily accepted the significant risk of harm confronting him.

Under Virginia law, a defense of assumption of the risk, like that of contributory negligence, is a complete bar to a plaintiff's recovery, so long as it can be shown that the plaintiff both knowingly and voluntarily accepted the risk. This requires that the plaintiff have a full understanding or appreciation of the scope of the risk at hand yet nevertheless voluntarily accept it without coercion or threat.

Here, Abe and Amy have a better chance to succeed with this defense. It appears that Walt, despite his age, had a very good understanding of the risks at hand, sufficient to prove that he knew and understood the scope of the risks confronting him. Walt was a junior champion snowmobiler, was from New Hampshire, and appears to have been very well-versed in snow and wintry conditions. A junior champion snowmobiler, even at the young age of 13, would clearly understand and appreciate the risks of driving a motor vehicle through wintry conditions at night. Walt's vast experience confronting wintry conditions in motor vehicles, despite his young age, renders him capable of accurattely understanding the scope of the risks confronting him.

In terms of voluntary acceptance, it is clear that Walt fully accepted the risks he understood as he "encouraged Abe and said it would be an adventure" and further that he would "guide" Abe through the snow, even in a rear-while drive car.

Walt may likely argue that, like with the contributory negligence argument above, he is rebuttably presumed to be incapable of negligence due to the fact he is only 13. However, the question at hand is not whether or not he was negligent, but rather whether he was able to knowingly and voluntarily accept the risk, which it appears he did. Further, Walt, while a child, is compared to a child of like age, knowledge, and experience; and he certainly has sufficient experience with motor vehicles in wintry conditions to both understand and voluntarily accept the scope of the risks confronting him.

Walt may also argue that he cannot be said to have fully accepted the risk because he was not the one driving the car. However, this argument is also likely to fall flat. Walt fully understood both that Abe would be driving and that Abe had no experience driving in hazardous wintry conditions at night. It is not a requirement under Virginia law that an individual, to be blocked from recovery by assumption of the risk, be the one actually operating a vehicle that suffers damage.

As a result, Abe and Amy have a solid chance to succeed in asserting assumption of the risk by Walt and barring his claims against them, both because Walt fully understood the extent of the risks confronting him and fully and voluntarily accepted those risks.


      (a) Negligent Entrustment of the Vehicle

      Negligent entrustment of a vechile is a form of vicarious liability where the owner of the vehicle may be held liable for the negligent driving of the operator of the vehicle. In Virginia, a defendant is liable for negligent entrustment of a vehicle when she permits her vehicle to be used by a driver who she knows or reasonably should know is not fit or capable of exercising the skills of a prudent driver, and as a result of the driver’s operation of the vehicle, individuals are injured.

      Wanda’s case: Wanda should argue that Amy negligently entrusted her vehicle to Abe, because she permitted Abe to drive her car. Wanda should argue that it was negligent for Wanda to permit Abe to drive her car in the snow, because she knew or should have known that Abe was not capable of driving safely in the snow. Abe and Amy lived in Florida, and Abe had never even played in the snow, and he was only 18, so Amy knew or should have known that Abe could not drive in the snow. Nevertheless, she did not prohibit her son from driving the car in New Hampshire. Amy went to sleep at 10:00 pm and left the keys hanging by the front door. The facts note that Abe “often drove” Amy’s sedan, and thus Abe understood that he had the permission to drive Amy’s car. Given the snowy conditions, Amy should have, but did not, take steps to prevent Abe from accessing her car as he was accustomed to, such as by putting the keys away. Indeed, Abe, himself, knew he was not capable of driving in the snow, as he was reluctant to go driving in the snow and knew that Amy’s sedan was a rear wheel drive and was not good in the snow. As a result of Amy’s negligence in permitting Abe to use her car, Walt was injured.

      Amy’s defense: Amy should argue first that she did not negligently enturst her vehicle to Abe because she (1) did not know that he was going to drive in the snow and did not permit him to do so, and (2) did not know that he would not exercise care while driving. Amy drove with Abe from Florida to New Hampshire. Abe, on Walt’s urging, operated her car at 1:00 am, three hours after she had gone to bed. She could argue that it was not negligent to leave the keys hanging because, given there had been an eight foot snowstorm, and Abe had not spent much time in the snow, she could not foresee that Abe would take the keys and decide to drive her car. In any case, even if he did take her keys and drive the car, Amy could argue that Abe “often drove” her car and, assuming based on the facts, did not have prior safety issues.

      Ultimately, Wanda is likely to prevail, because given the dangerous conditions, it was negligent for Amy to leave the keys to the car out. Abe likely understood that he was permitted to drive the car without Amy’s explicit permission, because he often drove the car.

      (b) Contributory Negligence

      Nonetheless, Abe is likely to prevail on his argument that Walt was contributorily negligent.

      In Virginia, contributory negligence by the plaintiff is an affirmative defense and a complete bar to relief for tort liability, irrespective of the respect faults of the plaintiff and the defendant. A plaintiff is contributorily negligent when she fails to exercise the ordinary care for her own safety. To bar recovery, however, the plaintiff’s contributory negligence must be a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

      Abe and Amy’s argument: Abe would have a strong case that Walt was contributorily negligent. Abe could argue that Wal failed to exercise ordinary care for his own safety by urging Abe to drive in the show and to speed up. The standard of care that applies to an individual takes into account the indivdual’s physical capabilities (not mental abilities or intelligence). While a child under the age of 14 is rebuttably presumed to not be negligent, a child is held to the standard of similarly situated children. Here, even though it might not have been negligent for a child to want a licensed driver to drive fast, Walt was a “junior snomobile champion” and represented that he had the skills to guide Abe through the snow. Thus, even though he is a minor, this background informs the standard of care imputed to Walt. Walt could be found to have been negligent and failed to exercise ordinary care, because, as a snowmobile champion, he knew about the dangers of driving in snow and ice, particularly after a heavy spring snows storm. He not only encouraged Abe to go driving but he even urged Abe on to drive faster, giving him directions about counter-steering. Abe tried to follow Walt’s directions but instead lost control of the car, leading to the injuries.

      These arguments would support Abe and Amy’s claim that Walt was contributorily negligent.To bar recovery, however, a plaintiff’s contributory negligence must be a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injury. This requirement is met here, because Abe can show that he only drove Zach and Walt in the car at Walt’s urging. Abe was reluctant to drive in the snow and was scared, and he expressed that he had never driven in snowy or icy conditions, and he only took the car out because of Abe’s encouragement. Aby also drove slowly and cautiously, but Walt told him to speed up. Thus, Abe can establish that Walt’s negligence was a substantial cause of the injuries, because but for Walt’s actions, Abe would not have taken the car out in the snow nor would he have driven faster, and Walt, as noted above, should have foreseen the likelihood of injury.

      Wanda’s argument: Wanda’s strongest defense that Walt was not contributorily negligent is that in Virginia, there is a rebutable presumption that children under the age of 14 cannot be negligent. However, as expressed above, it is likely that this presumption would be rebutted given Walt’s experience as a snowmobile driver.

      (c) Assumption of Risk

      Assumption of risk is also a likley successful defense for Amy and Abe.

      In Virginia, the assumption of risk by the plaintiff is an affirmative defense and a complete bar to relief for tort liability. An assumption of risk occurs when the plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily assumes the risk of the tortious events that caused the plaintiff injury. The inquiry is subjective, looking to whether the plaintiff fully understood the nature and risks of the events or activity and nonetheless proceeded voluntarily in the face of those risks.

      Amy and Abe’s argument: Amy and Abe can argue that Walt knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risk of driving in heavy and icy snow with an inexperienced driver. As he had grown up in New Hampshire and had experience driving snowmobiles, Walt likely understood the dangers of snowy and icy conditions. Although Abe had a license, Walk likely knew that it would be dangerous for someone who had never driven in the snow or ice to drive in such conditions, particularly at a fast speed, as he himself had driven in the snow on snowmobiles and lived in an area with severe winter conditions. Nonetheless, Walt voluntarily proceeded in the face of this risk. Walt was the one who suggested that the boys go driving around the snow, and he encouraged Abe despite Abe’s reluctance and fear. Walt also assumed the risk of driving fast in the snow, as he urged Abe to speed up.

      Wanda: Wanda could argue that while Walt, due to his young age, could not have actually known of the risks nor voluntarily assumed them. Although he had experience driving snowmobiles and living in the snow, he was still a child and thus could not fully know of the risks. Wanda could also argue that he did not know that Abe would not have the skills to drive in variable conditions, as he was a child.

      However, given Walt’s experience in the snow, as noted above, Amy and Abe are likely to prevail on the assumption of risk.