After any kind of traffic accident in Vermont, if you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged, you want to understand your legal options. In this article, we'll discuss a few Vermont laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting an accident to law enforcement.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.
(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
In Vermont, the specific time limit that applies to a vehicle accident case depends on whether the crash resulted in someone's death, a personal injury, or vehicle damage.
For lawsuits over car accident injuries and/or damage to a vehicle or other property -- that includes a claim made by a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- potential plaintiffs must get any lawsuit filed within three years, according to 12 V.S.A. section 512. For these cases, the three-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
But if someone died as a result of the accident, and the family or representative of the deceased person wants to file a wrongful death claim against the person who caused the crash, the deadline for starting that case is two years from the date of the deceased person's death (and remember that the date of the death might be different from the date of the accident). That statute of limitations is set by 14 V.S.A. section 1492.
Whichever deadline applies, if you try to file your Vermont car accident lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it's crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.
Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Vermont car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a Vermont car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?
As codified by 12 V.S.A. section 1036, Vermont is a "modified comparative negligence" state. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence -- and importantly, your share of liability must not exceed 50 percent in order to recover from other at-fault parties.
For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $10,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $10,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $1,000, leaving you with a total award of $9,000.
The comparative negligence rule binds Vermont judges and juries (if your car accident case winds its way to trial), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
In Vermont, the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident must report the crash if:
In almost every Vermont car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Vermont's car insurance rules.