If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged after any kind of traffic accident in Virginia, now is probably a good time to understand your legal options. In this article, we'll discuss a number of state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make in Virginia, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting a crash.
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 Virginia, there are at least three different statutes of limitations that could come into play after a vehicle accident.
First, for lawsuits over car accident injuries: If anyone was injured in the accident -- whether a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian -- and they want to file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident, Code of Virginia section 8.01-243 says that the injury case must be filed in Virginia’s civil court system within two years of the date of the accident.
Second, for lawsuits over damage to a vehicle or other property in connection with a car accident in Virginia: This kind of case must be filed against any potential defendant within five years, according to section 8.01-243.
And finally, if the car accident caused someone’s death, and their family or a representative wants to bring a wrongful death lawsuit, the filing deadline is two years, and the "clock" starts running on the day of the accident victim’s death, which could be later than the date of the accident itself. (The two-year statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is set by Code of Virginia section 8.01-244.)
A follow-up question might be, "What happens if I try to file my Virginia car accident lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed?" In that situation, you can count on the person you’re trying to sue (that’s the defendant) asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court granting the dismissal. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it 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 Virginia car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in an Virginia car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was mostly responsible for the accident -- but that you share part of the blame. What happens next? How does this finding affect your right to compensation?
Under Virginia's "contributory negligence" rule, you cannot receive money damages if you are found to have played even the slightest part in causing the accident. You can't recover any compensation at all from the other driver, in other words. (Only a handful of states follow the "contributory negligence" rule. Most states use a concept known as "comparative negligence", which allows an at-fault driver to recover some damages as long as he or she is not more than 50 percent responsible for the crash.)
Not only does the contributory negligence rule bind Virginia judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, so if it looks like you share any amount of blame or the accident, get ready for the adjuster to play hardball during settlement negotiations.
Even though this is a tough rule, don't let it prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an Virginia attorney about your situation and your best course of action.
Your duty to report a car accident in Virginia is outlined in several sections of Code of Virginia Chapter 8. For example, Code of Virginia section 46.2-894 says that the driver of any vehicle involved in a crash must report the accident if:
The driver must report his or her name, address, driver's license number, and vehicle registration number to:
Failure to comply with these duties can result in criminal liability, the severity of which depends upon the nature of the accident itself.
In almost every Virginia 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 Virginia's car insurance rules.