Virginia Car Accident Laws

The deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Virginia's courts, the state's contributory negligence law, and rules for reporting a car accident.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've been involved in any kind of traffic accident in Virginia, now is probably a good time to understand the different state laws that might come into play (especially if you end up making a car accident claim), including:

  • how fault for a car accident affects your claim options in Virginia
  • the deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit in Virginia court
  • Virginia's "contributory negligence" rule, which can prevent you from receiving any compensation for your accident-related losses if you share any amount of responsibility for causing the crash, and
  • when you need to report a car accident in Virginia.

Virginia Is a "Fault" State When It Comes to Responsibility for Car Accident Losses

Several states follow some form of a no-fault car insurance system, meaning after a car accident drivers make injury claims with their own car insurance companies, regardless of who caused the accident. Only if the accident injuries meet a certain threshold of seriousness can you step outside of no-fault and make a claim against the driver who caused the accident.

Virginia is not a no-fault state, so all options are on the table if you're injured in a car accident. You can make a claim against the at-fault driver's insurance company, or file a lawsuit against the other driver in court.

Speaking of car insurance, Virginia vehicle owners are required to carry liability car insurance, or pay an Uninsured Motor Vehicle Fee. Learn more about the Virginia's car insurance rules.

The Virginia Car Accident Statute of Limitations

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.

The Virginia Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Injuries

First, for lawsuits over car accident injuries: If anyone was injured in the accident—whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, 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.

The Virginia Statute of Limitations for Vehicle Damage

If your lawsuit is over damage to a vehicle or other property in connection with a car accident in Virginia, it must be filed against any potential defendant within five years, according to section 8.01-243.

The Virginia Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Deaths

If the car accident caused someone's death, and their family or a representative wants to bring a Virginia 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.)

What If I Miss the Virginia Statute of Limitations Deadline?

If you try to file you Virginia car accident lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed, 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.

Contributory Negligence in Virginia Car Accident Cases

Suppose you're seriously injured in a 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 a Virginia attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

Reporting a Car Accident in Virginia

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:

  • any person was injured or killed, or
  • an attended vehicle or other attended property was damaged.

The driver must report their name, address, driver's license number, and vehicle registration number to:

  • the State Police or a local law-enforcement agency
  • any person who was struck and injured (if that person appears capable of understanding and retaining the information)
  • the driver or some other occupant of the vehicle that was struck, or
  • the owner or custodian of other damaged property.

Failure to comply with these duties can result in criminal liability, the severity of which depends upon the nature of the accident itself.

Getting Help After a Virginia Car Accident

If key issues like fault for the crash or the legitimacy of your injuries are in dispute, educating yourself about your state's laws might not be enough after a car accident. Especially if you're just not confident you can handle your own car accident claim and still get the best result, it might make sense to discussion your situation with a legal professional.

Learn when you might need a lawyer after a car accident, and how to find the right attorney for an injury case. You can also use the features on this page to connect with a Virginia car accident lawyer in your area.

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