Richmond attorney Wayne O'Bryan has over 40 years experience to help answer your most pressing questions.
What should I do if I am in a car or truck accident?+
Keep your auto insurance information in the glove compartment, including a pre-printed form allowing you to provide the particulars of any accident, including a sketch of the scene. (Even better, keep a disposable camera in your car.)
Stay at the scene of the accident until police arrive. Make sure you have the name of the officer and that they have your version of what happened. Do not assume a police report will “let you off the hook” or even that one will be generated in the event of a minor accident (“minor” may mean no one is injured even though your car suffers a direct hit).
Exchange names, addresses, driver’s license and insurance information with the driver of the other car. Also get information from any witnesses to the accident.
Go to a doctor even if you think you might not be injured. Accident victims should be thoroughly examined by a doctor, since seemingly minor injuries often develop into major health problems. Even if you do not have obvious injuries — broken bones, cuts, lacerations or bruises – you may have sustained a soft-tissue or brain injury that could cause major health problems in the long term. Sometimes shock can mask injury symptoms.
Review your policy to make sure of your coverage. Make a list of questions and related information you want to know.
Report the accident promptly to your insurance company. This may not seem wise or necessary to you. The accident may be minor or you may not want to risk seeing your rates rise. But state laws generally protect you from higher rates unless an accident was your fault. The point is, your insurer carrier should be notified.
If you were injured by another person’s carelessness or recklessness, you may be entitled to recover damages that include medical costs, property loss, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
What information should I get at the scene from the drivers of other vehicles involved in the accident?+
You should get the name, address, and phone number of each driver along with the vehicle(s) license plate numbers and each driver’s license number; the name of his or her automobile insurance company and the policy number; and the make and model of all vehicles involved in the accident (If they are commercial vehicles, write down the company name on the vehicle and any other identifying information).
Often the police will provide you with most or all of this information but it is beat to make sure you have it all before you leave the scene.
What are my rights in a Virginia car accident?+
Being involved in a car accident can be a traumatic experience. It can also become confusing and overwhelming if you’re unaware of Virginia car accident laws or unsure of what your rights are. Having to deal with personal injuries and the process of healing is enough as it is, but attempting to figure out what you should do first and what steps you need to take in order to cover your financial obligations related to the accident can add even more stress to the situation.
As a victim of a car accident in Virginia, you have the following rights:
- Right to recover monetary damages if you are injured. If you suffer injury because of another driver’s negligence or reckless driving, you are entitled compensation for medical costs, damage to your car, pain and suffering, and loss of wages.
- Right to receive ongoing medical care for disabilities and severe injuries. After the initial visit to a doctor to determine the level of injury you have suffered, you can still continue with medical care and rehabilitation so that you are able to properly heal your body and return to work.
- Right to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you are unable to settle an insurance claim out of court, you are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover the monetary losses from the accident.
- Right to hire a Virginia car accident lawyer. The legal process can be intricate, which is why you might consider hiring a knowledgeable, dependable car accident lawyer who understands Virginia car accident laws, in addition to effectively defending and protecting your rights throughout this process.
Damages and compensation claims can turn into legal disputes which drag on for months or even years depending on the severity of the accident. That’s why it’s important to have a car accident lawyer by your side every step of the way.
How much is my accident worth?+
More than you think.
Anybody that gives you an answer to this question is not being honest because there are too many variables to know. It is different for every accident injury case in Virginia. Your car crash or truck wreck is a unique situation and when your car got wrecked you entered into a compicated situation. That is why people hire a lawyer to help them deal with this insurance claim so they can get on with their lives.
Will my insurance premium rates go up if I make a claim against an uninsured driver or motorist?+
No. It is against the law in Virginia for your insurance company to raise your monthly insurance rate if you file an uninsured or underinsured driver claim. It is in your best interest to have the highest unisured motorist coverage you can get. It is very inexpensive to get more coverage and it could make a huge difference to you one day.
A car accident or truck wreck can leave you with thousands of dollars in medical bills and if the person who hit you has no insurance then you could be stuck with the hassle of paying an enormous bill.
Ask your insurance company about the coast of higher uninsured motorist coverage and get more than the minimum. The insurance company won’t tell you about it unless you ask, because it doesn’t help them if you carry more.
How do I pay my medical bills after an accident?+
The last thing that you want to see happen is to have your medical bills go into collection. It can help to communicate with your doctor about your personal injury case and they will often wait for your accident incury case to end before they send your bills to collection.
The person who hit you is ultimately responsible for your medical bills if they were negligent. However, their insurance company is not going to pay your bills one bill at a time. They will pay a lump sum amount at the end of the case.
You should claim your medical bills with your own health insurance company and use your medical payments provision under your car insurance policy to pay the bills. Many of your bills will be paid this way.
Sometimes, if you have no health insurance and no medical payments protection on your car insurance a health care provider will accept an assignment of their claim and give you the care now on the promise that they will be repaid when your case settles. Ask your lawyer to send a letter to the doctor so the doctor knows you are waiting fr the insurance company adjuster to settle your case.
This can be complicated and you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Virginia to walk you through this situation if you do not have health care insurance.
It is important to get all your accident injuries treated untl you are fully well and recovered. Your lawyer can help you to talk to your doctor and prevent problems with your bills.
Do cars and trucks in Virginia have to be insured in case of accidents?+
No. You can drive a vehicle without any automobile insurance in Virginia. However, to do this legally you must pay an uninsured motor vehicle (UMV) fee of several hundred dollars to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
If you do not pay the UMV fee, you face a $500 fine, suspension of your driver’s license and vehicle registration(s), and higher insurance premiums for the next three years. Whenever you obtain or cancel a liability policy, or add or remove a vehicle from a policy, the insurance company notifies DMV immediately. Why take chances? Get insurance on your vehicle before you register it.
Because Virginia does not require insurance it is important to make sure you have enough uninsured motorist coverage on your insurance policy. Read our article on Uninsured Motorist Coverage for more information.
I was rear-ended and knocked into the car in front of me. Do I have a case?+
Yes, you have a case against the driver who hit you from the rear, but you do not have a case against the driver of the car in front of you. Indeed, though you have a case against the driver who hit you, the driver in front of you may file a claim against you. Frequently, in three, four and five car pileup, the drivers in the front file claims against all of the drivers behind them initially, and then weed the claims out as the cases progress. In other words, the first car may file claims against all the cars behind them, initially, but once more evidence becomes known they will drop the claims against the innocent drivers. So, if you are the second car in a three car pile up and you get knocked into the car in front, the first driver may still file an initial claim against you. However, it is likely such an erroneous claim would be dropped quickly, once evidence is gathered. No matter what happens concerning the driver in front of you, you still have a case against the driver behind you.
Whether the claim of the first driver will be filed against you may likely depend on whether that driver felt two bumps or just one. If he felt one bump (and heard another), his lawyer will not likely file a claim against you because one bump indicates that you were hit from behind and knocked into his car. If he felt two bumps, that would indicate that you ran into him and then got hit yourself, and a claim will probably be filed against you. However, just because someone claims there were two impacts and you hit him does not mean it is true, if there was in reality only one impact.
If the other drivers you claim that there was one bump, indicating that you were knocked into the rear of the car in front, you have a claim for your entire damages. If the other drivers say that there were two bumps, that you hit the car in front and then were hit from behind, the insurance company for the driver in front of you may try to cut your damages in half, depending on the size of the two impacts. If you barely tapped the car in front of you, but the rear driver caved in the rear of your car, the attempt by the insurance company to drastically reduce your damages is unlikely to succeed. However, assuming the evidence is that you were hit from behind and knocked into the car in front of you, you have a claim for your entire damages against the driver who hit you and the driver in front you you has no claim against you but only against the driver who hit you and knocked you into him.
At the time of the accident, I did not have any pain and told the police officer I was not injured. However, two days later my back began to hurt. Do I still have a case?+
Yes, you still have a case. The test for whether you have a case is not whether you had pain at the time of the accident, but whether you had pain, and injuries, following the accident. Indeed, many injuries, especially soft tissue injuries, frequently do not show up until two days or so after the accident. Soft tissue injuries are injuries to the muscles and ligaments and other soft tissues of the body. Soft tissue injuries are common in automobile accidents, and so it is common that injuries wait a day or so before showing up, though they frequently appear at the scene of the accident as well.
Now, what if your injuries wait longer to present themselves? What if an injury appears a month later, or even a year later? The insurance company is likely to vigorously defend these aspects of your claim, claiming that they are a natural result and not a traumatic result, of things going on in your body. To prove such injuries, to the extent it can be done, doctors are needed to causally relate the injuries to the accident. If your treating physician says that your late appearing injuries were caused by the accident, you have a chance of winning on the issue of delayed damages.
The length of time between the accident and the manifestation of the injury is crucial, as is how strongly the doctor believes in causation. In addition, for injuries which are very late in appearing, for causation to be found it is helpful if they are connected to a part of the body which did demonstrate injury immediately, or at least quickly. For instance, if you claim that you suffered carpal tunnel syndrome in your right wrist due to the accident, it will be important if you injured your wrist in the accident and pain appeared simultaneously or almost simultaneously with the accident. If you did not injure your wrist in the accident, it is unlikely your claim for late appearing carpel tunnel syndrome will succeed.
If you and your attorney file a claim for an exceedingly later appearing injury, say from one month to one year delay in appearing, it is highly unlikely that the defendant’s insurance company will pay for that portion of the claim, and you will have to file suit to have any hope of payment on it. Once suit is filed, the defense attorney can take your doctor’s deposition, and will try to get the doctor to back off of his opinion that the damages were caused by the accident. Also, the defense attorney may require you to attend an Independent Medical Exam (IME), in which case you will have to go for an examination by a doctor chosen by the defendant’s lawyer. The odds that a defense medical expert will find a very late appearing injury to be causally connected is usually slim.
Assuming the defense doctor states the injury is not related, and your doctor states it is related, the odds increase that the case will go to trial, which prolongs the uncertainty of the case. In many, if not the vast majority, of these times, in these situations, it is best to drop the very late appearing claim and proceed on the evidence which is readily accepted and not hotly disputed and volatile. However, in claims where the injuries appear one or two days after the accident, these are generally accepted to be causally related, and are typical of many good cases.
I was not at fault for the accident, but I had been drinking before it. Does this mean I don’t have a case?+
No, the mere fact that you had been drinking before the accident does not mean that you do not have a case. To destroy your case, the drinking must have either effected your driving or have been presumed to affect your driving, and your driving must have been a proximate cause of the accident. The law states that anyone driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater is guilty of “driving under the influence of alcohol.” The law also states that anyone driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater is negligent. So if you have a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater, the odds are you do not have a case. However, if your car was stopped at the time and your drinking was not a factor in the accident, it is forseeable that you could obtain a settlement, since your negligence, your breach of duty, was not the cause of the accident. In this case you may still be guilty of drunk driving, but your drinking had nothing to do with the accident. Such cases are rare, however. Typically, we find people who have been drinking, but who were not drunk at the time of the accident.
Merely having some alcohol in your system while you drive is not illegal and should not be considered by the Judge in determining your negligence. Many people drive after drinking a little, and the law allows this. In cases of mild drinking by the plaintiff, your drinking should not be considered, and courts will typically grant a motion removing all evidence of your alcohol intake. Insurance adjustors realize that the evidence is likely to be excluded, and negotiating these claims is rarely far different from negotiating claims where the plaintiff was not drinking.
Drinking and driving is a serious thing, and a serious crime which carries up to 12 months in jail. Just because you can drink and drive, doesn’t mean you should. It is hard to predict your blood alcohol content, and more importantly, your driving may be affected. For drunk drivers, even in the rare event they may still have a case, few attorneys will take such cases and such claims are almost never prosecuted. Still, the law does allow some drinking and driving, and people do it all the time. The question of whether you have a case or not is generally answered by your blood alcohol content. If it was under .05, you have a case, all other things considered. If your blood alcohol level was between .05 and .08, you might have a case. Whether or not you have a case will be determined on how the drinking affected your driving. If your blood alcohol content was over .08 percent, you probably do not have a case.
Just because the law says that anyone with a blood alcohol content of over .08 is negligent, does not mean that that person is responsible for an accident. As we have stated, the drinking must have been related to the accident, and if the vehicle was stopped at the time, it is feasible that that person may have a case. Even so, he or she would go to jail, for up to 12 months. Drunk driving is such a severe problem, we recommend that you not drink and drive at all, as drinking effects driving.
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