When you are involved in a car accident in Virginia, responsibility for the accident is determined by Virginia law—even if you live in another state. If you have an accident while visiting on vacation or business— whether you are driving or a passenger—there are state law requirements that apply as well.
Liability for Virginia Car Accidents
Virginia is a traditional tort liability state. It is not a “no fault” insurance state. Under traditional tort liability, the operator of a motor vehicle who is at fault in causing the accident is responsible. Anyone who is injured, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, may be entitled to recover compensation from the person who caused the action. If necessary, injured parties can file a civil personal injury action to recover damages.
Fault will be determined according to Virginia law, including state and local traffic laws and regulations. If it is not clear who was at fault in an accident, or if the people involved disagree about who is at fault, a case may end up in litigation to determine who is liable.
Required Actions in Virginia Auto Accidents
When you’re in an accident, the most immediate concern is making sure that anyone who is injured receives prompt medical treatment. If you are injured while on vacation or business, do not wait until you return home to get medical care. Doing so may make your injuries or condition worse.
While medical treatment is always the first concern, there are specific actions that are required when you are in an accident in the state of Virginia. Under state law, all individuals involved in an accident are required to stop and provide information to the other individuals involved. That includes passengers and pedestrians. It is also advisable to get information from any witnesses. If an unoccupied vehicle is involved, an effort must be made to locate the owner. If the owner cannot be located, a note with contact and accident information should be left on the vehicle. The information provided to others involved in the accident should include:
- Name and address
- Contact information, including telephone numbers
- Driver license numbers
- License plate numbers
- Insurance information
In addition, anyone involved in an accident is required to file an accident report with the police within 24 hours if any of the following occurs:
- The accident causes injury or death
- Property damage exceeds $1,000
- An unattended vehicle or unattended property was damaged, and the owner cannot be located
Failure to abide by the information exchange and police report requirements can result in a criminal charge. Passengers in cars involved in accidents—including those involving unattended cars and property— have a duty to ensure that the accident report is filed.
You also need to report the accident to your auto insurance company as soon as possible.
When Do You Need a Virginia Car Accident Lawyer?
If your injuries and property damage are relatively minor, and losses are fully covered by your insurance company or the at-fault party’s insurance company, it may not be necessary to consult with an attorney. However, if your injuries are significant, requiring substantial medical treatment and care, it may be in your best interest to talk with a local Virginia attorney before you even talk with an insurance adjuster.
Insurance companies will always try to settle a case for the smallest possible amount. If your medical care is ongoing, if you have permanent injuries, or if you will miss work because of your injuries, a personal injury lawyer can make sure you receive the full compensation you deserve. In addition, if there is disagreement about who is at fault in the accident, getting an attorney involved is advisable.
If an insurance adjuster contacts you, you can provide nothing more than contact information. You should refrain from making any statements or signing any documents relating to the accident. You can tell the adjuster that you will be talking with a lawyer and that your lawyer will be in contact.
A local Virginia attorney will know the applicable laws and regulations and be in the best position to help you by investigating the scene of the accident, interviewing witnesses, securing police and accident reports, and handling negotiations with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If your case goes to court, the attorney will know local court practice and procedures.
Having a local attorney does not mean that you will have to return frequently to the place where your accident occurred. Unless a case ends up going to court, most of the investigation and the insurance negotiations can be handled by telephone.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm serves clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.