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Defective products can cause serious injuries and death to consumers and their loved ones. Virginia’s product liability laws allow injury victims and their families to hold designers, manufacturers, and retailers of defective products liable for their damages. Many product liability lawsuits stem from injuries related to defective automobile parts, medical devices, and food products. However, injuries related to defective childcare products are arguably one of the most traumatizing types of accidents.

According to a recent news report, late last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in conjunction with Fisher-Price, issued warnings to consumers regarding a popular infant recliner. The CPSC and Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have a history of warning consumers of the dangers associated with incline sleepers. Many of these sleepers increase the risk of suffocation and strangulation, especially when babies are unrestrained. To mitigate the risk of infant death, the AAP has published safe sleep guidelines. These guidelines include advising parents that babies should sleep on a firm surface on their backs at all times, their bedding should not have any bumpers, pillows, toys, or blankets, babies who fall asleep in swings or car seats should be transported to a firm surface, and parents should avoid sleeping with a baby.

The popular Rock ‘n Play Infant sleeper had rave reviews, in large part due to the company’s failure to notify consumers of the high rate of injuries and deaths related to the product’s use. The company only issued a warning after receiving numerous reports over several years of babies that died after rolling over from their backs to their stomachs while unrestrained in the sleeper. The company finally voluntarily issued a recall, after CPSC issued warnings regarding the use of the products, and the AAP urged the company to recall the infant sleepers. A more in-depth CPSC investigation revealed that infant fatalities had been reported with other company’s inclined sleep products as well. Similar to the Rock n’ Play, most of these deaths occurred when babies rolled from their back to their stomach or side.

Earlier this month, a Virginia car accident resulted in the death of an 83-year-old man. According to a local news report, the man was driving his pick-up truck on Route 122 when an oncoming minivan crossed over the center line, crashing into the man’s vehicle. The man was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. While emergency responders were on the scene within minutes, the driver of the pick-up truck sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.

The driver of the minivan, as well as her two minor passengers, were hospitalized as a result of the accident. They are expected to make a full recovery. Authorities are still looking into the cause of the fatal head-on collision.

Pursuing a Virginia Wrongful Death Claim

When someone is killed in a Virginia motor vehicle collision, the accident victim’s surviving family members may pursue a claim for financial compensation through a Virginia wrongful death case. Wrongful death cases are very similar to other negligence cases in that they require a plaintiff to show that the defendant’s “wrongful act, neglect, or default,” caused the death of their loved one. Simply put, the elements of a wrongful death claim are duty, breach, causation, and damages.

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Anyone who has ever been involved in a Virginia car accident knows the damage that these accidents can cause. What is less known, however, is that women may be more likely to suffer a serious injury after a Virginia car accident than men.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Virginia, the odds of serious injury or death for a female car accident victim is 73 percent higher than for males. This phenomenon was first noted in a 2011 University of Virginia study, which found that women were at approximately a 50 percent greater risk than men. However, the new data makes the case that women are at an even greater risk.

The most recent study looked at over 31,000 accident victims between the years of 1998 and 2015. And while the total number of people who were killed or suffered serious injuries has gone down, researchers noted that the gender disparity between injury victims has only widened. Researchers attempted to control for external factors, such as make and model of the vehicle, as well as the height and weight of the driver. After doing so, the conclusion was that women were at a much greater risk of death or injury when involved in a frontal impact accident.

After an individual suffers an injury in a Virginia accident, they may hold the at-fault party responsible for the damages and losses they sustained. Typically, establishing the cause of an injury is the first and arguably most critical part of a Virginia plaintiff’s injury claim. In some cases, evidence may prove that the defendant engaged in apparent negligent conduct that resulted in the victim’s injuries. However, more often than not, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the other party’s negligent behavior. In instances where a jury or fact finder determines that a substantial factor in the conduct that led to the plaintiff’s damages was a natural event, the defendant may not be liable.

These “force of nature” defenses are typically known as “Act of God” defenses. Legally, an “act of God” suggests that the event had two defining characteristics. These two qualities are that the substantial factor was a natural, but unavoidable occurrence that caused damage, and the event was utterly unforeseeable. Defendants generally need to establish that this force of nature was the complete cause of the accident.

For example, recently, a state appellate court addressed the “Act of God” defense in a personal injury case stemming from a car accident. In that case, a 16-year-old driver hit a pedestrian and his dog when the pedestrian was in a cross-walk. Amongst other issues, the girl argued that the sun temporarily blinded her from seeing the man and his dog in the cross-walk. During a deposition, she conceded that she visited the same store over a dozen times on sunny days; she had sunglasses that she did not wear, and that she did not use her vehicle’s sun visor. The court, in this case, affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the “Act of God” defense did not apply. The court reasoned that the driver did not present any evidence that the bright sunlight was so extraordinary and unexpected to render it unavoidable.

Recently, a state court issued an opinion in a Virginia insurance dispute stemming from a plaintiff’s request for damages through his uninsured motorist coverage. According to the court’s opinion, a special needs child was transported on the school bus while strapped and secured in his seat with a harness. The harness was designed to aid in the supervision of children with disabilities. While he was restrained in his seat, he witnessed two classmates kick, slap, choke, and spray chemicals onto another student. Further, the classmates struck the plaintiff numerous times while he was restrained. Following this event, the plaintiff’s family filed a claim with their automobile insurance policy, under the underinsured/uninsured motorist provision.

The Virginia insurance company argued that its coverage did not apply to the plaintiff’s situation because it did not arise from the common use of the school bus. It further contended that the injuries resulted from specific “implements,” such as the chemical spray, a flyswatter, and the hands and feet of the assailants. The plaintiff asserted that the assault took place when the vehicle was being used for its typical purpose of transporting children with disabilities. Additionally, the plaintiff argued that the harness made it easier for the assault to occur.

Virginia uninsured motorist clauses are standard provisions found in automobile insurance policies. These clauses provide drivers, passengers, and family members with a means to recover damages if they are involved in an accident with an at-fault uninsured or uninsured driver. Virginia insurance companies will often deny coverage by claiming that the injuries did not result from the “ownership, maintenance, or use,” of the vehicle. Courts have held that the vehicle’s use does not need to be “the direct, proximate cause of the injury,” however, there must be a causal connection between the injuries and the use of the vehicle as a vehicle.

Under Virginia law, plaintiffs must comply with the statute of limitations when filing a personal injury lawsuit or starting any civil court procedure. The statute of limitations outlines the amount of time a Virginia plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. In most cases, the statute of limitations typically begins when the incident giving rise to the claim occurred. This is often referred to as “accrual” of the cause of action. However, there are specific exceptions to the Virginia statute of limitations that may extend the time a party has to commence a lawsuit. These exceptions depend on the type of accident, plaintiff, defendant, and relevant extenuating circumstances.

Generally, under Virginia law, plaintiffs must bring personal injury, product liability, and medical malpractice, and wrongful death claims within two years of the incident. Property damage and trespass claims must comply with the five-year statute of limitations. Plaintiffs who fail to file an action within the appropriate time limit may risk case dismissal and forego any recourse for damages they sustained.

There are specific rules regarding the statute of limitations for Virginia medical malpractice actions. Virginia medical malpractice lawsuits that arise from, foreign objects left in a patient’s body, fraud, concealment, or intentional misrepresentation, negligent failure to diagnose cancer or malignant tumor, and cases on behalf of children all have specific statutes of limitations. Further, the statute of limitations may be tolled in cases where the plaintiff has had a disability, is incompetent, or a minor, or if the defendant engaged in fraud. Tolling allows plaintiffs additional time to file their lawsuit against a Virginia defendant.

Recently, a national news outlet reported on a 69-vehicle accident on a Virginia highway. An initial report attributes the accident to weather conditions compounded with motorist rubbernecking. Chain-reaction multi-vehicle Virginia accidents can cause motorists, passengers, and pedestrians to suffer serious injuries. It is essential that victims retain an experienced Virginia accident attorney to help them understand their rights and remedies because multi-vehicle accidents often entail various challenges to recovery.

The initial crashes occurred on the westbound lane of the highway during morning commuting hours and was likely a result of morning fog and icy road conditions. Drivers in the eastbound lane began to crash into one another as they were distracted and rubbernecking when they passed the disastrous scene in the westbound lane. Witnesses and police reports indicate that the pileup stretched for miles and involved almost 70 vehicles, 20 of which were large trucks. Many individuals were trapped, and firefighters were standing on rooftops and hoods to try and get to those individuals transported to hospitals. Fortunately, no one died in the accident, but over 50 motorists were hospitalized for injuries ranging from moderate to severe.

This accident highlights the dangers and magnitude of accidents that can transpire when motorists are rubbernecking. Rubbernecking occurs when a driver distracts their attention away from the road ahead of them to stare at an accident. Although, it can be challenging to avoid, motorists should understand that this behavior is hazardous and can lead to severe bodily injury or death.

Generally, when a tragic accident occurs and someone is at fault, Virginia state law allows people injured in the accident to bring a civil lawsuit against the at-fault party in court. These lawsuits, if successful, can result in the injured victims receiving monetary compensation for their injuries, including money for lost wages, pain and suffering, and past and future medical bills. However, there are exceptions to whom you can sue and who can be held liable for accidents. An important doctrine to understand is sovereign (or governmental) immunity, which protects the government from personal injury lawsuits for actions arising out of or related to official duties. As a result, there are some cases in which accident victims may be unable to recover legally for their injuries because the responsible party is governmental.

To understand this concept, take a recent Virginia appellate court case that arose when a fire hydrant had an insufficient water source to fight a fire. According to the court’s written opinion, the case, a wrongful death lawsuit, was brought against the city when the deceased person died in a tragic fire. The firefighters who responded to the burning building attempted to get water from the closest fire hydrant, but the water flow was insufficient. The firefighters had to go to another hydrant, 1,000 feet away, and by the time that they returned with the water needed to fight the fire, the victim had died.

The victim’s estate brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The city responded with a request to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity in Virginia protects a city from being sued for actions that it takes to carry out governmental functions. Because of that doctrine, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The court reasoned that establishing and operating fire hydrants to help firefighters is a governmental function, and the victim’s estate could not bring suit against the city in this case.

Often, truck accidents result in severe injuries and substantial property damage because of the sheer magnitude of the vehicles involved. Personal injury lawsuits stemming from trucking accidents pose unique challenges because there may be more than one liable party, since truck accidents tend to result in chain-reaction collisions. It is crucial for individuals who have been injured in a Virginia truck accident to understand their rights and potential remedies.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) administered a national study examining the rate and causes of trucking accidents. Recent findings revealed that in two-vehicle collisions involving trucks and a passenger car, the truck was responsible for the collision approximately half of the time. Furthermore, in 75% of those accidents, the truck driver’s poor decision making or failure to pay attention was the primary reason for the accident. The study also found that there were many common causes of trucking accidents. For example, some of the most common causes of trucking accidents were noted to be:

  • Impaired driving
  • Speeding
  • Fatigue
  • Unsafe lane changes
  • Driver distraction
  • Aggressive driving
  • Lack of familiarity with the vehicle

Other commonly seen causes included roadway problems, inclement weather, shifting cargo, and truck malfunctions. Unfortunately, too many of these accidents resulted in disastrous consequences for the parties involved.

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Multi-vehicle car accidents in Virginia can be challenging for plaintiffs due to the state’s strict contributory negligence law. Under Virginia’s contributory negligence law, a plaintiff is not permitted to recover compensation for their injuries if the court finds that the plaintiff was even 1% at fault for the accident resulting in their injuries. The issue of contributory negligence frequently arises in Virginia multi-vehicle accidents because determining liability can be confusing when so many parties are involved. Inaccurate or incomplete accident reports can result in incorrect fault determinations and bar an accident victim’s claim to recovery. Additionally, Virginia defendants will often claim that the plaintiff’s injuries were not a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. These commonly occurring issues can present serious difficulties for Virginia car accident victims.

For example, recently, a federal appellate court issued an opinion stemming from a multi-vehicle chain-reaction accident. The case presented issues that Virginia plaintiffs often encounter during their injury claims. In that case, the defendant rear-ended his employer’s truck into another car, causing a severe traffic backup. About 10 to 15 minutes after the accident, the plaintiff approached the backup and stopped her vehicle. However, the driver behind her failed to notice the traffic backup. The driver collided with the woman, resulting in the woman suffering major physical injuries. The woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who caused the initial crash, as well as his employer.

In situations such as this, courts determine liability by evaluating the causal relationship between the defendant’s negligence, if any, and the accident that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. Typically, Virginia courts assess liability based on proximate cause and whether there were any superseding reasons for the accident. Some determining factors are when and how the accident occurred and whether the plaintiff’s injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions.

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