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Recently, the Virginia Supreme Court issued an opinion stemming from injuries a student suffered while riding a school bus. The plaintiff was a passenger on a school bus when a car slammed into the bus. The student’s family filed a lawsuit against the car’s driver, the bus driver, and the City of Richmond School Board (the City), seeking damages of $1.2 million for her injuries. The car driver had insurance coverage totaling $125,000. The City was self-insured through a risk pool managed by a third-party, VACORP. This third-party provides uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage to anyone who suffers injuries while occupying a qualifying auto. The school bus, in this case, qualified under the contract.

The contract provided a $1 million limit for coverage relating to UIM claims. The agreement states that VACORP agrees to pay all sums the “covered person is legally entitled to recover”, from the owner or driver of the uninsured or underinsured vehicle. The plaintiff and VACORP disputed the available coverage to the City under the UIM provisions. As a result, the plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The defendant argued that Code § 22.1-190 and Code § 22.1-194 provides a cap of $50,000 on UIM coverage, negating any contractual agreements between the parties. The plaintiff contended that the statute set a minimum and not a cap. The trial court found in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed.

Under the relevant portion of § 22.1-190, school boards must certify that every school vehicle obtains a certificate of self-insurance of at least $50,000 for injury to one person. Additionally, the policy must provide coverage for losses caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. The statute does not have a provision that forbids a school board for obtaining a contract through a pool for more than $50,000. Therefore, the court concluded that Code § 22.1-190 does not act as a statutory cap.

Respondeat superior, which translates to “let the master answer,” is a legal theory that provides injury victims with a way to hold employers responsible for the negligent actions of its employee. Respondeat superior is a type of vicarious liability, and the theory stems from the idea that, in some instances, employers should bear the responsibility for their employee’s actions, even if the employer did not instruct the employee to act negligently. Employers in these cases do not have to do anything wrong to face liability; rather, liability attaches as a result of the employer/employee relationship. Virginia injury plaintiffs who wish to recover under a theory of respondeat superior or another vicarious liability theory should consult with an attorney to ensure they meet the requirements.

Courts have long reasoned that public policy dictates that employers must be responsible for their employees’ actions, because employees are acting to further an employer’s business interest. If employers can benefit from an employee’s good conduct, they should also assume the cost of the employee’s negligence. Further, employers tend to have more resources, so injury victims have a better chance of fully recovering from employers rather than their agents.

Injury victims can recover from businesses and employers if they meet three main conditions. First, they must prove that an employer/employee relationship exists. To meet this requirement, plaintiffs may be able to point to whether the employee is on regular payroll, what power the employer has over the employee, and the conditions of the employee’s employment. Next, the victim must be able to show that the employee was engaged in furthering the employer’s business at the time of the accident. Finally, plaintiffs must be able to prove that the negligent employee was within the scope of employment when the accident occurred. Courts have generally agreed that anything an employee did that furthered their employer’s interest was within the scope of employment.

Under Virginia Code § 46.2-1094, drivers, front-seat passengers, and any passengers under 18 years old, must wear a seat belt. Seat belts are a critical safety mechanism, and individuals who do not wear them properly are at a heightened risk for serious injury or death. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most recent statistics suggest that almost 50% of people who die in a motor vehicle crash were not wearing seat belts. Despite these startling statistics, people still choose not to wear seat belts, and increase their risk of severe injuries in a Virginia car accident.

There are many instances where Virginia car accident victims fear that their failure to use a seat belt will affect their ability to recover financially, even when they are involved in an accident through no fault of their own. For example, insurance companies and their defense teams may try to limit their payouts by claiming that the injury victim was contributorily negligent for failing to wear a seat belt. However, although Virginia requires certain passengers to wear seat belts, the law does not allow evidence of non-use to be considered for evidence of negligence or a means to mitigate damages.

Thus, a defense attorney cannot refer to an injury victim’s seat belt use during a trial. Further, although defendants may introduce evidence that the plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages, they cannot argue that the plaintiff’s injuries would have been less severe if they were wearing a seat belt. The idea behind the statute is that, despite the plaintiff’s seat belt use, the injuries would not have occurred if the defendant was not driving negligently. Further, one of the essential purposes behind tort law is to deter the public from engaging in negligent behavior, and arguing about seat belt use shifts responsibility from the defendant to the plaintiff. Keeping in mind, however, that Virginia law does not allow seat belt use as evidence in a personal injury claim, the consequences of non-use can be disastrous.

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 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.

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.

Each year, millions of people travel for the holidays, especially between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Unsurprisingly, this increase in car travel results in higher rates of Virginia car accidents. Despite heightened law enforcement presence and the threat of severe penalties, Virginia drivers continue to engage in unsafe driving practices. These behaviors compounded with the increase of drivers on the road can have potentially deadly consequences for Virginia drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), collects and reports traffic data, including the rate of accidents in relation to the time of day, day of the week, and time of year. According to the NHTSA, fatal car accidents significantly increase during certain times of the year. Statistics reveal that there are over 40 fatalities related to drunk driving every day in December. Additionally, data shows that drivers between 21 and 24 are more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is likely related to the higher rate of family get togethers, work holiday parties, and general festivities that occur during this time of the year.

Another leading cause of holiday-related Virginia car accidents is fatigued driving. Studies by the National Sleep Foundation indicate that people experiencing sleep deprivation show similar symptoms to those under the influence of alcohol. Reports showed that individuals who are awake for 18 hours experience the same effects of someone with a blood-alcohol level of .05. The holiday season often requires people to stay up later than usual to attend parties, go shopping, and run errands. This increase in fatigued drivers, in potentially inclement weather, results in an influx of compromised drivers.

Charter buses are a convenient and cost-efficient way to transport large groups of people to a shared destination. Although this is a popular mode of group transportation, Virginia charter bus accidents are not uncommon, and often result in devastating consequences. The rise of tour bus accidents has led to the industry to undergo increased scrutiny regarding their adherence to safety regulations.

There are many factors that increase the likelihood that a person may suffer injuries in a Virginia tour bus accident. Accidents may be the result of an issue with the driver, the bus itself, or an external traffic condition. In some cases, drivers fail to reduce their speed when the weather conditions are risky. The failure to slow down can cause the bus driver to lose control and collide with other vehicles or pedestrians.

For example, recently, 19 people suffered injuries in a Virginia collision between a tractor-trailer and a charter bus. According to a local news report, the accident occurred after a tractor-trailer lost control of his vehicle and struck the tour bus. Police reported that the accident occurred in the darkened early morning hours when the conditions were foggy and the roads were slick.

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