Articles Posted in Automobile Accidents

In Virginia personal injury trials, the presiding judge has the power to determine which evidence the jury can consider. In doing so, the judge must consult with the rules of evidence, which are passed by the state legislature. As a general rule, only evidence that is relevant to the case may be considered. However, not all relevant information is admissible.

Police CarRelevant evidence may be inadmissible for a number of reasons. For example, hearsay evidence is generally excluded. Similarly, evidence that is very prejudicial to one party may be excluded even if it is technically relevant. In a recent car accident case, the court was tasked with determining whether a defendant’s two prior convictions for driving under the influence were admissible.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was on his way to work when he was involved in a head-on collision with another motorist, who was driving home from a bar. That driver was later determined to have a blood-alcohol content of .18, which is over twice the legal limit.

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All Virginia drivers are responsible for carrying a certain amount of auto insurance for their vehicle in case they are in an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage. Drivers must also have insurance coverage in the event that an uninsured or underinsured motorist causes a collision. However, having the necessary insurance coverage does not guarantee that the insurance company will settle any claim made against the policy. In fact, in too many cases insurance companies will deny coverage for medical treatment that was received in the immediate aftermath of a serious accident.

Side DamageA recent case in front of a state appellate court illustrates one woman’s journey in getting an insurance company to cover the costs of the treatment she received in the hours after a car accident, caused by an uninsured motorist.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case was a passenger in her mother’s car when it was struck by another driver who had run a stop sign. The plaintiff was transported to the hospital via ambulance and admitted to the emergency room. Once she was seen in the emergency room, she was then sent to the trauma center. She was discharged later that day with a cervical collar.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion in a car accident case showing the importance of keeping thorough records in the wake of a car accident. The case involved a plaintiff who was injured in a minor car accident that the defendant admitted he caused. However, since the plaintiff was unable to present sufficient proof that her injuries were caused by the accident, she received no compensation.

Front-End DamageThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was stopped at a red light when she heard “something boom.” She looked up to notice that he car was creeping into the intersection. She was wearing her seatbelt at the time and applied her foot to the brake immediately, stopping the car before it entered the intersection. At no time did the plaintiff’s body come into contact with the steering wheel or dashboard. However, she “tensed up” upon impact.

After the accident, the plaintiff did not notice any bruising, cuts, or scrapes but requested to be taken to the hospital. At the hospital, she was seen and then shortly afterward released. The plaintiff claims to have gone to her primary care doctor’s office twice, complaining of pain in her shoulder and back, shortly after the accident, but she was unable to present proof of these visits. Ten months after the accident, she went to an orthopedic center, and she was diagnosed with a “partial tear around her bicep tendon and a labral tear.” Surgery was recommended and subsequently performed.

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As a general rule, in Virginia, local municipalities are responsible for maintaining the roads within their jurisdiction. When a municipality fails to properly maintain a road, and an accident is caused as a result of that failure, the local municipality may be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit. However, there are limits to both a municipality’s obligation to maintain the roads as well as the liability that the municipality faces for failing to do so.

ForestAccording to Virginia law, municipalities are required to safely maintain the roads themselves but not the traffic signals, signs, and roadway markings that are on or near the road. The distinction of what exactly constitutes a “road” can be very nuanced, as a recent case illustrates.

Bibler v. Stevenson:  The Facts

Bibler was driving through an intersection in Ohio when she was struck from the side by another motorist. The other motorist had a stop sign, but she explained to the responding police officer that she had failed to see the sign because it was overgrown with foliage. The police officer conducted a brief investigation and agreed with the motorist that the sign was obstructed and could not readily be seen.

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An attorney’s job does not stop at presenting his client’s case to the jury. In fact, perhaps one of the most important aspects of an advocate’s role in a Virginia personal injury case is creating the landscape in which his client’s case is viewed by the jury. This landscape is formed in a number of ways, from pre-trial motions determining which evidence is admissible to the instructions that the judge provides to the jury before sending it back to deliberate.

Car AccidentWhat Are Jury Instructions?

In a Virginia personal injury case, after all of the evidence has been presented by both sides, the judge will provide the jury with a set of instructions, summing up the relevant law that is applicable to the case. These instructions not only guide the jury in the decisions that it must make but can also clarify confusing legal issues or terms. Thus, it is very important that fair jury instructions are provided to a jury before it is sent off to make its determination. A recent case illustrates how important fair jury instructions can be.

Long v. Arnold

Long was involved in a minor car accident when the defendant pulled out in front of her, requiring she steer her car off the side of the road. Long was only traveling at about 10 miles per hour at the time, and when her car left the roadway, it slowly came to a complete stop as it came into contact with some roadside brush.

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Before a personal injury case is submitted to a jury for the ultimate determination of whether the defendant should be held legally and financially responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, a judge must first determine that each of the plaintiff’s claims meet the necessary elements. If a judge determines that one or more of the plaintiff’s claims fail to meet the elements of that claim, the judge will dismiss the insufficient claims and allow only the legally sufficient claims to proceed.

CowsIn a recent case in front of a New York appellate court, the court discussed the foreseeability element that is present in most personal injury cases.

Hain v. Jamison:  The Facts

Hain was driving on a rural road late in the evening when she saw a calf that had escaped from its home and was standing in the road. Hain safely pulled over to the side of the road, exited her vehicle, and proceeded to approach the calf and help it off the road. As she was assisting the calf, another motorist came by and struck Hain, tragically killing her.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in California issued a written opinion in a case brought by the surviving family members of a man who was killed in an auto-pedestrian accident against the city where the accident occurred. In the case, Gonzales v. City of Atwater, the court reversed the lower court’s decision not to apply governmental design immunity, holding that the government met its burden to establish immunity. As a result, the $3.2 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs was reversed.

Intersection at SunsetThe Facts of the Case

Gonzales was struck and killed in an auto-pedestrian accident occurring at an intersection in the City of Atwater. The surviving family members filed a personal injury lawsuit against both the driver of the truck that struck Gonzales as well as against the City of Atwater. The jury determined that the driver of the truck was not at fault and that the city was fully responsible for the accident, due to the dangerous design of the intersection. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $3.2 million.

The city repeatedly argued at various times throughout the trial that the case against it should be dismissed because it was entitled to immunity through the doctrine of governmental design immunity. Specifically, the city argued that it relied on a 2001 study it had commissioned to determine how to safely design the intersection before constructing the roads at the intersection. The trial court denied all of the city’s motions to dismiss, and a jury eventually issued a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs for $3.2 million.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued an opinion that reversed a lower court’s holding that dismissed a plaintiff’s bad-faith claim against her own insurance company. In the case, Peden v. State Farm, the court determined that the insurance company’s failure to conduct a thorough investigation before denying the plaintiff’s claim potentially could give rise to a bad-faith claim. Since the lower court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, claiming it was insufficient as a matter of law, the appellate court reversed the decision, allowing the plaintiff’s case to proceed toward trial or a settlement.

Smashed CarThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, Peden, was with a group celebrating a friend’s birthday. Her friend had received a new van for her birthday from her fiancé, Mr. Graf. At some point in the evening, the group piled into the new van for a photo. By this point, most of the group, including Graf, was intoxicated. Once the group was in the van, Graf hopped into the driver’s seat and took the van for a cruise.

Graf crashed the van while driving under the influence, injuring several inside, including Peden. Both Peden and Graf were insured by State Farm. Peden initially filed a claim with Graf’s insurance. However, since the total policy limit had to be split among all injured parties, the amount Peden received was insufficient to cover her damages. She decided to file a claim under her own insurance policy to recoup the difference.

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Due to its proximity to the nation’s capital, Virginia sees a higher-than-average number of lawsuits with government entities, officials, or employees being named as defendants. That being the case, it is important for personal injury plaintiffs to understand the concept of governmental immunity and how the legal doctrine can come into play in a personal injury case.

School Buses

Governmental Immunity Acts to Protect Government Employees in Some Situations

Under the long-standing doctrine of governmental immunity, a state or local government cannot face legal liability for the acts of its agencies or employees unless it consents to the lawsuit. Statutory law outlines some situations in which governments automatically consent to lawsuits brought against them, such as in cases of willful or intentional misconduct. However, in cases involving acts of negligence, government agencies will generally not consent to be named as a defendant.

This is where the doctrine of government immunity becomes complicated. Immunity only attaches to acts that are considered discretionary in nature. For those other acts that are ministerial, meaning there is a certain way that the act is supposed to be carried out, government immunity will not attach. This is where much of the litigation takes place in many lawsuits brought against government defendants. A recent case illustrates this point.

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Motorists in Virginia are required to carry a certain amount of auto insurance in order to legally operate a vehicle on any public road. In theory, this prevents an uninsured motorist from causing an accident that results in medical bills that he or she cannot pay. However, insurance companies are for-profit enterprises that may not always have the accident victim’s best interests in mind. As a result, Virginia law allows an accident victim to pursue a bad-faith claim against an insurance company that refuses to settle a claim without a good reason.

Parking LotVirginia Bad-Faith Claims

In Virginia, the applicable statute that governs bad-faith insurance claims is Va. Code § 8.01-66.1. The statute explains that an insurance company that fails to settle a claim out of bad faith can be ordered by a court to pay the accident victim any amount due, plus interest, as well as a reasonable fee for attorney’s fees and other expenses. In some cases, an insurance company that refuses to settle in bad faith may become liable for amounts above and beyond those outlined in the insurance policy. Importantly, the burden is on the accident victim to prove that the insurance company acted in bad faith.

A Recent Example of Alleged Bad Faith

In the case, Holloway v. Direct General Insurance Company, the plaintiff was injured in a low-speed auto accident occurring in a parking lot. The facts leading up to the accident were in dispute. Holloway, the plaintiff, claimed that the accident was Sykes’ fault, and Sykes, who was insured by the defendant insurance company, claimed that the accident was Holloway’s fault.

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