Get ready to fight for your rights
It's a Tuesday morning, and it's raining hard as she makes her way to work. As she enters the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel, traffic begins to slow. She knows she's going to be late, but at least she's out of the rain for a bit. The tunnel is filled with the glow of headlights, and now the traffic comes to a complete stop. Her mind begins to wander as she cuts on the defrost and starts going through emails on her phone.
Then she hears it. The loud smack of metal on metal from behind her echos through the tunnel. She looks up at the rearview mirror and sees the driver behind her still looking at their phone! Immediately she sees the car behind them crash into their rear end and before she can blink, the car behind her rams into her rear bumper. Her head slams against the dash, coffee spills all over the windshield, and she already knows that she's going to be in that tunnel for quite awhile.
Incredibly, the driver who just crashed into her is back on their phone, shaking their head. She realizes that she is shaking a little, and unbuckles the seatbelt as she calls her husband.
Like most husbands, his first response is
“Are you okay!?”
because she never calls him on the way to work.
“I'm okay; I just got rear-ended in the tunnel though. I only hit my head.”
His response was immediate,
“Sit tight and don't talk to anyone about the accident until I get there!”
In Virginia, it's not “who” is at fault, it's “how much”
If the above scenario seems familiar, but the husband's response seems a little paranoid, that's for a good reason. It turns out our driver in the story above is married to a personal injury lawyer, and he knows all too well how tricky personal injury cases can get in Virginia. Just like he would later explain to his wife, here's what he would tell you if you were injured in a car wreck.
If you are injured in an automobile accident in Virginia, and you hope to get compensation for personal injury and other losses, you have two options:
- You can pray the other party is insured and that their insurance company will offer a fair settlement, or,
- You are going to have to sue. You will have to go to trial and hope a jury decides in your favor.
If you were hit from behind, like the poor woman in our story, then you probably have an open and shut case, right? Not so fast. While it may seem obvious who is at fault, that's not the whole story. In Virginia, it matters very much how much responsibility can be blamed on a party involved in a wreck.
In a Virginia personal injury trial, the judge will typically tell the jury that they have to make decisions on some aspects of the personal injury laws before coming to a conclusion on the case as a whole:
Is the defendant in the case legally at fault?
The personal injury lawyer must prove that the defendant not only did something against the law but that “something” must be the direct cause of the accident. Did they violate a statute such as speeding? Did they do something, or not do something, that would indicate negligence? To add a little more uncertainty, negligence is defined as “the failure to use the ordinary care that a reasonable person would under the circumstances.” That's a lot of “ifs,” and it only gets more complicated from here.
Is the injured party in the case legally at fault?
What!? That's right; the jury now has to decide if you were at fault as well. Welcome to the world of “contributory negligence.” Virginia is one of the few states that still follow this seemingly unreasonable law. Under contributory negligence, if the jury determines that you are at fault, no matter how small the degree, then the case is concluded right then and there. You lose. No compensation for your injuries, time lost at work, trauma, etc. Nothing. You better believe that the focus of the defendant's attorney will be finding anything that could plant a seed of doubt as to the defendants 100% responsibility.
How much pain, suffering and financial loss has resulted from the personal injury?
If you've made it to the third decision that the jury must make, then you are in rare company. It takes a skilled personal injury attorney to navigate the first two stages of a personal injury case, but there are numerous decisions and technicalities ahead. Now the jury must determine what injuries and losses have been proven and what compensation is fair. Read on to find out more about this all-important process.
So you won your personal injury case in Virginia. What's next?
In personal injury law, injuries and other losses are referred to collectively as “damages.” In Virginia, these damages, and the compensation awarded, are broken down into three categories. Just like the decisions above, much of what follows can be very subjective and open to interpretation.
- You can receive compensation for medical expenses that are “reasonable and necessary” regarding treatment for injuries that were caused by the auto accident. One of the pitfalls in this stage can be the jury's inability to consider futuremedical treatments that may be needed.
- Compensation can also be recovered for the wages from your job if you are unable to work because of your personal injuries. This second category of compensation will typically require a physician's decision to keep you out of work.
- This brings us to damages that are considered intangible losses. The typical law jargon used for this is “pain and suffering.” Terms like this are hard to define and even harder to attach a compensation amount. The jury will have to decide the answers to a variety of questions. How have your personal injuries affected your overall health? How severe are the injuries and how long will the effects last? How much suffering, stress, and inconvenience resulted from the injury? Etc.
That's a lot of decisions about your future well-being that a group of strangers have to decide. Much of the personal injury law is vague so it can be difficult for anyone to make fair decisions. There are a lot of questions that must be answered just to get this far, but the most crucial question is always:
“What is my personal injury case worth?”
The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Your personal injury case is worth the dollar amount a jury awards you in court or the dollar amount offered by the other driver's insurance company (assuming they have insurance). But as you can see already, this answer may be true, but it's a lot more complicated than that.
An experienced personal injury attorney can give you an estimate of compensation after reviewing your case and give you a good idea of what the verdict will be. If you, unfortunately, find yourself suffering from a personal injury in a car wreck, do yourself a favor and let a pro handle your case. Or you could just hope the insurance company offers you a fair settlement?