You're running late for an appointment downtown, and you've been sitting at a red light for quite awhile. When your light turns green, you gun it, hoping you won't get stuck at the next one. Unfortunately, a driver crossing your intersection fails to notice that his light has turned red. He T-bones your car as he tries to speed through. When you regain consciousness, the paramedics are pulling you out of the car.
Regardless of the details of your Richmond car accident, it probably resulted in losses to you and your family. If someone else was at fault for your accident, you may be entitled to compensation under Virginia personal injury laws. First, however, you'll likely need to deal with an insurer. This article discusses the legal basics of your Richmond car accident claim, from first steps after the accident to your last resort: the courtroom.
Step 1: Stop the Car
The moments after a car accident are harrowing. In the confusion, your first instinct may be to flee. You should know, though, that in Virginia, if you're involved in a car accident where death, injury or property damage occurs, you are required by law to stop your car, to give reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured, and to exchange contact and vehicle information with anyone else involved in the accident.
If you hit an unattended vehicle, you're required to leave a note secured to the vehicle for the owner with your name and contact information. You must also report the collision to law enforcement within 24 hours of the accident.
Step 2: Gather Information
After your accident, you should gather as much information as possible about your accident and how it occurred. This information may come in handy if a dispute about liability occurs later. Such information may include photographs of the scene and of property damage, statements from witnesses, medical reports, and police reports.
Take care what statements you give at the scene of an accident. Don't admit fault to anyone unless you're prepared to take on liability for your accident. If another party admits fault for the accident, be sure to record the statement and, if possible, ask that person to sign the statement.
For more tips about first steps after a car accident, check out FindLaw's printable brochure entitled Motor Vehicle Accidents: First Steps (PDF).
Step 3: Contact Insurers
According to the Virginia DMV, when you register your car in Virginia you're required to either pay an Uninsured Motor Vehicle fee or carry insurance coverage that meets the following minimums:
Insurance policies are also required to include uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage in amounts equaling the liability coverage.
Where liability for a car accident is concerned, Virginia is a "fault" insurance state, meaning the person who is at fault for the accident or his insurance company is liable for the damage caused in an accident. If you feel that another driver is at fault in your accident, you may file a claim with his insurance company.
Alternatively, you may file a claim with your own insurer, and if the insurance adjuster determines that another party was at fault in the accident, your insurer will attempt to collect payment from the at-fault driver or his insurer. FindLaw's article Car Insurance Claims: Dos and Don'ts can help you cover all of your bases before you make a claim.
Step 4: Consider a Lawsuit
Most people prefer to exhaust their insurance options before spending the time and money on a lawsuit. However, if you feel that you haven't been adequately compensated for your losses by an insurer, or if an insurance claim is not an option for you, you may need to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party or his insurer in order to be compensated.
First, though, you need to consider whether you will be able to bring a lawsuit at all. The Virginia statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit over injury to your person is 2 years, while the statute of limitations for injury to personal property is 5 years. This means that if your accident resulted in injury or death to you or a loved one, you only have 2 years from the time of the accident to file your claim with the court. If you're only claiming losses resulting from property damage, you will have up to 5 years after the accident to file your claim.
Another legal issue that may prevent your recovery in a car accident lawsuit is Virginia's pure contributory negligence rule. Under this rule, if the court finds that you share the fault in your accident, you will be barred from recovery. Therefore, it may only be worthwhile for you to bring a lawsuit against an at-fault party if you think the court will find that you bear none of the fault for your accident.
Step 5: Time to File a Lawsuit?
Because of Virginia's strict contributory negligence rule and because of the complexity of the legal system, you may want to consult an attorney before you file your lawsuit. FindLaw's Car Accident Legal Help section has articles about finding an attorney, types of legal costs, fees, and more.
If you do decide to file lawsuit over your Richmond car accident, you'll most likely file with the Richmond Circuit Court. However, if you're claiming less than $25,000 in damages, you'll file with the District Court's Civil Division. Your case will likely follow steps similar to those outlined in FindLaw's section Stages of a Personal Injury Case.
For more information about car accident laws and liability, be sure to visit FindLaw's section on Car Accidents, which has a myriad of articles that may be relevant to your Richmond car accident case.
Contact a qualified attorney.