A single-car rollover accident on I-264 through Portsmouth, Virginia (VA), left one backseat passenger dead, two other passengers badly injured and the driver of the vehicle facing criminal charges for driving under the influence of alcohol and manslaughter.
According to police investigators, the driver changed lanes suddenly to avoid crashing into another car and lost control. The deceased and injured passengers were ejected from the vehicle as it flipped. Details on the at-fault driver's blood alcohol concentration, speed and possible distraction at the time of the crash were not reported.
One detail released to the public is that none of the passengers had been wearing their seat belts. If family members or the survivors file wrongful death and personal injury claims against the driver, insurance company representatives and lawyers may try to emphasize the lack of seat belt use as contributory negligence. Under Virginia law, drivers who act negligently or recklessly and cause harm to others can sometimes escape liability by showing that injured or killed individual contributed to causing the outcome.
Such a defense is unlikely to work in a DUI rollover accident like this one in Portsmouth, however. Civil trail rules block the presentation of evidence regarding seat belt use, meaning that not using the device cannot be identified as contributory negligence. Beyond that, driving drunk itself can be considered a reckless action that endangers people regardless of the actions they take to protect themselves. Because drinking and driving represents so much potential for harm, individuals who drive under the influence are often assessed punitive damages in addition to any criminal fines and injury settlements they must pay.