An unusual incident sent three people to the hospital in Virginia Beach and raised many questions about who might have liability to compensating the victims.
A little after midnight on November 1, 2020, a car rear-ended a horse-drawn carriage in Virginia Beach, VA. Motor vehicles crashing into buggies is not that uncommon in rural areas, but this collision happened in the 2100 block of Great Neck Road. Certain circumstance would make it legal for the carriage operator to be on the street near the Marina Shores Shoppes and at the foot of the bridge over Long Creek, but it is certainly not the place and time one would expect to see a horse pulling a carriage.
All three of the injured people were riding in the carriage. Two are expected to recover fairly soon, but one was reported to have suffered life-threatening injuries. News reports do not indicate whether anyone has been charged in connection to the crash.
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The horse emerged with only minor injuries. Elven-year-old Romeo should be back to work soon.
Why Was the Carriage Out After Midnight?
Police are working to answer this question. The carriage and operator had been hired to work a child’s birthday party in the Great Neck area. According to the business owner, the contract ended at 9 pm, and the operator was supposed to return the horse and rig immediately after.
On the other hand, state law makes it legal for a properly outfitted horse rider and horse-drawn vehicle to use a state highway such as Great Neck Road after sunset. According to section 46.2800.1 of the Virginia Code, a rider can use a highway at night as long as they wear a large amount of reflective clothing and carry “a light visible in clear weather from a distance of 500 feet.”
Who Caused the Crash?
We do not yet know. Police will need to determine whether the car’s driver was speeding, following too closely, distracted or operating negligently in some other way. Police will also need to determine whether the carriage operator was complying with the law on making himself and his carriage visible.
It could turn out that both the person driving the car and the person operating the carriage acted negligently. It will also matter whether the carriage operator did have authorization from his employer to continue giving rides after the birthday party ended. If the carriage operator was still working, his employer could be found technically responsible for creating a dangerous situation.
Who Is Liable for Settling Personal Injury Insurance Claims?
The answer to this question depends on who police determine to be at fault. If the carriage operator did nothing wrong, the car’s driver will be liable. If the car’s driver did nothing wrong—say, the carriage had no lights or reflectors—the carriage operator could be liable. And if the carriage operator was authorized to continue giving rides, his employer could be liable for not providing appropriate safety equipment.
Still other scenarios could play out. The injured passengers may need to invoke the uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage provisions of their own car insurance policies because fault for the crash is never definitely assigned. Yet another situation sees the injured passengers fighting for the right to file insurance claims at all because insurers accuse them of contributory negligence for getting into the carriage late at night.
In all circumstances, the crash victims could benefit from consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Virginia Beach. The attorney can answer their initial questions and help them track the progress of the police investigation.