A collision between a work truck and a motorcycle just before sunrise in James City County, Virginia (VA), left the two young people on the motorcycle dead and the truck driver facing charges. The fatal collision happened on October 28. 2020, at the intersection of Old Stage Road and Barnes Road near the town of Toano.
According to local police, the collision occurred at around 6:45 am. The truck driver cut off the approaching motorcyclists, and the motorcycle crashed into the rear corner of the larger vehicle. Officials declared the 22-year-old man who was driving the motorcycle dead at the scene. His 20-year-old female passenger died from her injuries after being transported to the VCU Medical Center in Richmond.
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This deadly crash shines a light on one of the fundmentl life-threatening dangers motorcycle riders face from drivers who may be negligent, impatient and inattentive. One specific detail also highlights a challenge insurance companies often raise when asked to settle injury or wrongful death claims involving motorcyclists.
Driver Do Not Always See Motorcycle Riders Because They Do Not Always Look for Them
Police filed a preliminary charge of failure to yield right of way while making a left-hand turn against the truck driver. The relevant statute, section 46.2-825 of the Virginia Code, reads
The driver of a vehicle, intending to turn left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction if it is so close as to constitute a hazard. At intersections controlled by traffic lights with separate left-turn signals, any vehicle making a left turn when so indicated by the signal shall have the right-of-way over all other vehicles approaching the intersection.
Drivers turning off of Old Stage Road onto Barnes Road do not have a stop light, yield sign or turn lane. Old Stage Road at Barnes Road is also a two-lane rural highway divided by only a double yellow line. This situation puts the responsibility to wait for all oncoming traffic to clear before starting to make a left-hand turn entirely on a driver.
To meet that responsibility, a driver must take extra time and effort to spot and accurately judge the distance and speed of a motorcycle coming toward them in the opposite range. This is difficult to do, especially at dawn. My Virginia personal injury and wrongful death law firm colleagues have written about this phenomenon in detail. Suffice it to say here that motorcycles are small and tend to disappear from a person’s visual field unless the person is thinking about motorcycles.
Take the Correct Lesson From Learning the Motorcycle Passengers Was Not Wearing a Helmet
Helmets save lives. Virginia law requires all riders to wear helmets for a reason, and complying should be automatic. However, the state’s motorcycle helmet law also explicitly states, “Failure to wear a face shield, safety glasses or goggles, or protective helmets shall not constitute negligence per se in any civil proceeding.”
Despite this, an insurance company presented with a wrongful death claim arising from the failure to yield crash in James City County will probably try to demy coverage based on contributory negligence. Partnering with an experienced plaintiff’s attorney will make it easier to defeat that tactic.