Two very different traffic accidents in Virginia raise the same fundamental question. The incidents did occur on the same day, but they happened hundreds of miles apart and at opposite times of the workday. Still, everyone involved in both the crashes is left wondering who they can look to for compensation for medical care, loss of life and damage to their vehicles.
Early on the morning of March 9, 2022, eight vehicles piled up on I-81 in southern Rockbridge County, VA. A news report based on releases from the Virginia State Police described the crash this way: “A 2015 Honda Civic made an unsafe lane change into the right lane at a low speed and without lights. The Civic was then hit by a tractor-trailer that jackknifed and was hit by several cars and [other] tractor-trailers. In total, police said four tractor-trailers and four cars were involved in the accident.”
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People in each of the cars and trucks suffered injuries serious enough to require hospital treatment. In addition, one of the commercial truck drivers died. Authorities identified the deceased tractor-trailer operator as a 63-year-old resident of Texas.
The other crash also happened on March 9, but in Portsmouth and just before 5 pm. Publicly available details are scarce, but it is known that three vehicles collided in the 2600 block of Frederick Boulevard. A total of four individuals sustained injuries in this wreck between Frederick Boulevard’s intersections with Portsmouth Boulevard and Deep Creek Boulevard.
So Who Is at Fault?
Assigning responsibility for the multivehicle crash on the interstate in Rockbridge County could be straightforward. The driver of the Honda Civic who made an unsafe lane change appears to have set the stage for the chain reaction. Investigators will also need to consider the actions of the tractor-trailer operator who first struck the Civic.
Responsibility of the Portsmouth crash on Frederick Boulevard cannot be speculated on since so little information is known. In both instances, the initial investigation into responsibility and the original assessment of liability for personal injury and wrongful death claims will be the official police crash reports and witness statements.
Virginia state law requires law enforcement officials to investigate reported collisions and to prepare official summaries of both the evidence they collect and the conclusions they draw. Those official crash reports are then made available through the Division of Motor Vehicles. Individuals who have the right to request those reports are
- Any driver involved,
- Any passenger involved,
- A person injured in the crash,
- Any person owning a vehicle or property involved,
- The personal representative of any person involved (e.g., conservator, executor, next of kin, etc.) of a person who was injured or killed,
- An attorney representing any person injured or involved,
- An authorized representative of an insurance company, and
- The parent or legal guardian of a minor child (i.e., younger than 18 years old) who was injured or killed in the crash.
Obtaining the police report will not end all questions over responsibility and liability, however. Investigators may not be able to conclusively state that one driver caused the collision. And even if the findings from the police investigation are stated strongly, the driver identified as being at fault has the right to defend themselves against both criminal charges and personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.
Another concern following multivehicle crashes is that an at-fault driver’s insurance coverage will be limited. Injured victims and the families of deceased individuals may need to access underinsured motorist provisions of their own car insurance policies to receive compensation.