A man sustained nearly fatal injuries when the car in which he was riding ran off the road, struck a tree and flipped over. Sadly, the wreck also claimed the life of the driver.
Virginia State Police responded to the scene of the accident near the intersection of State Route 606/Farys Mill Road and State Route 607/Fletcher Road on the evening of September 1, 2021. Troopers’ preliminary investigation led them to suspect the driver was speeding before she lost control while going through a long curve, crossed the double yellow line dividing the two lanes of Farys Mill Road and went of the far shoulder of the state highway.
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The passenger remained hospitalized in the days following the crash. It is likely he will have grounds for filing personal injury claims against the insurance policy of the driver. Under Virginia law, a deceased driver’s insurance remains in effect until all legitimate claims for the payment of victims’ medical bills and other forms of compensation are resolved.
However, the insurance company involved in any case arising from this tragic crash in Gloucester County may try to deny claims by invoking the concept of contributory negligence.
Does Blaming the Victim Work?
Virginia—along with its neighbor to the south, North Carolina—is one of just four states that still applies a strict rule of contributory negligence to personal injury claims. This legal principle dates back centuries. In essence, it says that no one who contributed to causing the injuries they suffered can hold anyone else financially liable for the treatment of those injuries, resulting disability or pain and suffering.
The overwhelming majority of states ad court systems abandoned this rule decades ago in favor of comparative negligence. The reason was simple: Applying the rule of contributory negligence denied just compensation to people who bore only minimal responsibility for an accident. To this day, an at-fault driver or some other defendant in a Virginia personal injury lawsuit can avoid liability despite being 80-90 percent responsible.
It is little wonder, then, that insurance companies often raise questions about contributory negligence following car crashes. The critically injured passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt while riding in the car that ran off Farys Mill Road in Gloucester County is sure to come up.
That detail cannot be allowed to derail a case. Yes, section 46.2-1094 of the Virginia Code requires all front-seat passengers who are older than 18 years of age to fasten their seat belts while their vehicle is in motion. It is true that a later section of that same law stipulates evidence of failure to comply with this statute cannot automatically disqualify claims for injury compensation.
Specifically, paragraph D of the state law declares
A violation of this section shall not constitute negligence, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a motor vehicle, nor shall anything in this section change any existing law, rule, or procedure pertaining to any such civil action.
Nothing guarantees insurance claims following car crashes will succeed. But injured victims should never be told they cannot seek compensation just because they did not buckle up.