The exact details remain unclear, but an unsafe merge or dangerous lane change led to a fatal collision between a car and a tractor-trailer in Portsmouth, Virginia (VA). The deadly crash raises several important issues about sharing the road with large commercial vehicles, contributory negligence, seatbelt use and insurance liability.
The wreck happened a little before 3 am on April 12, 2018, Portsmouth police responded to the scene on VA-164/Western Freeway and found the driver of the car ejected from his vehicle. The 52-year-old man from Newport News died from his injuries before he could be transported to a hospital.
The tractor-trailer operator did not suffer injuries and remained at the scene. From speaking with the semi driver and collecting other evidence, investigators determined that a rear corner of the trucks trailer struck the front end of the car, causing the man behind the wheel of the smaller vehicle to lose control and run into a barrier between the interchanges with College Drive and Towne Point Road. Authorities also noted that the deceased driver had not been using his seatbelt.
If the full investigation reveals that the commercial truck driver caused the collision by negligently changing lanes or entering the highway without yielding right of way, the family of the man who lost his life would have strong grounds for filing wrongful death insurance claims. Semis have large blind spots, and truck drivers who operate between midnight and 6 am are especially prone to leaving their lane due to drowsy driving.
Even though the deceased driver of the car failed to buckle up, Virginia law clearly states that ignoring the seatbelt law does not constitute contributory negligence. Specifically, section 46.2-1094D of the Virginia Code states,
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.
This matters because any finding of contributory negligence in Virginia makes it pretty much impossible to hold another driver liable for inflicting injuries or taking lives.
Insurance companies for the truck driver and the trucking company could still try to deny coverage by citing the seatbelt violation. Partnering with a dedicated and caring Virginia wrongful death attorney would help the family of the man killed on Western Freeway in Portsmouth fight through such obstacles.