A pickup truck driver’s failure to slow down when entering an interstate work zone set the stage for a rear-end collision that would take the life of one young woman in a car and seriously injure three other innocent people. The deadly crash happened on I-81 through Washington County, Virginia (VA), early on the morning of March 23, 2018.
Virginia State Police responded to the wreck a little before 3:30 am. Troopers found a Mazda MX-5 sandwiched between the at-fault driver’s pickup and a second pickup. All four people in the car initially survived, and they were taken to local hospitals for treatment. A 19-year-old car passenger died four days later.
According to the police, the driver of the Dodge pickup never slowed down as he approached a line of vehicles that had almost stopped in the active work zone near Old Airport Road outside of Abingdon. Charges are pending against that man, but those will not be finalized until the investigation is completed.
Law enforcement officials must determine why the pickup driver did not reduce his speed. Considering the timing of the wreck between midnight and dawn, he may have fallen asleep behind the wheel. Another explanation could involve getting distracted by a smartphone or GPS device. Alcohol use has been ruled out, but drug tests will need to be done.
Whatever reason is discovered, the surviving victims of the driver’s negligence or recklessness will have strong grounds for filling personal injury insurance claims. Likewise, the family of the young woman who got killed will have legal rights to pursue wrongful death claims. This is true even though the deceased passenger had not put on her seat belt.
Section 46.2-1094-D of the Virginia Code makes it clear that failing to buckle up does not constitute contributory negligence of the kind that automatically bars insurance claims or civil lawsuits. Specifically, the statute 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.
My Virginia personal injury lawyer and wrongful death attorney colleagues and I have commented often on the need to stay alert and reduce speed in work zones. This crash on I-81 in Washington County highlights one of the worst things that can happen when a driver speeds or loses focus in a work zone.
Driving above the speed limit or driving too fast for weather and traffic conditions poses life-threatening risks at all times, of course. During 2017, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles recorded 23,948 speed-related crashes that resulted in 318 deaths and 12,937 injuries. Traffic violations cited after speed-related crashes included following too closely (6,608) and speeding too fast (3,978).
The get-home-safe message is: Slow down.