A two-vehicle crash near Waynesboro, Virginia (VA), left two young men dead and a woman hospitalized with injuries. Whether any of the victims have grounds for pursuing wrongful death or personal injury claims will depend on what the official Virginia State Police investigation determines about which driver was at fault for causing the head-on collision.
The wreck happened at the intersection of U.S. 340/Stuarts Draft Highway and Kindig Road at around 9:30 pm on August 30, 2021. Troopers who responded to the scene discovered that a Ford Focus traveling along U.S. 340 at a high rate of speed slammed into an SUV whose driver was making a left-hand turn onto the side street.
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The force of the collision sent the smaller vehicle off the side of the highway, where it ran up an embankment and flipped over several times. Both the driver and passenger in the Ford Focus were ejected through the windshield and died from their injuries. Authorities identified the men who lost their lives as 24-year-old Blake E. Groah and 24-year-old Austin W. Groah, both of Lyndhurst, VA.
The woman behind the wheel of the SUV survived but needed to go to the hospital. News reports do not share details about the nature or severity of her injuries beyond noting they were “serious.”
Which Driver Has Liability for Compensating Victims?
The answer could be “both.”
State police told reporters they suspect the Ford Focus was engaged in a street race. They continue trying to identify a third vehicle and driver who played a role in creating this tragedy.
Virginia law prohibits racing on public streets and highways. The offense is treated as reckless driving, and evidence that a person caused injuries or deaths while street racing can raise the offense to a felony.
At the same time, state law requires any driver attempting to turn left across traffic to wait until oncoming vehicles have cleared the intersection. Specifically, section 46.2-825 of the Virginia Code states “The driver of a vehicle, intending to turn left … shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction if it is so close as to constitute a hazard.” The duty to yield remains even if an approaching vehicle is far exceeding the posted speed limit.
Virginia’s Unjust Contributory Negligence Rule Could Come Into Play
Succeeding with a personal injury and wrongful death car crash case in Virginia requires proving that the other driver was overwhelming at fault. Even small degrees of contributory negligence can disqualify a victim from seeking and receiving compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
As applied to this deadly collision near Waynesboro, VA, the contributory negligence rule could prevent both drivers from pursuing insurance claims. Evidence of street racing or reckless speeding would deny the family of the car’s driver their ability to seek wrongful death compensation. Evidence of failure to yield right of way would deny the injured woman in the SUV her ability to seek personal injury compensation.
One more problem could arise if the passenger in the car knowingly participated in a street race. Participating in what amounts to a crime could be considered contributory negligence. The situation would be similar to a person accepting a ride from a driver they knew to be drunk.
All that written, the deceased car passenger could have valid claims against the insurance policies of both drivers. Insurance policies remain in effect even when an at-fault driver dies in the crash they caused. Further, members of the same family can file insurance claims against each other. Last, when multiple drivers have liability, victims can file claims against all applicable policies. Whether the passenger has valid claims will remain unknown until the state police arrive at their conclusions.
What is clear is that nothing about this case will be simple. The involved parties would benefit from consulting with an experienced and empathetic Virginia plaintiff’s attorney. Doing that would clarify legal options, ensure access to police reports and give victims an ally who would deal directly with the insurance companies.