Our Virginia personal injury clients were four people in car that was rear-ended by an extremely drunk driver. The crash happened in Vienna, VA, but two of the injured victims lived in North Carolina. We represented each person in separate cases filed with the Circuit Court in Fairfax County.
When police responded to the scene of the accident, they detected a strong smell of alcohol on the at-fault driver. After the woman failed a battery of field sobriety tests, police charged her with second offense driving while impaired. The arrest occurred in front of the at-fault driver’s teenaged daughter and her daughter’s friend, who were passengers in her vehicle.
Our four clients all went to hospital emergency rooms and received treatment for a number of serious injuries. Recovery times varied, but each of the victims of the rear-end collision underwent follow-up care and physical therapy for several months.
Key Legal Strategy
One of our Virginia personal injury lawyers handled all four cases. This was an unusual situation. Court generally discourage more than one victim of a single negligent or reckless driver from using the same plaintiff’s attorney because the lawyer can be tempted to work harder for one client than another. Our lawyer ensured no conflicts of interests arose by providing full disclosures on the status of each case to each of his clients. This assured each crash victim that all their interests were being represented equally.
The drunk driver’s responsibility for causing the rear-end collision was never really in doubt. The biggest questions concerned how much our Virginia personal injury attorney could recover for his clients and from which sources those recoveries could be made. He found answers by identifying multiple auto insurance policies carried by the at-fault driver and ensuring that his client who suffered the worst injuries had access to underinsured motorist coverage through their own policy.
Our attorney convinced the at-fault driver’s insurance companies to negotiate settlements and avoid civil jury trials by reminding the claims adjustors that Virginia law allows victims of very drunk drivers to claim unlimited punitive damages. Evidence used to convict the at-fault driver at her criminal trial for second-offense DWI showed her blood alcohol concentration at the time of the crash to be .21.
Since Virginia sets the legal limit for driver’s BAC at .08, each of the rear-end collision victims had a clear case to make for seeking punitive damages. Our attorney also mentioned to the claims adjustors that jury members would likely be eager to penalize a woman who was so obviously intoxicated while driving her own daughter.
All four cases settled without going to trial. Here is what each of the drunk driver’s victims received in total from all sources of insurance:
- Front Seat Passenger — $20,000
- Driver — $24,000
- Back Seat Passenger — $26,000
- Second Back Seat Passenger — Approximately $42,000
The second back seat passenger received the highest settlement because that individual incurred the most serious injuries and greatest medical expenses. The passenger’s own insurance policy also contributed to the total settlement amount by paying off on an underinsured motorist claim. Importantly, Virginia is among the many states that make it illegal for insurance companies to raise premiums for policyholders who file claims for accidents that they did not cause.
Drunk drivers inflict hundreds of avoidable injuries and deaths on Virginia roads each year. We relish every opportunity to hold these dangerous and thoughtless drivers financially accountable for the pain, suffering and economic losses they cause.
Court and Date: Fairfax County Circuit Court, Fairfax, VA, 2006-2009
Staff: Richard N. Shapiro, staff attorney