If you’re in a car accident that has caused death, injury, or significant property damage in
Virginia, state law requires you to report the crash to State or local police immediately. If you intend to recover the cost of any damages, you can do so by filing a separate claim with your insurance provider or by filing a personal injury lawsuit with the state.
A car accident can leave you and everyone involved a bit rattled. One minute you’re cruising down I-64, the next minute you’re looking down at the crumpled-up pile of metal that used to be your Mazda 6. You’re probably not thinking quite straight, which is why it’s a good idea to know what to do in case of an accident before it happens.
What to do after a crash: Virginia car accident reporting laws
The first thing you should doif you are in a car accident is to make sure everybody in your vehicle is okay. Move your vehicle to the side of the road if possible, and call 911 if you or anyone else is injured.
Once you’re sure that everybody is safe, you’ll want to document the accident as best you can. Write down everything you can remember and use your smartphone to take pictures from multiple angles. This documentation may be important evidence for any future insurance claims or resulting lawsuits.
Be sure to take note of important information, such as:
- The date
- Crash location
- Street name
- Nearest intersection
According to Virginia law, if anyone has been killed or injured, or if property damage exceeding $1,500 has occurred, you or someone acting on your behalf must immediately report your accident to either:
- State or local police
- Any person who was struck and injured (if they are capable of retaining the information)
- The driver or another occupant of the other involved vehicle
- The owner of the property that sustained the damage
If a police officer attends the accident scene, they are required to submit an accident report, and you do not have to take any further action to report the accident.
At this point, you’ll want to exchange insurance and contact information with the other people involved in the accident. Do not leave the scene until this exchange of information has been completed.
When to report an accident to the police
Article 11of the Code of Virginia, any car accident that results in injury, death, or property damage greater than $1,500 must be reported. The driver must give their name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration information to either a member of the police, any person in an involved vehicle, or the owner of the property that sustained damage.
Failure to report an accident in a timely manner in Virginia is a Class 5 felony.
Accidents in which nobody was injured or killed, and where property damage is less than $1,500 generally do not need to be reported.
When to report an accident to the DMV
In Virginia, car accidents do not need to be reported to the DMV.
Forms can be submitted either:
- By mail to
Customer Records Work Center, Room 514
Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Post Office Box 27412
(Mailed requests must be accompanied by a check or money order to cover the $8 processing fee.)
- In-person at a DMV Customer Service Center.
A motorist who is caught lying about having car insurance in Virginia can have their driving privileges suspended, face a $600 non-compliance fee and a $145 reinstatement fee, and must file proof of insurance for three years.
Financial responsibility and coverage minimums: Virginia’s insurance laws
Virginia is one of the few states in the country where it is not illegal to drive without insurance. Drivers may instead pay a $500 Uninsured Motor Vehicle fee with the Virginia DMV. If you choose not to pay the $500 fee, you are required to carry liability coverage. The minimum amount of liability
car insuranceyou must carry in Virginia is:
It is important to note that liability coverage only pays for damage that you cause to other people and property, and does not cover damage caused to you or your vehicle.
According to the
Insurance Information Institute, 10% of Virginia’s car owners drive without insurance. If you are in an accident with an uninsured driver, they may not be able to cover the cost of the damage caused to your car. For this reason, you might want to consider adding
uninsured/underinsured driver coverageto your car insurance policy.
Choosing to pay the $500 Uninsured Motor Vehicle fee is not a replacement for car insurance, and it does not waive your financial responsibility if you end up getting in an accident. Quite the opposite—you could find yourself in an expensive court battle if a claimant chooses to recoup their losses by taking you to court.
Claiming damages after an accident: Virginia’s personal injury laws
Insurance claims are one way to recoup your losses following a car accident, but if you want to go a step further, you can file a personal injury lawsuit to collect damages.
Virginia law allows victims of a motor vehicle accident to pursue legal action against an at-fault driver for economic and non-economic losses. These include:
- Economic lossesLost wagesProperty damageMedical bills
- Non-economic lossesPain and sufferingEmotional distressLoss of consortium
The Code of Virginia has set a statute of limitations on the amount of time that can pass before a claimant files a personal injury lawsuit. The length of the statute depends on the nature of the claim being brought to the court:
Exceptions to Virginia’s personal injury laws
Virginia’s statute of limitations is very strict, and many valid cases have been lost due to these strict time limits. However, the statute may be extended in the following cases:
- If the claimant wasunder the age of 18at the time of the injury, the two-year statute of limitations may be extended to two years after their 18th birthday.
- If an adultclaimant was considered disabledat the time of injury, the two-year statute of limitations may be extended.
- If an injury was discovered ordeath occurred some time afterthe incident causing the injury or death took place, the start of the two-year statute of limitations can be moved to the day of the discovery or death.
Who’s to blame: Virginia’s pure contributory negligence law
The first question most people ask when it comes to car accidents is: “who’s fault was it?” The answer can determine who pays for damages and who has their medical bills covered.
The concept of fault can get complicated in Virginia. The Old Dominion is one of only four states with a
“pure” contributory negligencerule, which stipulates that if a claimant is even 1% responsible for their own injury, they are not entitled to recover any damages.
For example, a court may find Tom 99% responsible for hitting pedestrian Amanda due to the fact that he was speeding and ran a stop sign. But the court may also find Amanda 1% responsible because she was listening to loud music on her headphones and failed to check for traffic when she crossed the street. In this case, Amanda would not be entitled to recover any damages because her negligence contributed to her getting hit.
There is another rule in Virginia’s books that can help people like Amanda. It’s called the “last clear chance” rule. This rule is arguable in two basic situations:
- If a claimant put themselves in peril and could not remove themselves from peril, and the defendant had the “last clear chance” to avoid the accident
- If a claimant put themselves in peril and could remove themselves, but was unaware of the peril, and the defendant had the “last clear chance” to avoid the accident
In either case, the court may find that Tom is 100% responsible for the accident, and award Amanda her damages.
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