About Personal Injury Law in Virginia
Personal injury law exists to deal with situations in which one party (or multiple parties) causes harm to another, often through negligence. If you are thinking about seeking compensation for a personal injury, understanding the basics of Virginia’s negligence law is the first step.
In this article, Wallace Wason, PLLC provides an overview of the fundamentals of Virginia personal injury law, including the most common types of personal injury cases and the criteria for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Virginia. We also answer frequently asked questions and give some general guidance for those contemplating a personal injury action in Virginia.
Common Types of Personal Injury Cases
The following are common types of personal injury cases handled in Virginia courts:
- Vehicular accidents with serious injuries
- Motorcycle or all-terrain motorized vehicle accidents
- Construction site or heavy equipment accidents
- Traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries
- Sports related injuries
- Premises liability accidents or slip-and-fall incidents
- Car vs pedestrian or auto vs bicycle accidents
- 18-wheeler accidents
- Wrongful death cases
- Boating and watercraft accidents
- Hospital or medical facility incidents
- Hunting accidents
Understanding the Basics of Personal Injury Law
Nearly every day, in every area of the state, accidents resulting in personal injuries occur, but not all can be a good basis for a personal injury lawsuit. There are specific requirements for a claim to be successful in Virginia Courts.
Duty of Care
First and foremost, a successful negligence claim must establish that one party owed a duty of care to another – a duty to take enough care to protect others from injury. Failure to satisfy this duty is sometimes described as negligence.
In car accidents, the duty of care is pretty straightforward. In driver’s education class, you learn that all drivers are obligated to exercise reasonable care while driving. This means maintaining a safe vehicle, driving within the speed limit, watching where you are going, and keeping a safe distance from other vehicles. It also means not operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and obeying traffic laws.
Personal injury attorneys know that duties of care are not always as obvious as the rules of the road.
For example, in a sports accident, who is responsible for the protective netting or the lighting of the stadium?
If a customer falls on ice in the parking lot, is one of the stores in the shopping center at fault? Or is it the company responsible for plowing the snow, or the mall’s owner, who failed to act responsibly?
Imagine you visit a friend in the hospital and you suffer a head injury after falling on a wet floor. The hospital and its management may, by law, bear responsibility for your injury, even if they were not directly involved in the accident. Alternatively, a maintenance or cleaning company, by virtue of a contract, may actually bear responsibility for maintaining safe corridors in the building. Which company is legally responsible for your injuries? Or are they both responsible? Dealing with such situations is where the experience of a personal injury attorney can benefit you.
Similarly, in a tractor trailer or delivery truck motor vehicle collision, the sign on the outside of the truck may not be the actual employer of the negligent driver. To sue the right company, you may need to investigate to find that out.
At Wallace Wason, PLLC, we take our commitment to clients seriously. Our focus on the uncertainties that arise in personal injury law ensures that our attorneys remain up-to-date with developments and approaches relevant to the issues that arise in this type of case.
Failure to Uphold Duty
In addition to establishing that a defendant had a duty of care, a party claiming personal injury in Virginia (the plaintiff) must demonstrate that the defendant failed to meet that duty, resulting in injury to the plaintiff. One factor in establishing such failure is foreseeability – whether the event that led to injury could have been avoided or mitigated if the defendant had acted reasonably. Experienced personal injury attorneys will be able to shed light on this pivotal factor in determining whether a breach of duty of care occurred.
The final requirement for a personal injury case is that the plaintiff identify his or her injury and prove that it resulted directly from the defendant’s failure to uphold the duty of care. Sometimes this can be proven by the injured person alone. Other times in Virginia personal injury cases, this causal connection must be established by qualified medical expert testimony.
Injuries from personal injury can include not only physical injury or disability, but also emotional or psychological harm, and also financial losses (such as the cost of medical care or loss of income resulting from the negligence). All impacts of the negligence must be evaluated to see if they can appropriately be considered damages. In a successful personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff may be awarded compensation for many different categories of damages.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to calculate and argue for maximum compensation for all of your injuries and other damages.
Causation and Dealing with Defenses
Sometimes, it is clear that an individual’s actions caused an injury, like a broken femur resulting from a red-light running truck colliding with a bicyclist. In other cases, direct causation may be harder to prove, like worsened back pain or new anxiety following a rear-end collision by a drunk driver.
Lawsuits alleging personal injuries may be defended tenaciously, with the defense often contending that the injuries claimed are not plainly related to the accident in question. The defense may even dispute the existence of the alleged injury! They may claim that the injuries existed before the incident or are the result of natural aging or degeneration.
Defense attorneys may subpoena decades of medical records in search of an alternate explanation for your symptoms. They may seek to shift blame to another event in the past, or a different potential defendant, or even back to the injured party.
To substantiate your injury claim and counter these defenses, the assistance of an experienced law firm like Wallace Wason, PLLC will be your strongest ally. Our decades of experience affords us a deep understanding of the specifics involved in proving a personal injury claim. Contact us at (703) 638-7717 for a free evaluation of your claim.
Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Injury Law in Virginia
Clients and potential clients often have questions like the following about their possible personal injury claim.
What Types of Damages Can I Seek Compensation For?
A personal injury lawsuit aims to restore injured parties to the condition they were in before the accident occurred, or to compensate them if they cannot be restored. Personal injury damages are broken down into two primary categories: economic and non-economic damages. Under certain circumstances, punitive damages may also apply.
Economic damages typically encompass actual costs, especially medical expenses such as doctor visits, surgical procedures, medical devices, prescriptions, diagnostic tests, facility costs, and rehabilitation expenses. Economic damages may also include lost wages – both loss of past earnings resulting from time away from work and potential loss of future earnings. Sometimes damages include compensation for the loss of other income streams, such as pension or annuity benefits. Motor vehicle accidents can involve property damage as an economic damage.
Non-economic damages may be awarded for injuries that are not tied to a specific dollar valuation. These damages include such concepts as pain and suffering, mental anguish or emotional distress, and a diminished capacity to enjoy or function in daily life as one did before. They are called non-economic because they did not have a specific cost. Evaluation of how much it will take to compensate for them is left to the jury after hearing all the evidence of how the injured person has been impacted.
At Wallace Wason, PLLC, our legal team invests the time necessary to comprehensively understand your injuries from both a medical and a whole-life perspective. This entails assessing how the injury has influenced your overall health, your happiness, your ability to enjoy life and relationships with friends and family. We will consider and effectively present all aspects of your pain, suffering, and your other non-economic damages.
In some jurisdictions, if a plaintiff’s injury affects other family members, “loss of consortium” damages can compensate for such negative impacts. This would most often relate to the loss of ability to enjoy normal intimate or interpersonal relations with a spouse or intimate partner.
Punitive damages come into play in cases where the Defendant’s actions were exceptionally reckless. They are not something that can be considered automatic. The facts of each case must be evaluated to see if the law will allow their recovery.
What Is the Time Limit for Filing a Lawsuit?
The time constraint within which an injured party can file a lawsuit is known as the “statute of limitations,” or the “SOL.” The statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits in Virginia is generally two years. Maryland and the District of Columbia statutes of limitations are generally three years.
If you are considering a lawsuit, we recommend contacting us as soon as possible following an accident or injury. Several factors support this recommendation, even though litigation might not be the foremost concern in the aftermath of a serious injury. Delaying an investigation can complicate efforts to locate witnesses with crucial information. Lawsuits can be protracted processes, so commencing proceedings promptly is advantageous. There may be times that the right strategic decision is to wait, for example if healing is still occurring, but that should be a reasoned decision made with an eye on strategy benefit. We urge you not to hesitate in contacting a qualified attorney immediately, as delay may jeopardize your ability to recover serious compensation.
How Is the Value of My Case Determined?
Predicting the precise settlement amount of a lawsuit or the amount a jury may award is impossible, and potential plaintiffs should exercise caution when dealing with lawyers who claim to predict the exact value of your personal injury case shortly after the accident or injury. There is no accident injury calculator.
As discussed above, several categories of damages can be sought. Some can be readily or quickly identified and quantified, others cannot. Only an experienced attorney who is willing to explore the details of your case can pursue the best result for you, and it may not be possible to do that right off the bat.
At Wallace Wason, PLLC, we only handle serious injury cases. We aim to achieve high-dollar results, through settlement or through trial if necessary. Ultimately, however, you, as the client, retain decision-making authority over your case, including whether to accept or reject a particular settlement offer. We will offer advice based on the legal and economic realities of your case as it progresses. We operate as a collaborative team, offering comprehensive and thoughtful guidance based on our expertise and experience.
How Long Will My Case Take to Resolve?
In pursuit of maximum compensation, and because they involve detailed information and medical opinion, personal injury lawsuits can span years before reaching a satisfactory resolution. Some conclude more swiftly, however.
The severity of your injuries can influence the duration of your case also, especially as it is necessary to have an understanding of how successfully your injuries can be treated. Typically, we will want to wait least until you have completed initial medical treatment and have a clear understanding of any future treatments and their cost before recommending a final settlement amount.
Quick settlement offers
In some instances, such as following a car accident, insurance adjusters or less experienced personal injury lawyers may offer quick settlement offers to deter you from pursuing a potentially higher-value lawsuit. Be wary of these offers. Insurance companies do not make such offers with your best interests in mind; in fact, they often hope to resolve your claim at the lowest possible cost.
You may wish to consult a qualified attorney to obtain sound legal guidance regarding the merits and full value of your case before accepting an offer from an insurance company. To maximize your chances of securing full compensation, obtain legal representation and practice patience to allow time for accumulation of the information necessary to pursue the serious recovery your case warrants.
How Much Does It Cost to Retain a Personal Injury Attorney?
Do not let concerns about attorney fees prevent you from seeking a legal consultation. Wallace Wason, PLLC handles personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. This means we do not charge an hourly fee for consultations, and we do not get paid anything for our legal services unless your case is won. Our firm’s compensation is contingent upon securing a recovery, as outlined in our retainer agreement.
Can I File My Own Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Usually, it is a better idea to consult with an attorney before making the decision to go it on your own. Good personal injury attorneys will be able to tell you whether your case complexity and size support hiring an attorney or one that should be handled on your own. For smaller claims, you may be better off trying to settle the case on your own instead of hiring a lawyer. If you deal directly with the other side, you can save the costs and fees that an attorney would charge.
If you do decide to go on your own, your first effort might be settlement with the insurance company. If that company is unreasonable, you might choose to file suit. Individuals do have the right to file cases in the Virginia Court system themselves. This is known as filing “pro se” (pro se being a Latin term meaning “for oneself”). Small cases (those claiming less than $4,500.00) are handled in small claims courts, where attorneys are not even allowed.
The jurisdictional limit for Virginia’s General District Courts has increased to $50,000. The GDC judge decides the case, not a jury, and there is the right to appeal to Circuit Court, but this can be an efficient way to resolve smaller claims.
Claims for injuries and damages exceeding $50,000 are filed in Virginia’s Circuit Courts. Although lawyers are not required for such claims, personal injury laws and the special requirements for wrongful death cases can be intricate. These cases are challenging even for the average lawyer. A lawyer experienced in personal injury practice can be your key the best possible result for your situation.
If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury in an accident, we strongly recommend reaching out to an experienced attorney who can manage the legal intricacies, rather than trying to navigate the unfamiliar process and very specific requirements yourself.
What to Do If You’ve Suffered a Personal Injury
Experiencing an injury in an accident is an inherently stressful ordeal. If you have sustained an injury, we recommend the following steps:
Seek medical attention immediately
Many people refuse medical assistance following an accident. This may be because they fear the hospital or ambulance ride, or think they can’t afford the resulting treatment. Even if you do not initially perceive your injury as severe, an adrenaline rush can mask pain.
Prioritize your health and safety, and err on the side of caution. Accepting immediate medical attention from an ambulance or at an emergency room is often advisable. In general, we recommend that you get the medical care you believe you need for medical purposes, not seek treatment just to increase the size of your bills or help your case.
Promptly report your accident
In Virginia, for motor vehicle accidents, the law requires prompt reporting. This means notifying the police or state patrol and ensuring an accident report is generated. This report will be filed with and maintained by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, regardless of which law enforcement agency responds to the accident.
Once you have decided to make a claim, make sure you obtain a copy of your incident report. Whether you are settling your personal injury case on your own or hiring an attorney, this is a good starting point for evidence regarding the claim. How to Obtain Your Virginia Accident Report.
Document the accident
To the best of your ability, gather and preserve information concerning the accident. In the example of a boating accident, where water can wash away evidence and tidal conditions change quickly, it can be important to gather as much evidence as possible. Photos or videos can be critical. Contemporaneous documentation can capture details of the incident and conditions like the weather and conditions on the water. This can be invaluable should you decide to pursue a lawsuit. Additionally, collect names and contact details of any witnesses on the scene if possible.
Contact an experienced personal injury attorney
If you are considering a lawsuit, we recommend that you commence the process as soon as possible.
Wallace Wason, PLLC offers a free, no-obligation legal consultation. Our efforts in personal injury cases have recovered millions for our clients. We combine exceptional legal advocacy with the personal attention you deserve. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in an accident and you are contemplating a personal injury lawsuit, consult the experienced attorneys at Wallace Wason, PLLC by calling (703) 638-7717 or completing our easy contact form.
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