Two recent crashes in Tidewater Virginia could not help but raise questions about how insurance claims get settled when the at-fault driver is a government employee.
During the morning commute of December 7, 2015, a Norfolk City school bus sideswiped a car while changing lanes on E. Virginia Beach Boulevard. Injuries to the car’s driver were not serious, but the smaller vehicle sustained significant damage. Officers ticketed the school bus operator for failing to yield right of way.
The second wreck occurred in Newport News, VA, on the afternoon of December 11. An ambulance operated by the city’s fire department rear-ended an SUV in a left turn lane. The SUV was waiting at a stoplight at the intersection of W. Mercury Boulevard and Coliseum Drive. All three people in that vehicle went to the hospital with injuries, and the driver of the ambulance was cited for following too closely.
The fault for both collisions appears to rest clearly with the public employees. The Norfolk bus driver did not take adequate care to check blind spots and allow nearby traffic to clear before merging. In Newport News, the ambulance driver either sped up to a red light or failed to pay close attention to changes in traffic flow. Filing and collecting on insurance claims should be simple for the injured private citizens.
Unfortunately, crashes involving government vehicles and drivers who are on city, county or state payrolls rarely reach simple resolutions. Governments often use contractors who carry separate insurance. Worse, even when a driver is clearly covered by a government’s policy, proving liability may not even be an option. Under a legal doctrine called sovereign immunity, government employees can sometimes be absolved for causing injuries and deaths if they were performing official duties.
Plus, wrecks like the one in Newport News and Norfolk create the need to fight city hall. Legal representatives for the municipalities can be counted on to contest all insurance claims as vigorously as possible. The actions of the victims will be questioned and cast in the most negative light, especially since Virginia law allows at-fault drivers to elude liability if they can substantiate the smallest amount of contributory negligence.
If the people hurt by the Newport News ambulance or the Norfolk school bus encounter roadblocks to their financial recoveries, they should reach out to a Virginia personal injury lawyer who can protect their rights and fight for their interests.