Car Accidents

Q: What is my car accident case worth?

  • A: There are many factors that determine the value of a personal injury case, including but not limited to the serverity of your injuries, the amount of your medical bills, your lost wages, whether your injuries are permanent, where the accident happened, the amount of insurance coverage, the severity of the wreck, the type of injury, whether the defendant was drinking alcohol and so on. The ultimate value of your case may be determined by what a jury awards you at trial, or by the best offer made by the insurance company. Nobody can tell you exactly what your case is worth prior to trial. An experienced attorney can give you a range, or an estimate, of the value of your case once the attorney has seen your medical records and knows the details of your case. If you have any specific questions regarding the value of your case, feel free to contact Whitehead & Chiocca.

Automobile Insurance

Q: I was severely injured in a car accident, but the insurance company says they only have to pay $25,000.00 towards my medical bills.  What can I do?

  • A: The state of Virginia only requires insurance companies to sell policies that have a minimum of $25,000 in coverage. If you are hurt by someone with this type of policy, that is all you are going to get from them unless they win the lottery or have substantial assets. The first thing you should do is look at your own insurance policies and the policies of any relative that resides with you. If you have more insurance than the person who was at fault, then you can rely on your own under insured coverage to pay your claim. If you have a resident relative you can add that relative’s policy to your own to increase insurance coverage. The only way to protect yourself in event of a car accident is to have a lot of insurance on your own vehicle. You never know if the other person who is negligent will even have any insurance on their vehicle. If you have a question about insurance coverage, please call Whitehead & Chiocca and someone will answer your question free of charge.

Q: Is medical expense coverage worth buying on my auto policy?

  • A: In most cases, medical expense coverage is a great rider to have on your automobile insurance. Medical expense coverage will pay your out of pocket medical bill expenses up to the amount of your coverage even if you are at fault for the accident, or if you are riding in someone else’s car. In our opinion, if a person does not have health insurance, they should absolutely have medical expense coverage on their car, truck or motorcycle. A person is more likely to be seriously injured driving a car than doing any other daily activity. For example, if you are injured in a car wreck and you are transported to an emergency room in Virginia, you are likely to end up with medical bills approaching $2,000 just to be treated and released the same day. Most people cannot afford to pay this out of pocket. Having medical expense coverage to cover this unexpected bill can make a big difference. Contact Whitehead & Chiocca if you have any questions regarding medical expense coverage.

Q: Do I have enough automobile insurance on my car?

  • A: Probably not. The only way to protect yourself or your immediate family is to have a lot of insurance coverage on your own cars. Virginia does not require a driver to even have insurance if they pay an uninsured motorist fee. Most insurance policies have limits of only $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. These amounts have been the minimum requirement in Virginia since 1976. Imagine how much the cost of medical bills have gone up in the last 34 years. Raising the limits on your automobile policy is surprisingly inexpensive. Most of the cost of a policy is for buying the initial coverage. Having high limits and even an umbrella policy can make all the difference in the world if you, your spouse or your child is severely injured, or even killed, in an automobile accident. People never hear about the numerous cases where there is not enough insurance to pay someone’s medical bills or lost wages. There is nothing worse than not being able to help the family of someone who wrongfully killed because there is little or no insurance coverage on the vehicles involved in a collision. If you have a question about insurance coverage, feel free to contact Whitehead & Chiocca.

Wrongful Death

Q: What is the point of bringing a wrongful death suit for a child, or anyone else, since you cannot bring them back?

  • A: You should not let the person who caused the accident to escape responsibility for his or her actions. If the wrongful death was caused by a corporation, you certainly want the company to take action so that a similar tragedy does not happen to another family. It is important to correct the injustice done to the child, especially when someone refuses to accept responsibility for what was done. Even if the person, or company, does the honorable thing by accepting fault and the child’s beneficiaries, or immediate relatives, are entitled to be compensated for their loss of companionship, sorrow and mental anguish as well as such things as medical bills and funeral expenses. Either way, the firm of Whitehead & Chiocca will help the family pursue the responsible party and make sure the beneficiaries are fairly compensated for the family’s loss.

Q: What family member are allowed to pursue a wrongful death case on behalf of the victim?

  • A: Under Virginia law, the personal representative (either the administrator or the executor of the estate) is allowed to hire an attorney to handle the wrongful death case. The personal representative makes the decision whether or not to settle the case, but must do so with the best interest of all the beneficiaries of the case in mind. For a deceased child, the custodial parent has the first right to become the administrator. That parent can waive this right and allow someone else to become the representative. If the parent does not qualify within 30 days, then another beneficiary may qualify. For adults, the any beneficiary may qualify in the first 30 days if that person is the sole beneficiary or has permission from all the other beneficiaries to do so. After 30 days, the first beneficiary that attempts to qualify is entitled to do so.

Q: My relative (sister, mother, father, brother, child) was a victim of  a wrongful death incident.  Who is entitled to recover settlement money?  Does it matter if the person had a will?

  • A: Money from a wrongful death case does not pass through the victim’s estate like the person’s other assets, or necessarily according to the person’s will. Virginia has a wrongful death statute that controls what relatives are allowed to recover money from the person, or company, that is at fault. The people who are allowed to recover are called, “beneficiaries.” How much each beneficiary receives is determined by a judge or jury based on that person’s relationship with the deceased, assuming the beneficiaries do not agree on how to split up the settlement. For example, if a husband dies without a will, all of his assets will go to his wife. However, the husband’s wrongful death settlement money would be divided between the wife and their children.

Q: Under Virginia law, who are the beneficiaries for a person in a wrongful death case?

  • A: Virginia divides the beneficiaries into different classes. The first class is the decedent’s spouse and children. They would divide the settlement money. If there are no survivors in the first class, then all the money is divided among members of the second class, which are parents, siblings (brothers and sisters), and any relative who lived with the decedent that was dependent on the decedent for support (like a step-child). If the decedent leaves a surviving spouse but no children, then the decedent’s parents are entitled to share in the proceeds with the surviving wife or husband. The money is not necessarily divided equally, but instead based upon the person’s relationship with the decedent.

Children and Injury Cases

Q: If a child is injured in a car accident due to the negligence, or fault, of his mother or father, can a claim be brought on behalf of the child?

  • A: Yes. A child in Virginia has a right to make an injury claim against his mom or dad if they are at fault for the car accident. The parent who was negligent, however, cannot be the child’s guardian for the case. In Virginia, a child must bring a case through his “next friend,” which is usually a parent, since the child is considered to be under a disability until they are 18 years old. If one parent is at fault, then the other parent is the next friend for purposes of making the claim. If the child only has one parent and that person is the one who caused the accident, then the Virginia court can appoint a relative, or a guardian ad litem, to make the claim for the child. If you have any questions regarding this procedure, please call one of the lawyers at Whitehead & Chiocca.

Q: What are the time deadlines for my child to file an injury claim?

  • A: The normal deadline for the child to file a lawsuit on an injury claim is two years after the child turns 18 years old, because the child is considered to be under a disability until their 18th birthday. If a child becomes emancipated prior to turning 18years old, then the two year statute begins to run earlier on the day the child is emancipated (legally becomes an adult). It also should be noted that the parents have a separate claim in Virginia for the child’s medical bills. The parent has five years to file a lawsuit over the medical bills before losing the right to do so. In practice, both claims are made together. Be aware that there are shorter deadlines for medical malpractice cases involving children. Also be aware that there are notice requirements regarding insurance policies that may allow the insurance company to avoid making any payments if you wait too long to make a claim. If you have a specific question, please call Whitehead & Chiocca and we’ll be happy to answer it for you.