Car accidents are the second leading cause of death for teens in the US. Parents…
Every July 1st, new laws come into effect in the grand old Commonwealth of Virginia. The big-ticket item this year was the legalization of possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the ability to grow up to four plants per household for personal consumption. But sneaking in under the radar came two new laws that have the potential to change the way personal injury claims are handled in Virginia.
Increase in Liability Policy Limits
Since 1975, the required legal minimum for motor vehicle liability policies has been $25,000 per person up to a limit of $50,000 per accident. This is commonly called a “split limit” policy. Introduced to the Virginia General Assembly by attorney/delegate Scott Surovell, the legislation increases minimum car insurance coverage amounts from $25,000 to $30,000 in cases of bodily injury to or death of one person, from $50,000 to $60,000 in cases of bodily injury to or death of more than one person in any one accident, and from $20,000 to $25,000 for property damage coverage. In 2024, the minimums will increase to $50,000, $100,000, and $40,000, respectively.
For years, insurance companies have been aggressively marketing “cheap” insurance policies – think of Geico (“15 minutes can save you 15% or more”); or Liberty Mutual (“Only pay for what you need.”). These are, of course, tactics designed to encourage people to buy minimum limits policies. Why? Because insurance companies want to pay as little money as possible when someone gets hurt, and the lower the limits, the less they have to pay. So, the insurance industry is not too happy about Virginia’s increase in minimum limits because it leaves them potentially on the hook for more money every time someone is injured in a car crash. But the good news is that drivers and personal injury victims will be better protected by the higher limits, particularly given the exorbitant cost of medical treatment these days.
Increase in General District Court Jurisdictional Limits
Since 2011, personal injury plaintiffs have been limited to suing for $25,000 or less in Virginia’s General District Courts (GDC). GDC is often a more attractive option for smaller injury cases because they are cheaper and quicker than trying a case in Circuit Court. The new law raises that threshold to $50,000 in personal injury cases. Additionally, insurers who wish to appeal an unfavorable decision to Circuit Court will now have to post a bond (pay money) with the court in order to do so. Previously, insurance companies could simply write a letter stating they had sufficient coverage to satisfy a judgment.
In theory, this should lead to more cases being filed in GDC across the Commonwealth. Whether it will lead to tight-fisted insurance companies paying more money to injury victims who threaten to file suit in GDC remains to be seen.
If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in a motor vehicle crash, or you have questions about car insurance, please contact the attorneys at Burnett & Williams at 703-777-1650 for a free consultation.