By: Janeen Koch

Multiple bills passed in Virginia that will have an effect on the handling and evaluation of insurance claims. And more importantly, a proposed bill to abolish the contributory negligence defense, failed. Here is a summary of the noteworthy legislation that will, and will not, go into effect in July:

Finding of guilt in absentia; proof of such finding in a civil action. § 8.01-418 of the Code of Virginia was amended to add a finding of guilt made in absentia in a criminal prosecution or traffic infraction to be admissible in a civil action. Currently, only guilty pleas, pleas of nolo contendere (no contest) and forfeitures were admissible in civil actions. This evidence is commonly admitted at trial in personal injury actions involving motor vehicle accidents as an admission of negligence by the tortfeasor.

Civil cause of action; sexual abuse by person of authority; limitations period. Creates a civil cause of action for injury to a person 18 years of age or older resulting from sexual abuse by a person of authority, defined in the bill. The bill further specifies that any such action shall be brought within 15 years after the cause of action accrues. § 8.01-243 of the Code of Virginia.

Attorney-issued subpoenas; release of witness. § 8.01-407 of the Code of Virginia was amended to allow an attorney who subpoenaed a witness to testify, to release such witness from appearing as long as such release is in writing and served concurrently on all other parties or their counsel. Rather than being able to rely on another party’s witness subpoena, counsel will now have to serve their own subpoenas to ensure the appearance of the witnesses who they want to testify at depositions or trial.

Immunity of persons; tort actions; assertion of immunity; attorney fees and costs. Provides that a person shall be immune from tort liability if the tort claim is based solely on statements (i) regarding matters of public concern that would be protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States made by that person that are communicated to a third party; (ii) made at a public hearing before the governing body of any locality or other political subdivision, or the boards, commissions, agencies, and authorities thereof, and other governing bodies of any local governmental entity concerning matters properly before such body; or (iii) made by an employee against his employer and where retaliatory action against an employee by such employer is otherwise prohibited by law. The bill also provides that any person who prevails in such a legal action may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs. § 8.01-223.2 of the Code of Virginia.

Appointment of guardian ad litem for minor witness. Authorizes a general district court, when the court determines circumstances so require, to appoint a discreet and competent guardian ad litem to represent a minor who is required to testify as a witness in a case before the court. The bill provides that such guardian ad litem shall be compensated for the provision of such services consistent with the rates and procedures set by the Supreme Court of Virginia for compensation of court-appointed counsel. § 8.01-396.2 of the Code of Virginia.

Transportation network companies; uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. Requires transportation network company (TNC) insurance to maintain the same minimum uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage as is currently required by law for all motor vehicle insurance policies of $30,000 for bodily injury per person, $60,000 for bodily injury per accident, and $20,000 for property damage, whether or not there is a passenger in the vehicle. The bill also prohibits TNC insurance underinsured motorist coverage from being set off by another policy from incidents arising when there is a
passenger in the vehicle. Current law requires uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage for TNCs at $1 million when a passenger is in the vehicle. The bill repeals expired provisions related to TNC insurance coverage. §§ 46.2-2099.50 and 46.2-2099.52 of the Code of Virginia.

Titling requirements for nonrepairable vehicles; sale to certain auto recyclers. Establishes a process whereby an insurance company can obtain a nonrepairable certificate for a vehicle acquired through the claims process without first obtaining a title or salvage certificate for such vehicle, provided that the insurance company is unable to obtain the assigned title or salvage certificate from the insured and has determined the vehicle to be a nonrepairable vehicle, any lien on the vehicle has been satisfied, and the vehicle is being sold to a demolisher, salvage dealer, or scrap metal processor for the purpose of recycling parts, dismantling, demolishing, or recycling for scrap. § 46.2-1602.3 of the Code of Virginia.

Yielding or reducing speed for stationary vehicles; vehicles displaying hazard lights, caution signs, or road flares. Requires drivers to make a lane change or reduce speed when passing stationary vehicles that have activated the vehicular hazard warning signal flashers, displayed caution signs, or been marked with properly lit flares or torches on certain highways when safe and reasonable to do so and makes a violation of this requirement a traffic infraction. § 46.2-861.1 of the Code of Virginia.

Uninsured motorist fee; repeal. Repeals the option to register an uninsured motor vehicle upon payment of the uninsured motor vehicle fee of $500. The repeal has an effective date of July 1, 2024. The bill authorizes the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles to continue registering uninsured vehicles from July 1, 2023, to July 1, 2024, but provides that all such registrations shall expire prior to July 1, 2024. § 46.2-706 of the Code of Virginia.

Bills that Failed:

Contributory negligence bar; abolished. Provides that the negligence of a plaintiff shall not automatically bar plaintiff’s recovery in any action for injury, wrongful death, or property damage unless the plaintiff’s negligence is (i) a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury and (ii) greater than the aggregated total amount of negligence of all the defendants that proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury. The bill further provides that any damages recoverable by the plaintiff shall be diminished by an amount that is proportionately equal to the percentage of negligent conduct of the plaintiff.

Wrongful death; death of parent or guardian of child resulting from driving under the influence; child support. Provides that in any action for death by wrongful act where the defendant, as a result of driving a motor vehicle or operating a watercraft under the influence, unintentionally caused the death of another person who was the parent or legal guardian of a child, the person who has custody of such child may petition the court to order that the defendant pay child support.

Civil action against parent; minor’s possession and use of firearm. Creates a civil cause of action against a parent, guardian, legal custodian, or other person standing in loco parentis of a minor for injury to the person or property of another or for wrongful death resulting from the minor’s possession and use of a firearm if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the minor came into possession of such firearm because of the failure of the civil defendant to reasonably secure the firearm.

Common interest communities; foreclosure remedy. Prohibits a common interest community association from conducting a foreclosure sale on a lien for unpaid assessments totaling less than $5,000, excluding interest and attorney fees. Current law does not place a limit on the amount of assessments that must be unpaid before a common interest community association may conduct a foreclosure sale on a lien for any such unpaid assessments. The bill also limits interest charged on such unpaid assessments to an annual rate of six percent and prohibits any bill to enforce a lien from being entertained upon such property if the assessments are less than $5,000. Current law prohibits any bill to enforce a lien from being entertained if such real estate is the judgment debtor’s primary residence unless the judgment exceeds $25,000.

Commercial motor vehicles; driving in left-most lane. Limits the locations where a person may drive a commercial motor vehicle in the left-most lane from those interstate highways having more than two lanes in each direction with a posted speed limit of less than 65 miles per hour to those interstate highways having more than two lanes in each direction with a posted speed limit of less than 55 miles per hour.

Exception to stopping requirement; bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or motorized skateboard or scooter. Authorizes the operator of a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or motorized skateboard or scooter to yield instead of stop at an intersection of two highways controlled by a stop sign.

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