Here’s how Vermont handles liability and insurance after a car accident
Vermont is known for beautiful forests and trails, along with being a destination for skiers of all abilities. It’s home to popular breweries, the Bennington Revolutionary War battle monument, the Lincoln family home, and the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory and Cabot Creamery cheesemakers.
Vermont is about 119 miles wide and stretches about 360 miles from the Vermont border to Canada. Vermont is the sixth smallest state by total area but the eighth smallest by land area.
Despite its size, Vermont has several interstate highways (I-89, I-91, I-93, I-189 and I-289), several mainlines and several routes. The state is full of twisty country roads through bucolic settings.
But, some of this comes with a price—like anywhere, Vermont has its share of car accidents.
Vermont car accident statistics
According to the Vermont Highway Safety Plan Annual Report for 2021, the number of traffic fatalities has increased since 2014 but the number of serious injuries has decreased:
Here’s a breakdown of reported traffic fatalities by the type of accident or victim:
Vermont car accident laws
Vermont is an “at-fault” state (also called a tort state). The person who is responsible for causing a car accident must pay the costs for other involved people’s injuries and property damage.
If you were injured in a Vermont car accident, you’ll need to pursue damages (payment) from the other driver’s insurance if the other driver was at fault.
The crucial factor in recovering compensation for a Vermont car accident is determining who was at fault.
Vermont modified comparative fault rule
Vermont is a modified comparative fault state. It follows the 51% rule, which means that for a plaintiff (injured person) to recover any damages, they must be less than 51% at fault for the accident.
If I didn’t cause the accident, how could I be at fault?
The insurance company (or the court) could determine that even though you didn’t cause the accident, you could have reacted differently in a way that would have prevented the accident from happening.
Here’s an example: You met a friend for a picnic lunch in Hubbard Park in Montpelier. You’re exiting the park by making a right on Parkway Street. A driver who is unfamiliar with the area is driving up Winter Street toward the park entrance. He realizes that Winter Street has ended and he’s about to enter the park—which he didn’t want to do. He makes an abrupt left onto Parkway Street just before entering the park. He’s speeding and is much too fast for the narrow roads and the sharp turn. Nevertheless, he takes a fast left and collides with you as you’re making a right.
It was not disputed that the other driver caused the accident—he was driving recklessly fast for the type of road and took a sharp turn without looking where he was going. But, his insurance company maintains that you should have seen him coming around the bend and braked in time to avoid the collision. The insurer determines that he was 90% liable and you were 10% liable for the crash.
If that’s the case, any damage award you would receive would be reduced by 10%. For example, if expenses for your injuries totaled $50,000, then you would receive a damage award of $45,000.
Vermont accident reporting requirement and statute of limitations
If you were involved in a crash where the total damage to all property equals $3,000 or more, or if a person is injured, you’re required to make a report to the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles within 72 hours of the crash. However, if a police report is recorded at the scene, it will usually fulfill your reporting requirement.
When an injured person needs to file a lawsuit over a Vermont car accident claim, they must do so within three years after the date of the accident. However, if the survivors of a person who dies in a car accident decide to file a wrongful death claim, it must be within two years of the person’s date of death.
Vermont law requires any person involved in a car accident to stop their vehicle. If the vehicle is in traffic, you may pull to the side of the road or into a safe area. Provide reasonable assistance to anyone involved in the crash if you’re able to do so.
You must provide all involved individuals with the following information:
- Driver’s license number
- Vehicle owner information and registration
If you fail to stop or provide this information, you could be charged with a hit and run.
Vermont car insurance laws
|The state of Vermont requires the following car insurance:|
|$25,000||Bodily injury liability for one person|
|$50,000||Bodily injury liability for two or more people|
|$10,000||Property damage liability|
Recovering damages after a car accident
A Vermont car accident claim could include both economic and non-economic damages.
Personal injury lawsuits are intended to make the plaintiff (injured person) whole. While no lawsuit will help you recover physically, the idea is to restore you to the financial condition you’d be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
In other words, if your 15-year-old mid-range sedan is totaled, you’d be able to recover the market value of the car based on estimates from common sources like Kelley Blue Book. The lawsuit would not compensate you for property damage above the estimated value of your vehicle such as a brand-new luxury SUV.
Likewise, you can receive damages to cover medical costs that include things like a hospital stay, doctor’s visits, diagnostics like X-rays or MRIs, prescription medication, or other expenses related to the accident. An accident might leave you feeling annoyed or inconvenienced, but with economic damages you can only claim things that cost you money.
However, if your injuries were severe and resulted in pain and suffering or other emotional distress, you can receive additional compensation. Attorneys and courts have formulas that assign a financial value based on how the accident has affected your life, including emotional anguish. These are considered non-economic damages because they don’t have immediate financial value, but they can be calculated and included in a damage award.
10 most common causes of car accidents
- Distracted driving. Distracted driving is a serious problem. As people become increasingly dependent on cell phones for maps, podcasts, music, traffic reports, and other functions, there is a stronger pull to check their phones. But you should never, ever handle your phone or any electronic device while driving. Also, distraction can include eating, passenger behavior, personal grooming, or any other behavior that takes your mind, eyes or hands off driving.
- Drunk driving. You’re not allowed to drive if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher. Being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or some medications can severely affect your driving and raises your risk of causing an accident. If the driver is under the age of 21, they are considered legally drunk in Vermont if their BAC is .02 or higher.
- Aggressive driving. You’ve likely heard of “road rage,” which is when a person becomes so angry at another person that they might bully or physically harm someone on purpose because they’re annoyed. But there are other kinds of aggressive driving that don’t necessarily involve anger at a specific individual. Some drivers might be impatient and speed or swerve around cyclists or cars they think are going too slowly, make unsafe lane changes, or behave recklessly in some other way that could result in an accident.
- Speeding. Sometimes speeding is aggressive, and sometimes it is just carelessness. You might speed because you’re in a hurry or running late, but you shouldn’t. Speeding doesn’t get you to your destination any faster if you crash or get a ticket. And when you speed, you have less time to react to a traffic situation in front of you and less time to stop if necessary.
- Reckless driving. Similar to aggressive driving, reckless driving is any kind of action behind the wheel that’s unsafe. It might be speeding, weaving, dodging other cars, failure to stop at lights or stop signs, or any other number of reckless driving practices that break road rules or are unsafe.
- Inexperienced drivers. Your teenager might be the most responsible kid around, and they might care a lot about following road rules, driving at the correct speed, heeding stop lights and signs, and doing everything “right.” But younger drivers are inexperienced. That lack of experience could cause even the most careful driver to misjudge the speed of an oncoming car, poorly execute a turn, or make another mistake that results in an accident. And, some teenagers are more likely to take risks than an older driver would. Statistically, younger male drivers are most likely to make risky driving decisions.
- Tailgating. Tailgating is when a driver follows too closely behind the driver in front of them. Some tailgating is aggressive, but sometimes it happens because someone isn’t paying attention or simply doesn’t see the practice as dangerous. When traveling 55 mph, you should leave 16 car lengths (which is about 243 feet) between your vehicle and the car in front of you. Tailgating is dangerous because when you’re too close to another vehicle, you don’t have enough time to stop if you need to do so quickly. No car can stop on a dime, even if you react quickly. And, even if you stop very fast, there’s no guarantee that the driver behind you will be able to do so. As a result, tailgating can result in chain-reaction accidents.
- Weather conditions. Vermont is no stranger to severe weather — ice, snow, wind, and other conditions are a regular part of our life. When the weather is extreme, it’s best to stay off the roads when you can. But when that’s not practical or realistic, exercise caution and drive slowly.
- Failure to obey traffic laws. Traffic laws are more than just stopping at red lights. Following the speed limit, staying in your lane, passing bicyclists safely, and yielding to pedestrians are just a few of the many necessary aspects to driving responsibly. Be familiar with the traffic laws in your local area and state, and obey them at all times to reduce your risk of a collision.
- Failure to stop at a red light or stop sign. Although stopping for stop signs and traffic lights are part of following traffic rules, they’re also among the ones drivers break most often. Even if you think you’re driving through a “quiet” intersection, you must stop completely at stop signs and lights.
What to do after a car accident in Vermont
- STOP. Vermont law requires you to stop at the scene of any collision, no matter how minor. Failure to stop and provide your contact and insurance information at the scene can result in criminal hit-and-run charges. You can pull your car off the road and out of traffic if no one is seriously injured. Never attempt to move a seriously injured person.
- Call 911. It’s always a good idea to call the police when a collision occurs. A police report serves as valuable evidence that can be helpful to your insurance claim or lawsuit.
- Seek medical attention. Even if you don’t feel injured, visit a doctor or hospital anyway as soon as possible following a collision. Some car accident injuries like whiplash and head injuries could have symptoms that don’t appear for days or weeks after the accident. If you don’t have an immediate medical assessment of your condition, it can be difficult to prove that a later injury is related to the accident.
- Obtain witness information. In the moment, you don’t need to think about gathering witness statements. But it is important to be able to reach those people later. A well-meaning bystander might wait to make sure help has arrived or to see if everyone is okay and then leave the scene, figuring there’s no reason to stick around. But if anyone at the scene observed the accident — or the period leading up to it — they might have important, relevant information that can help with your case. Write down each person’s name, phone number, email address, and mailing address if possible.
You might also check to see if any surveillance cameras captured the crash on video. Many businesses and residences are equipped with cameras these days. If the accident happened somewhere that’s close to a business or home, you might be able to recover that footage. But be quick — most businesses will delete camera footage within a short time if they don’t think there’s a reason to save it. If you think there might be worthwhile information there, notify the business right away so the footage from that time period can be saved.
- Take photos. Yes, a police report is important, but you’ve heard that a photo is worth a thousand words. If you’re not injured and are able to do so safely, take photos of the scene. Take pictures of the weather, any traffic signs or signals, the vehicles involved, other property damage, road markings, and anything else that might tell a story about how the accident happened and its aftermath. Don’t take photos of another person’s injuries, though, as this is an invasion of privacy (you may photograph your own injuries if you choose).
- Call your insurance company. A report isn’t the same as a claim. You don’t have to decide on the spot if you’re going to file a claim or not (you might decide to pay out of pocket, for instance). But if you don’t make a report immediately, you could lose the option to file a claim in the future if you decide that you want to. Many insurance companies have strict time limits on when you need to report the accident, whether or not you intend to file a claim. You only need to give them the basic information about the accident in order for it to be reported.
Finally, call a Vermont personal injury lawyer. These cases can be complicated. Even if you’re not pursuing a lawsuit, a lawyer can help you negotiate an insurance settlement so you receive what you need in compensation.
Refer to this list of free printable documents that are designed to help organize your needs after a car accident. Documents include:
Hurt in a car crash? You may find these resources helpful
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more