Common Questions About Personal Injury, Family Law, and Criminal Defense in Virginia
Do you have questions about how Virginia laws apply to your situation or what you can do to reach your legal goals after an accident, arrest, or divorce? Our experienced attorneys in Fairfax answer some of the most frequently asked questions from clients here. If you don’t see the answer to your question here, or if you need more information about your rights, reach out to us today at 877-652-1553.
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What are some common defenses for a DUI charge?
Drunk driving is one of the most common offenses committed, but offenders aren’t caught every time. In fact, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that the average offender drives under the influence over 80 times before an arrest. However, if you’ve been pulled over and charged with driving under the influence (DUI), it’s important you understand the defenses a lawyer can use in your case and the possible penalties you face.
You Can Challenge Your DUI/DWI Charges
Virginia comes down hard on those who choose to drive drunk, and if you’ve been arrested, you may be worried about your future. Although the consequences of a DUI/DWI conviction are serious, an experienced lawyer can challenge the charges—potentially minimizing the penalties. Possible defenses an attorney can use include:
- Challenging blood, urine, and breath tests. The police officer conducts these field tests to determine sobriety. However, some officers don’t follow proper test administration protocol, their machines may not be calibrated correctly, or the results of a test may not be accurate. This can be due to the food you’ve eaten, medications you take, and how recently you’ve had an alcoholic beverage.
- Challenging the officer’s reasonable suspicion. The officer’s description of suspicious behaviors is a large portion of the evidence against a person charged with a DUI. For example, if the officer says you were swerving, speeding, or reacting slowly, you can find witnesses to testify that you were driving defensively, following the rules, or didn’t drink at all before driving. This could potentially render that portion of the evidence irrelevant.
- Challenging the administration and submission of field sobriety tests. Police use field sobriety tests (FSTs) to determine whether probable cause exists for an arrest. However, officers must carefully follow specific protocols to meet the testing standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s possible to argue that an officer didn’t take the correct steps or perform the test accurately. Additionally, one unreliable FST is called the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test, in which an officer asks the suspect to follow the horizontal movements of an object with her eyes. If the suspect’s eyes jump suddenly, it’s supposed to be evidence of drunkenness. However, because an officer is not a medical professional and cannot reliably establish baseline eye movements, it’s improper for him to interpret the results as evidence.
- Challenging the location of the stop. The prosecution must be able to show with solid evidence that the county or city in which you were stopped is the same government entity bringing the charges against you. If they cannot do this, the charges are irrelevant.
- Challenging the suspect’s involvement. If an officer did not actually pull you over but arrived at the scene of an accident after you’d already exited the vehicle, the officer and prosecution must show evidence that you were actually driving before he arrived. If they cannot supply evidence to show this, the charges may be dropped.
- Offering alternative explanations for your behavior. What police consider to be tell-tale signs of drunkenness can often be explained by other causes. For example, you may have failed to walk in a straight line because of a twisted ankle; your eyes may have been bloodshot because of your contacts; you may have slurred your speech because of a medication you take; or you may have been confused by the officer’s instructions. Explaining the correct cause of your behaviors can help poke holes in the case against you.
Virginia Is Strict on DUI/DWI Offenses
Virginia law is tough on DUIs, even for a first offense, for which the penalties could include license suspension or revocation, fines, and a recorded DUI on your criminal record. However, if you’re arrested on a second, third, or fourth offense, the penalties increase. Fines could double or triple, you could face mandatory jail time, and you could lose your license permanently.
If You’ve Been Charged With a DUI
Since Virginia is harsh on DUI/DWI offenders, it’s crucial you don’t attempt to handle your case on your own or simply accept penalties without a defense. An experienced lawyer can help answer your questions and walk you through the process of eliminating or downgrading your DUI conviction. The legal team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi can do just that. Call us at 877-652-1553.
What is a guardian ad litem?
The Virginia State Bar (VSB) defines a guardian ad litem (GAL) as “a guardian, usually a lawyer, appointed by the court to appear in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor party.” During your divorce and child custody case, it’s important to understand what a GAL does, his duties, when one is appointed, and why he’s needed.
Understanding the Role of a Guardian Ad Litem
Usually, Virginia family courts prefer not to hear testimony directly from a child, as it can place undue stress on both child and parents. So, a GAL is a court-appointed representative, advocate, and objective observer to speak on behalf of a child in court. However, the duties of a GAL include more than speaking for the child.
Outside the courtroom, a GAL must thoroughly investigate to determine the best interests of the child. Because child custody cases can place stress on every member of a family, a GAL serves to displace some of that stress by assisting the court in making an informed custody decision. A GAL does this by:
- Conducting interviews with the child. Although it’s possible a judge may not honor a child’s wishes, she will take into account what the child wants. A GAL can help family courts decide what’s in a child’s best interests by asking that child about her impression of her parents, her relationship with her parents, how she lives, and how she likes her environment.
- Conducting interviews with the parents. Through this interview, a GAL attempts to get a complete picture of the child’s relationship with each parent. A parent may be asked to describe his relationship with the child, his parenting style, his relationship with the other parent, and the child’s daily routine. GALs hope not to hear either parent speak poorly of the other.
- Conducting interviews with other involved adults. What teachers, pastors, babysitters, and extended family members see is also important to a GAL. These perspectives are an important component of gaining a complete picture of each parent’s relationship with the child.
- Making home visits. Seeing a child in each home environment—with each parent, in her room, and going about her daily routine—is an invaluable piece for building a recommendation for the court.
- Investigating reported problems. If there are any accusations of neglect or abuse, a GAL must investigate these by conducting interviews with family members, speaking with police, and asking the child.
When Does a Court Appoint a Guardian Ad Litem?
Since the duty of a GAL is to step in and provide an objective picture of what may best benefit the child, the court appoints a GAL to a case most commonly when:
- A child has experienced neglect or abuse
- Parents cannot agree on what’s best for the child
- A parent wants to relinquish custody
- A child files for emancipation
- Other instances in which a court feels the child needs better representation
In some cases, it could be prudent for one parent to request the representation of a GAL, since his findings might align with the wishes of that parent. For example, if you want custody to keep your child safe from an abusive ex, a GAL might be able to find evidence that would support your case.
How Should Parents Interact With a Guardian Ad Litem?
If a GAL becomes involved in your cases, treat her with respect. Her opinion of you could directly affect custody proceedings. Here are a few pointers for engaging with a court-appointed GAL:
- When she requests documents or information, be prompt in getting this material to her
- Speak in an even, respectful tone
- Do not speak poorly of your spouse in her presence
- Work with your attorney to develop complete, accurate answers to her questions prior to the interview
- Be engaged with your child
Getting Legal Help
If you need help in your child custody suit or have more questions about the GAL appointed to your case, the legal team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi can help. We’ve served our community and worked with families for decades, and we’re available now to speak with you. Start a live online chat on our website to speak with a member of our team.
What should I do if a dog bites me?
Dog bites are not uncommon, especially for children and senior citizens. Each year, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). If you or a loved one has suffered a dog bite, it’s important you understand Virginia law concerning dog bites, what you should do after suffering one, and how a Fairfax dog bite lawyer can help you if you decide to seek damages.
Virginia Dog Bite Laws
Virginia operates under what’s called the “one bite rule.” This holds a dog owner liable for any damages his dog causes if he knows that the dog has bitten someone before and is likely to cause harm to another person or dog. This rule also applies if an owner knows his dog has previously caused injury from jumping.
Negligence “Per Se” Rule
If a dog does not have a history of biting or jumping but causes someone injury, the victim can still attempt to seek compensation under the rule of negligence “per se.” This is defined as “a negligent act that violates a law that has been designed to protect the public.” A plaintiff must be able to prove negligence on the part of the owner who had a duty to reasonably restrain the dog but failed to do so properly. For example, if a dog was off the leash at a public park and bit someone, the victim may pursue damages by trying to prove negligence.
The Statute of Limitations
In Virginia, any claim filed against a dog’s owner must be filed within the time limit set by the statute of limitations. For all personal injury claims in Virginia, including dog bites, the claim must be filed within the two years following the date the injury occurred.
What to Do Following a Dog Bite
As with any personal injury, you should take a few important steps following the incident. These include:
- Record important information. After a dog bites you, get the owner’s name, phone number, address, insurance information (usually a homeowner’s policy), and email address, as well as the dog’s name, breed, age, and weight. In addition, record the time of the attack, and cite whether or not the dog was restrained.
- Call law enforcement. Asking the police or animal control to investigate the incident serves to record further information. This will assist you when it comes time to file a personal injury claim.
- Refrain from apology. It’s important to say as little as possible, except for what helps you gain information. If you apologize, even out of habit or as a courtesy, it may affect your claim and fault later.
- Document the incident. If you can, take pictures, record witness statements with your phone, and get contact information from any witness. If you’re too badly injured and someone is with you, ask her to document while you seek medical attention.
- Seek immediate medical attention. Right after a bite, see a doctor. Not only does this show insurance companies and a court that you take your injury seriously, a doctor visit reduces the chance that you’ll suffer a serious infection or further injury later on.
- Find legal help. A dog owner may adopt a number of defenses—for example, saying a bite victim provoked the dog in some way—and you may need experienced legal help to win fair compensation for your injury.
- Stay quiet on social media. Although it may be difficult, refraining from posting on social media and talking to friends or adjustors about the incident will help your claim. Insurance adjusters perform online and in-person surveillance to determine whether or not your claim is legitimate.
Trustworthy Fairfax, VA Dog Bite Lawyers to Help Your Claim
If you or someone you love suffered injuries from a dog bite, you may have questions about if or how you should proceed with filing a personal injury claim. The legal team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi can evaluate your case, help you understand the law, and advise you on your next steps. To speak with a member of our Fairfax dog bite lawyers today, give us a call at 877-652-1553.
What should I do if I’m injured in a rideshare car accident?
Ridesharing is a relatively new option for paid car travel. According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of American adults have used a ridesharing app to get to a location. However, since ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft implement a different business model than a taxi service, you may wonder how to legally handle your injuries and damages if you’re involved in an accident with a rideshare driver.
What Is Ridesharing?
When you choose to rideshare, you use a smartphone app to hire an often privately owned vehicle to pick you up and drop you off at a designated location. This app arranges the ride by matching independently contracted drivers with riders. This type of travel gained popularity in San Francisco, and now ridesharing has spread worldwide. Below are two of the most well-known and most-used ridesharing apps and how they work:
- Uber. You can use the Uber app to set your pick-up and drop-off locations, view pictures and ratings of available drivers and their vehicles, choose your ride, travel, pay, and then rate your driver—all with a few taps on your phone screen. Additionally, you can apply to drive for Uber to take home extra earnings.
- Lyft. Similar to Uber, Lyft employs a smartphone app to let people find and guarantee a ride from a rated and pictured driver. Offering four different levels of vehicle, Lyft touts a simple “Request, Ride, Pay” model through the app.
People use ridesharing apps for the same reasons others use taxis, including needing a ride after drinking too much or needing a ride home from the airport. However, ridesharing apps offer the opportunity to guarantee a ride (instead of trying to hail one from the sidewalk) in a well-rated car with a well-rated driver.
How Ridesharing Insures Accidents
Both Uber and Lyft use commercial insurance, much like taxi companies. The maximum liability coverage for each is $1 million, which is much higher than minimum requirements even in major cities of the U.S. such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Although this may sound like enough coverage, what really matters is how an accident occurred.
If Your Driver Was Not at Fault
If you’re a passenger in a rideshare vehicle, and another driver causes an accident, for both Uber and Lyft, available insurance coverage includes:
- The other driver’s insurance and liability limits
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage up to $1 million
- Personal injury policy
If Your Driver Was at Fault
If your selected driver makes a mistake while on duty on the road and causes an accident, available insurance coverages for both Uber and Lyft have a liability limit of $1 million.
If You Were Hit by a Rideshare Driver
If you were operating your own car, motorcycle, or bicycle—or perhaps just walking—and an on-duty Uber or Lyft driver hits your vehicle, the $1 million liability coverage will apply. However, if a rideshare driver injures you in an accident while off duty, he must rely on his personal liability coverages with his own insurance company. Since rideshare drivers are independent contractors, they are totally separate from the company when driving on their own time.
What to Do If You’ve Been Injured in a Rideshare Accident
As with any accident, it’s important to gather important information to assist with the claim that will most likely follow. In the event you’re in an accident involving an Uber or a Lyft driver, it’s important you follow through with:
- Obtaining the rideshare driver’s name, insurance information, and license plate
- Obtaining the same from any other drivers involved
- Taking photos of the accident scene, your injuries, and property damage
- Requesting the contact information of any witnesses to the crash
- Reporting the crash to law enforcement
- Reporting the crash to either Uber’s or Lyft’s customer service lines
- Seeking immediate medical attention for injuries
- Calling an attorney to handle your case
Get Trusted Legal Help from Our Personal Injury Attorneys
If you’ve been injured in a rideshare car accident, the car accident attorneys of Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi is available to walk you through your case and answer questions. We proudly serve Fairfax and all of Northern Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C. and Maryland. Please contact us by starting a live online chat on our website.
Will posting details of my car accident to social media hurt my case?
In the past decade alone, social media has changed the way people communicate. Most Americans use social media to stay in touch with family, politics, and the workforce. And it’s not just in big cities, where 64 percent of residents have accounts. According to the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of those in rural areas use social media, too. With sharing, liking, and commenting so common, it’s no surprise that insurance companies now use social media posts as a strategy to discredit car accident injury cases. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, it’s important to know how to use social media and how posting could eventually lower your compensation.
Social Media Posts Hurt Your Legal Claim for Compensation
It’s become a normal practice for people to post any detail of life to social media. After an accident, it might be your first instinct to let those in your network know what happened, but that would be unwise. Increasingly, insurance companies are using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as a way to limit payments to injury victims. Often, insurers and insurance agents can use the following to question the legitimacy of your injury:
- Photos. After an accident, the insurance company may look for photos posted on social media that show you engaging in physical activity, out late for dancing or a drink, or even doing housework to cast doubt on your claim.
- Videos. As with photos, insurance companies want to find any reason to say that your injury isn’t as severe as you say. Videos are unique because they show an injury victim in action, and the events can be skewed to support an argument that you can actually walk just fine or that your neck doesn’t appear to be injured.
- Text posts. After an accident, you want people to know you and your passengers survived. However, turning to social media and updating your status is a bad idea. Insurance companies can use a text post such as “Was in a car accident—everyone is OK” to undercut the validity of your injuries.
- Check-ins. Again, insurers look for any evidence that you’re better than you say, so checking in to restaurants, a mini-golf course, a walking trail, or any other location is a bad idea.
- Activity history. Not only do insurance agents look at your activity on social media after the accident, they could also rummage through the past. There, an insurer might find evidence that you drink irresponsibly, use your phone while you drive, or engage in otherwise dangerous behavior.
Don’t Post on Social Media to Protect Your Claim
Although smartphone apps and online connections make social media a large part of everyday life, it’s important to maximize the worth of your claim during the time after an injury and before a payout. To do this:
- Don’t post at all. No photos. Not videos. No check-ins. If you can manage, don’t even log on to scroll through feeds.
- Ask friends and family not to post. Sometimes, friends and family members will tag you in their photos, status updates, or check-ins and hurt your injury claim.
- Change your privacy settings. Change your privacy settings to “private,” so only friends can view your profile and posts. If you get friend requests from the polite insurance adjustor you spoke with on the phone, deny it—and deny any requests you get from people you don’t know.
- Get extreme. The adage “better safe than sorry” applies here: consider deleting all your social media accounts if you can deal with doing so. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will always be there when you get back, and you can save important memories and photos to your computer.
If you insist on posting, keep to the facts. Don’t let emotion interfere with your chances for a fair recovery. Don’t go on rants because you’re angry, and don’t mention your physical condition. Finally, if you’ve reached a settlement agreement, remember to keep it confidential.
After a Car Accident Injury, You Need Legal Assistance
Car accident injury claims can be complicated and involve intense negotiation. If you’ve been injured, you need the help of a trusted personal injury attorney. The team at Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi can guide you through the process of your accident claim and help you build a strong case.
From our office headquarters in Fairfax, we serve all of Northern Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland. To ask questions or learn more about your case, contact us by starting a live online chat on our website.
What are the minimum car insurance requirements in Virginia?
To register a motor vehicle in most states, proof of insurance is required. The minimum requirements for adequate insurance coverage can vary by jurisdiction. In Virginia, this requirement is liability coverage, which covers the costs of injuries and damages of the other individuals in cases in which you are at fault.
Along with liability coverage, Virginia also mandates that drivers have uninsured or underinsured coverage for a collision in which another party is at fault and does not have enough or any insurance to cover injuries or damages.
This minimum coverage for both of these insurance types is the same and includes:
- One person - $25,000 in injuries
- Two or more people - $50,000 in injuries
- Property damages - $20,000
If you are not able to acquire the minimum insurance for your motor vehicle, the state of Virginia offers an uninsured motor fee for the amount of $500, which allows you to drive insurance-free for up to 12 months. However, this fee does not cover any injuries or damages caused by you or another driver, and you will be fully accountable for covering these costs if you are at fault for an accident. Those who wish to utilize the uninsured motor fee for only a brief amount of time may have their fees prorated.
Penalties for Failing to Meet the Requirements
The Department of Motor Vehicles of Virginia monitors insurance standings through an electronic insurance verification procedure. If you do not meet the minimum insurance requirements and have not paid the uninsured motor fee, you may be subject to suspension of your:
- Driver’s license
- License plates
- Vehicle registration
In order to restore driving and registration privileges, you must pay a $500 fee, file a report (SR-22) that proves you have adequate insurance coverage, and pay to reissue your driver’s license. In these cases, the SR-22 proof of insurance report cannot be satisfied by the uninsured motor fee, and the minimum vehicle insurance requirements must be met.
How Fault Is Determined
Virginia is a fault state, so if you are found to be even partially responsible for an accident, you are considered to be at fault. It’s important to know that liability insurance only covers medical costs and damages for the other party when you cause an accident but does not cover the costs of injuries or property damages you receive when you are at fault. Consequently, you may want to consider purchasing an insurance plan that covers more than the minimum liability coverage. Similarly, if you are driving with no insurance and have paid the uninsured motor fee, you will be responsible for covering injury and damage costs for both yourself and the other party and might benefit from full automotive insurance coverage.
In short, the safest protocol is to seek insurance options that cover your own medical and property expenses, as well as damages and medical bills for the other party. Keep in mind that if you don’t purchase overall coverage, you may end up with large medical and car repair bills. Full coverage can also protect your assets when you are in an accident with uninsured or underinsured drivers who are unable to pay the price for medical and property damages, even if it is 100 percent their fault.
Our Expert Lawyers Are Here to Help
There is a time limit to file a law suit after an accident, both for the courts and the insurance companies, so it is important to file a claim quickly and begin settling your claim before time runs out. In the event of a collision, you may want to seek legal advice right away, as even partial fault could cause you to lose your claim. If you are involved in an accident and are struggling with an insurance claim, feel free to reach out to us for a consultation today.
What Recourse is Available Following a Fatal Car Accident?
Most accidents involving a motor vehicle tend to be between two or more different motor vehicles. Car accidents, truck accidents and motorcycle accidents certainly make up the majority of motor vehicle accidents, but pedestrian accidents are still common enough to be concerning. When a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle, that pedestrian is often lucky to survive, and will almost certainly suffer serious injuries.
Understand The Rights Of A Pedestrian
Because pedestrian accidents are less common than other types of accidents, they are understandably less understood. Few people know the rights of pedestrians in such accidents, and they certainly do not know common causes and how they can prove fault in the incident. Fortunately, there are many resources available online for victims of pedestrian accidents to learn more about these awful accidents.
Having a great understanding about pedestrian's rights when walking along or across the road can give you a better idea of what might have caused the accident and who was truly at fault. Learning more about the common causes can help you identify what contributed to your accident, and it may even help you develop a complete series of events, which you can then use to prove to the courts how the accident occurred and who was at fault.
Fairfax Pedestrian Accident Attorneys Can Help
Of course, this is a great deal of effort for someone who was recently involved in a pedestrian accident to go through. If a pedestrian accident victim is too injured or too distraught to do the legal legwork, they should know that they can find other forms of legal assistance. Consulting with the pedestrian accident attorneys of Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC can also help you understand legal information about pedestrian accidents, and a thorough investigation can help make a solid case to prove that you were not at fault in the accident. This can see you compensated for your injuries. If you have any questions, call 703-691-8333 today to schedule your free consultation.