Traffic Tickets – To Plea or Not to Plea
Your trucking company probably dispatches drivers into multiple states, or maybe even nationwide. During your drivers’ travels, accidents are going to happen. Sometimes your driver is at fault, and sometimes the other driver at fault. Other times, both drivers are at fault in the accident. No matter what, a traffic ticket is likely to follow. As you know, tractor-trailer accidents make your company a target for a potential lawsuit. Even a minor traffic accident may result in a major personal injury claim.
Is it worth it for you to incur the expense of helping your driver fight the traffic ticket? In Virginia, the answer is almost always YES.
Virginia Code §8.01-418 provides that a plea of guilty in a traffic case is admissible in a subsequent civil action. That means that if your driver pre-pays his traffic ticket fine or appears in court and pleads guilty (even to a reduced charge), that plea may be considered as an admission of negligence in the civil lawsuit that follows.
But what if your driver pleads no contest, the so-called nolo contender plea? In some other stats, the nolo contender plea (also called “pleading no contest”) is not admissible in a subsequent civil case as an admission of negligence. This is not true in Virginia. Here, a plaintiff may submit evidence of a no contest plea with the same suggestion that it is an admission of negligence by the defendant.
If your driver receives a traffic ticket, he or she should appear with counsel (or by counsel alone) to enter a “not guilty” plea at the traffic court hearing. Additionally, there are times where it may be appropriate for your driver to avoid testifying during the hearing. A savvy personal injury attorney may retain a court reporter for the hearing and use that testimony against your driver in the personal injury case that follows.
Immediate action following a trucking accident is crucial. A civil claim still may be two or more years away, but you need to put your company in the best position possible to address that claim now. This includes making sure the traffic charges do not come back to haunt your driver (and you as his or her employer).
The attorneys of Harman Claytor appear in courts throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. We are often called upon to assist the drivers of our trucking clients in defending traffic charges following an accident. When an accident does happen, our clients like us to be involved early so that we can make sure all necessary evidence is preserved, any actions that may compromise your defense are minimized, and so that we can build an early relationship with your driver that will continue through the resolution of any civil claim. If your driver has been involved in an accident, call us for immediate assistance.