Recent law won’t affect case of man billed decades after crash

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — A Suffolk man was recently contacted by a Virginia Department of Transportation collections agency to pay for guardrail damage caused during a 1985 vehicle crash. On Friday, 10 On Your Side sat down with a local attorney to look at the legal perspective of the case.

Carl Alexander told the crash happened while he was driving on I-264 East in Portsmouth. He said he was run off the road by a drunk driver, who was arrested and faced charges 30 years ago. Alexander was found to not be at fault.

“Here it is 30 years later, and you’re telling me about something that I wasn’t even responsible for,” Alexander said. “I was floored.”

Alexander does not plan to pay the bill, which is estimated between $200 and $300. He said he is willing to go to court and bring people who witnessed the original incident.

Fault aside, many have questioned whether VDOT is legally able to collect for these damages, due to the amount of time that has passed. There is a statute of limitations that relates to damaged property and car accidents, but that law didn’t take effect until July 2014. Here’s that section of the Code of Virginia:

E. Every action for injury to property brought by the Commonwealth against a tort-feasor for expenses arising out of the negligent operation of a motor vehicle shall be brought within five years after the cause of action accrues.

All cases that happened before July 2014 — like Alexander’s 30-year-old case — can still be pursued by the state.

“If there is a cause of action or a claim arising, it doesn’t affect cases that go backwards,” said Tim Anderson, a Virginia Beach attorney. “And the legislature didn’t put a retroactive provision on the statute.”

Anderson told the statute of limitations for damaged property in the Code of Virginia won’t impact Alexander’s case.

“He’s not without remedy,” Anderson explained. “He has defenses he can still raise. But, from a statute of limitations, he would not be able to rely on this new law that went into effect last year.”

In court, Anderson said Alexander could likely plead a doctrine of laches, which is an argument claiming there was an unreasonable delay to take action.

VDOT spokeswoman Marshall Herman spoke generally about the case involving Alexander because she was unable to access his exact account. She said cases like Alexander’s are sent to the collections agency when multiple attempts are made to locate and bill a person with outstanding debt.

To view the original WAVY News report on this story, click here.

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