Vermont Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Vermont’s 75 or so traffic deaths a year put it in about the middle of U.S. states in terms of road safety on a “risk per person” basis. The basic features of the Vermont legal system governing traffic safety and compensation for injury and death appear below.

Statute of Limitations: In Vermont, you have three years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit for personal injury or property damage. To sue for the death of a road accident victim, you have three years from (i) the date of the victim’s death (ii) the date of the defendant’s return to Vermont (if he was out of state) or (iii) the date of a criminal conviction arising out of the accident; or 7 years from the date that criminal charges were filed, if conviction was delayed or if the defendant is acquitted in criminal court, depending on the circumstances.  

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: Vermont is a “comparative fault” state. If the victim shares fault for the accident, under Vermont’s “comparative fault” system, the court will award him the remainder of his damages after deducting an amount that reflects his own percentage of fault, as long as he was less than 51 percent at fault for the accident. If he was 51 percent or more at fault, he will recover nothing.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Vermont is a “fault” auto accident state – an injured victim can immediately file a claim against the at-fault party’s insurance policy, or file a lawsuit for money damages.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: The minimum auto liability insurance coverage allowed under Vermont law is $25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 per injury accident and $10,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Vermont requires its motorists to purchase uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage with policy limits of no less than $50,000 per injured victim, $100,000 per injury accident and $10,000 for property damage, with a $150 deductible.

Types of Damages Available: Full compensatory damages are available. In some cases punitive damages are also available. Vermont imposes no statutory limits on damages.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available, but damages can be reduced or eliminated based on comparative fault principles.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Lawsuits against the state government are subject to a damages limit of $500,000 per victim and $2 million per accident.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: In Vermont, all motorcycle riders must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants of a vehicle must buckle up. The maximum fine for a first offense is $25. The offense is secondary for occupants 18 or older – the officer cannot ticket you for this offense unless he stopped you for some other reason (such as running a stop sign).

Dram Shop Law: Alcohol vendors in Vermont can be sued by injured third parties for serving alcohol to underage patrons or clearly inebriated adults, if the person they serve later injures the third party due to intoxication. Social hosts face similar liability, but only for serving underage drinkers.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): In Vermont you can be incarcerated for up to two years for a first-offense DWI. You can also be fined up to $750, and your driver’s license can be suspended for 90 days.

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: Refusing to submit to a breath, blood or urine test as a DUI suspect can result in a six-month driver’s license suspension, but will not necessarily prevent a DWI conviction. A third refusal results in a lifetime driver’s license revocation.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Using hand-held electronic devices and texting while driving are both banned in Vermont. Drivers under 18 are banned from using even hands-free cell phones while driving.