If you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged after any kind of traffic accident in West Virginia, now is probably a good time to understand your legal options. In this article, we'll discuss a number of state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make in West Virginia, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting a crash.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.
(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
Now, onto the law in West Virginia, where the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all lawsuits arising from a vehicle accident can be found at West Virginia Code section 55-2-12. This law gives you two years to ask West Virginia's civil court system for a remedy for any kind of personal injury or property damage caused by someone else.
So, that means any lawsuit over car accident injuries or damage to a vehicle or other property -- by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, pedestrian, or property owner affected by the crash -- will be subject to this two-year filing deadline, and the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
If anyone was killed as a result of the car accident, West Virginia Code section 55-7-6 also sets a two-year statute of limitations deadline for any wrongful death claim that might be brought by the deceased person's family. But it's important to keep in mind that for these kinds of claims, the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident victim's death (as opposed to the date of the accident itself).
A follow-up question might be, "What happens if I try to file my West Virginia car accident lawsuit after the statute of limitations deadline has passed?" In that situation, you can count on the person you're trying to sue (that's the defendant) asking the court to dismiss the case, and the court granting the dismissal. That's why it's crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation.
Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced West Virginia car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a West Virginia car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?
Under West Virginia Code section 55-7-13c, the state follows a modified "comparative negligence" rule. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence -- and importantly, your share of liability must not be "greater than the combined fault of all other persons responsible for the total amount of damages" in order for you to recover from other at-fault parties. You can't be more than 50 percent at fault, in other words. If you are, you can't receive any compensation in court.
For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $10,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $10,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $1,000, leaving you with a total award of $9,000.
The comparative negligence rule binds West Virginia judges and juries (if your car accident case winds its way to trial), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
According to West Virginia Code section 17C-4-6, the driver of any vehicle involved in a crash that results in injury or death, or that causes total property damage to an apparent extent of $1,000 or more, must "immediately by the quickest means of communication" (by cell phone call, for example) give notice of the crash to:
For more details on driver's obligations after different kinds of traffic incidents in West Virginia, check out the full text of West Virginia Code Chapter 17C Article 4.
In almost every West Virginia car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on West Virginia's car insurance rules.