Legal Information Car Wrecks

In West Virginia, I-64, I-77, and I-79 are notorious for their heavy traffic loads, the amount of truck traffic, and the resulting number of accidents involving cars, trucks, motorcycles, coal-trucks, and tractor-trailers. Even though pedestrians are not permitted on the interstates, pedestrian accidents happen even on these roads, by as simple a cause as someone getting out of their car during a heavy traffic jam or to check the engine of a stalled vehicle.

Should you become involved in an accident on these roads, you should immediately report it to the local police and obtain contact information from all involved in the accident, as well as from any witnesses. If you are driving as an employee or independent contractor, you should also contact the company for whom you are driving. Failure to do any of these could weigh heavily against you in your claim. Finally, you should contact your insurance company, possibly after consulting a lawyer. Do not sign anything at the accident scene. Be careful not to commit to any statement which could be used by the insurance company to set limits on your claim until you are certain what damage and injuries are actually involved.

If injury is involved, go to a medical facility as soon as possible and have your injuries evaluated and documented. The most common injuries resulting from accidents are neck, back, and spinal injuries, which range from soft-tissue whiplash all the way to severe spinal cord damage causing paralysis. Most soft tissue damage is not visible on X-rays. Next most common is fracture of the collarbone, which is the seatbelt trade-off against much more serious injury. Throat injuries may result when a person under 5’4″ is wearing a shoulder belt.

West Virginia has minimum state liability laws, but they only come to $20,000 for personal injury per person to a maximum of $40,000, and $10,000 damage coverage. In any serious accident, odds are good that damage will far exceed this amount. An additional requirement in West Virginia law is uninsured/underinsured coverage to the same minimal limits. The tort system used by West Virginia means that West Virginia does not have a no-fault option, so who was responsible for the accident will matter for how your claim is resolved. In general, those found to be at fault in the accident are liable for all the costs of that accident. If one or more of the person(s) responsible for an accident was driving on behalf of a company at the time, that company may also be liable.

This tort system can create complications in payment whenever fault is not clear, and also when an insured driver or pedestrian is involved in a car wreck caused by an uninsured driver. Such cases as Hamric v. Doe (1997) and Mitchell v. Broadnax (2000) have established that the intent of the uninsured/underinsured clause is to protect policyholders, and that new exclusions could not be slipped into existing policies without a corresponding reduction in premiums. However, these and similar rulings have not stopped insurance companies from seeking an out whenever faced with having to pay for accidents where their client was not at fault but the responsible party happened to be uninsured or underinsured.

Several insurance companies have made it common practice to send out letters to their clients who have been involved in car wrecks that strongly recommend against hiring a lawyer. Common points made in the letter are that claims are settled faster without legal representation, that without a lawyer the client gets to keep the entire amount, and that a lawyer can always be hired later if the settlement offer is not acceptable. It is true that lawyers representing the client cost an insurance company an average of $9000 more per claim. It is also true that a major reason for this statistic is because the initial settlement offer will often not take into account the full cost of medical treatment, lost wages, and other losses resulting from injury. If the cause of the accident is in litigation or in any other way unclear, your insurance company may also delay offering a settlement until the case(s) are resolved. Such delay can be very costly to the client. Remember, once you have accepted a settlement check, it is very difficult to renegotiate.

For this reason, regardless of what an insurance company tells you, it is well worth your while to hire a lawyer to represent your interests for serious accidents, in all cases involving personal injury, and for every accident where fault is an issue. Most reputable lawyers will inform you, without charge, the reasonable value of your case and how long it is likely to take, how to cover your medical bills and treatment, and how to recoup the value of any lost wages.