Motor vehicle collisions are an unfortunate fact of life in West Virginia. No matter how cautious you might be as a driver, it just takes a moment for another motorist to cause a serious or even fatal car accident.
West Virginia is known for many things – rolling mountains, whitewater rivers, and rugged natural beauty. Unfortunately, it is also known for being one of the most dangerous states in the country to be a driver.
If you have been injured in a WV car accident, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver for your losses, from medical expenses and property damage to lost wages and pain and suffering. A skilled West Virginia car accident attorney can help you with the process, starting with a free consultation to learn about your rights and options for pursuing a claim.
When Can You File a Lawsuit for a West Virginia Car Crash?
In West Virginia, car accident lawsuits are a type of personal injury claim. Generally, these cases are based on a theory of negligence, which is the failure of a person to use the level of care that a reasonable person would use in a similar situation.
Negligence has four basic elements:
- Duty: the other driver (defendant) owed the injury victim (plaintiff) a duty of care.
- Breach: the defendant breached, or violated that duty.
- Causation: this breach was the proximate, or but for, cause of the accident (i.e., but for the violation, the crash would not have happened).
- Damages: the plaintiff suffered losses as a result.
Negligence can take many forms, such as:
- Texting while driving (in violation of WV law)
- Following too close
- Not paying attention
- Running a red light or a stop sign
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (DUI)
- Failing to look both ways before turning
If you can demonstrate that the other driver was negligent or reckless in some way and that their negligence caused your accident, then you may be able to recover from your full range of injuries.
For example, Mary was stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, she entered the intersection, when suddenly, she was t-boned by John’s car. John had run the red light and caused the crash. In this situation, John had a duty to follow WV traffic laws and violated that duty by running the red light. This was the proximate cause of the accident (if John hadn’t run the red light, the collision would not have happened), and Mary suffered losses (damages) as a result.
Importantly, you have a limited amount of time to file a car accident lawsuit in West Virginia. The WV statute of limitations is just two years from the date of the crash. If you don’t file a claim within this time period, then it will likely be barred. For this reason, it is important to schedule a consultation with a personal injury law firm as soon as possible after an accident.
How to File a Lawsuit for a West Virginia Car Accident
After a collision, you may be able to pursue a claim against the other driver’s insurance company. This process typically starts with your lawyer sending a demand letter to the car insurance company. In this letter, your attorney will set forth the facts of the car accident case, the reason why their insured is legally responsible, and make a demand for damages.
In a car accident claim, you may be entitled to three types of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic damages are meant to compensate you for direct financial losses. They may include things like medical bills, future medical treatment, lost wages, reduced earning capacity, and property damage.
By contrast, non-economic damages compensate injury victims for intangible losses. Examples of non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and scarring and disfigurement.
Finally, punitive damages are available in rare cases where the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. In-car accident cases involving negligence, punitive damages are typically not available. However, there are situations – such as drunk driving claims – where a jury may award punitive damages.
If your loved one died as a result of their car accident injuries, then you may pursue a wrongful death claim. Close family members – including a surviving spouse, children, parents and siblings, and other family members who were dependent on the person who died – may file this type of personal injury lawsuit. Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are slightly different, as they are based on the survivors’ losses, such as mental anguish, loss of companionship, funeral and burial expenses, and compensation for lost wages and benefits.
Your personal injury attorney will develop a claim for damages based on the facts of the case and West Virginia law. Once they file an insurance claim, the insurer will typically respond with a counteroffer. Most often, the two parties will go back and forth until they are able to negotiate a settlement.
Most personal injury claims are resolved via settlement. In fact, according to statistics from the United States Department of Justice, 97% of all personal injury lawsuits are resolved without going to trial.
However, in some situations, the auto insurance company will not make a fair settlement offer. This often happens when liability is disputed or the extent of your damages is in question. Your WV car accident lawyer may advise you that the best course of action is to take your case to trial and ask a jury to find in your favor.
Timeline for a West Virginia Auto Accident Lawsuit
Each personal injury lawsuit is different. The time that it takes to resolve a claim may vary significantly based on factors like the nature and severity of the injury, whether liability is disputed, insurance coverage limits, and the number of parties involved.
That being said, car accident claims follow a basic timeline:
- The accident occurs (and the statute of limitations begins to run).
- The accident victim(s) receive initial medical care.
- An insurance adjuster may reach out and attempt to settle the claim (reminder: do not talk to the adjuster or sign any documents without seeking legal advice).
- Initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer.
- The law firm begins its investigation and research.
- A demand letter is sent.
- The parties go back and forth to negotiate a settlement.
- If a settlement is not achieved, then the lawsuit is filed.
- The defendant files an answer to the lawsuit.
- The pre-trial phase begins, including discovery (where information about the accident is exchanged between the parties).
- Negotiations continue.
- If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the case goes to trial.
- The jury reaches a verdict.
- If necessary, an appeal may be filed.
In many cases, an injury case is resolved by step 7, without having to file a lawsuit. This may take as little as 3 to 6 months. However, if your lawyer needs to file a lawsuit, then it may take far longer – up to a year or two – to resolve your claim.
What If I Am Partially to Blame for a West Virginia Car Accident?
Car accident cases are rarely straightforward, and more than one driver may be responsible for a crash. If you were somewhat at fault for a collision, you may still be able to recover under West Virginia’s comparative fault laws. Also known as comparative negligence, this rule allows you to recover for your losses even if you shared some of the blame – as long as you were 50% or less responsible for the collision.
Under this law, your total recovery will be reduced by the percentage that you were at fault. For example, if you suffered $50,000 in damages and were 10% at fault, then your recovery would be reduced by $5,000 (10%) to $45,000. Comparative negligence cases can be complex, so if you have questions about your options, consult with a West Virginia car accident lawyer as soon as possible.
How Much Is a Typical Injury Settlement?
It depends. Each car accident case is unique, and the value of a case is based on factors such as how badly you were hurt, whether you will recover, and the size of the insurance policies involved. If you suffered a broken arm that will heal fully, for example, you will typically get a lower settlement than if you had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
During a free consultation, your personal injury attorney can give you a ballpark estimate of the value of your case. As your case develops, your lawyer will keep you updated on the likely settlement value of your claim.
Is West Virginia a No-Fault State for Auto Accidents?
No. West Virginia is an at-fault state for car accidents. Under WV law, the driver who causes the accident is responsible for the victim’s losses, including medical expenses and property damage. Typically, the at-fault driver’s insurance company covers these damages.
Even a relatively straightforward car accident case can be challenging to resolve if the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement. If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident, reach out to a WV car accident attorney to schedule a free consultation.
Help for West Virginia Car Accident Victims
A car accident can be an incredibly traumatic experience. After being hurt in a crash, you may be overwhelmed with medical bills, lost wages, and more. Our law firm is here for you.
At Johnstone & Gabhart, we are dedicated to helping accident victims get the compensation that they deserve for their injuries. Based in Charleston, we represent clients throughout West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact our office at 304-343-7100 or fill out our online contact form.