You are out enjoying a relaxing and scenic drive on a sunny West Virginia day, when another vehicle crashes into yours. Your car is totaled, and you also suffer some injuries. After visiting the doctor, you find out that your injuries are more serious than you initially thought. You are experiencing severe physical pain, and it looks like you may miss work for a while.
Being injured in a motor vehicle accident can turn your whole world upside down. Mounting medical bills and several weeks (or even months) out of work can put an enormous financial and emotional strain on you and your family. You already filed a claim with your insurance company, but you are not sure where to go from here. The question you keep asking is “how difficult is it to recover damages after a West Virginia car accident?”
When is a Car Accident Victim Eligible for Damages in West Virginia?
There are three general types of negligence laws states use to establish responsibility in a personal injury case; pure contributory negligence, pure comparative negligence, and modified comparative negligence. West Virginia uses modified comparative negligence.
Why is this important? Because in states (such as next door in Virginia) that use pure contributory negligence, an accident victim cannot recover damages at all even if they are just 1% at fault and the other party holds 99% of the blame. With pure comparative negligence, accident victims recover damages in proportion to the percentage they are at fault. Using this same example, the individual with 1% of fault is eligible to collect 99% of the damages, and the individual who is 99% at fault is eligible to collect 1% of the damages.
West Virginia’s modified comparative negligence law allows accident victims to collect damages if they are 50% or less at fault for their injuries. For example, if an individual suffers $20,000 in damages and is determined to be 49% at fault, they would be eligible to collect 51% of the damages, which in this case would be $10,200. This standard is much more favorable for victims of car accidents than the pure contributory standard Virginia uses.
Damages Available in West Virginia Auto Accident Cases
In car accident cases, there are two general types of damages; property damage and personal injury. Property damage means damage to the vehicle itself and to any personal property within the vehicle. Personal injury means injuries sustained by you and any passengers that were riding in the vehicle.
In most cases, accident victims are entitled to both economic and non-economic damages for the injuries they sustain. In addition to property damage, examples of economic damages include:
- Hospital Bills
- Rehabilitation and other Medical Expenses
- Time Missed from Work/Lost Wages
Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Pain and Suffering
- Emotional Distress
- Disfigurement and other Permanent Injuries
- Punitive Damages (awarded only in rare cases of especially egregious conduct by the responsible party)
Non-economic damages are the most complex and challenging to value. For example, if an insurer agrees that their client is over 50% at fault for an accident, they may be willing to pay proportionally for the property damage, medical expenses, and lost wages. However, it may be far more difficult to convince them to pay the proper value for the pain and suffering and emotional distress an individual goes through after a car accident.
The Importance of Skilled Legal Representation
Many auto accident victims wonder if it is worthwhile to speak to a lawyer, or should they just accept whatever settlement the insurance company offers? Many insurance companies will tell you that you will receive the same settlement amount regardless of whether or not you retain legal representation.
The reality is that the insurance company is not acting in your best interests (even if you are dealing with your own insurer). The goal of the insurance adjuster is to save the company money, and this is accomplished by settling the case quickly and for as little as possible. So if you accept their offer, you are likely to receive only a fraction of the compensation you are entitled to.
If you have been injured in an auto accident in West Virginia, speak with a seasoned personal injury attorney before accepting any kind of offer from an insurance company. A skilled attorney can thoroughly evaluate the circumstances of your accident and give you a good estimate of what your claim is worth. This will allow you to make a more informed decision regarding what legal avenue it is best to pursue.
It is important to speak with an attorney sooner rather than later, however, because the statute of limitations to file a personal injury claim in West Virginia is only two years. Once that window of time has passed, you are no longer able to recover damages through the courts for your auto accident claim.