Modern cars and trucks are safer than ever, but despite safety improvements, the number of car accidents continues to rise, with more than 2.3 million crash injuries reported each year throughout the U.S.¹
Most families have multiple vehicles, and with so many cars on the roads, it’s easy to see why the average American driver can expect to be in three or four accidents during their lifetime.²
West Virginia has its fair share of motor vehicle accidents, averaging more than 48,000 car crashes every year.³
Vehicle accidents happen suddenly, without warning. One minute you’re heading home on the same road you’ve traveled a hundred times, and the next thing you know you’re in a ditch, reeling from the impact.
You can’t avoid every accident, but you can be ready to protect yourself when an accident happens. Your successful insurance claim starts at the accident scene, if you know what to say and do, and just as importantly, what not to say or do.
What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a West Virginia Car Accident
If you’ve been the victim of a car accident in West Virginia, you’ll want to be fully compensated for your personal injuries and property damage. This guide can help.
Here are 10 steps to help you build a strong and successful auto insurance claim. We’ve also answered the questions most frequently asked after car accidents in West Virginia.
After a car accident, West Virginia law requires drivers to stop as close to the scene as safely possible.
Check with the other people involved in the crash for injuries. Call 911 to report the accident and ask for help, then do the best you can to help the injured until emergency responders arrive.
West Virginia law requires drivers to contact police by “the quickest means possible” after an accident that results in injuries, death or property damage to the apparent extent of $1,000 or more.
Drivers are also required to give “reasonable assistance” to anyone who is injured. For most accidents, the driver’s legal responsibilities are satisfied by calling 911 to report the accident and ask for emergency medical services.
As soon as possible, give the other driver and passengers your name, address, and telephone number; the make, model, and year of your car; the last four digits of your car’s Vehicle Identification Number; and your insurance information. If you’ve given the information to the investigating officer, the officer will deliver the required information to the others involved.
When you call 911, tell the dispatcher you’ve been in a car accident. The dispatcher will need to know your location, if anyone is injured, and if there are hazards near the accident scene.
Location: Tell the dispatcher the road or highway you’re on, the direction you were heading, the nearest intersection or mile markers, and nearby landmarks.
Injuries: Tell the 911 dispatcher if you or anyone else has been injured, if anyone has been killed, and if anyone was thrown from their car or may still be trapped inside.
Hazards: Tell the dispatcher about any dangers, like cars overturned or on fire, power lines down, or leaking fuel. You can also tell the dispatcher if there are traffic problems in the area.
Some injuries are obvious to anyone, like broken bones or open bleeding wounds. But there are serious, even life-threatening injuries like damaged internal organs or closed head trauma that might not show clear symptoms until hours or even days after the accident.
Never refuse medical treatment at the scene. This is not the time to act tough. Tell paramedics about everything you are feeling, no matter how mild. Shock and worry about others can hide signs of injury. If the paramedics want to take you to the hospital, go with them.
If you are not taken directly to the hospital from the accident, have a medical check-up as soon as possible after the wreck. You can use your regular doctor or clinic, or go to an urgent care center or hospital emergency department.
Refusing or delaying medical treatment after an accident can seriously weaken your insurance claim. The insurance company will jump at the chance to say your injuries weren’t caused by the crash.
If you’ve hit a parked car, stop immediately and try to find the vehicle owner. Give the car owner your name and address.
If you can’t find the owner, leave a note on the car with your name, address and an explanation of what happened.
If you hit something else, like a fence for a utility pole, try to find the owner or person in charge of the property. If the extent of damage is more than $1,000, the police must be notified.
Law Enforcement officers will normally be dispatched to an accident scene when there are reported injuries, dangerous traffic conditions, disabled cars which need to be towed, or when a driver is reported to be intoxicated.
Police officers are professionally trained in accident management and investigation. The investigating officer is authorized to:
- Secure the accident scene
- Coordinate care and transport of the injured
- Gather evidence and determine fault
- Conduct sobriety tests
- Issue citations
You can try telling the police your side of the story, but the officer doesn’t have to listen. If the officer tells you to wait or gives you any other instructions, you should cooperate.
Yelling or arguing with a police officer not only obstructs the accident investigation, but it can also result in your arrest.
If the officer decides you violated West Virginia traffic laws, you may be cited. While you can attempt to talk the officer out of giving you a ticket, once it’s issued you should accept the citation.
Accepting a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. Traffic court is the place to argue about the citation, not at the accident scene.
Visit the West Virginia State Police Traffic Safety Section website for more information and to obtain a West Virginia Crash Report Request Form.
Accident scenes don’t last long. Cars are towed, and the drivers and witnesses leave. Take advantage of the small window of time right after an accident to collect critical evidence.
Evidence gathered from the accident scene will be tremendously helpful to your insurance claim, especially when the accident was caused by the other driver. You’ll need proof the other driver did something wrong or failed to drive responsibly.
Start by asking for the following information from the other driver:
- Name, address, and phone number
- Vehicle registration information
- Driver’s license information
- Insurance information
Passengers: Ask for passengers’ names, addresses, birth dates, home phone, work numbers, and any other contact information. Passengers don’t have to give you any information, but that shouldn’t stop you from making detailed notes for yourself about how many people were in the other car, approximate ages, what they looked like, how they were acting, and what you heard them say.
Vehicles: Get the make, model, year, license plate number, expiration date, and at least the last four digits of the vehicle identification number (VIN) for each vehicle in the accident. The other driver is required to provide this information to you or to the investigating police officer, who will pass it on to you.
Diagrams: Make a drawing of the accident scene showing the position of the cars before and after the crash, and what direction they were heading. Your sketch should illustrate road conditions, like ice or potholes. Add notes about the weather, lighting conditions, and anything else that contributed to the accident.
Using your cell phone, tablet, or any other device on hand to take pictures and videos of the accident scene is extremely helpful to your claim. Walk around the crash site taking as many pictures and videos as you can from different angles.
Photos and videos can show important details of the vehicles and surrounding area. Sometimes, pictures or sound-enabled videos can capture how drivers and passengers were behaving, admissions of fault, signs of drug or alcohol intoxication, and other important factors that may have a huge bearing on your insurance claim.
Photographs and videos can be convincing evidence that makes it harder for those involved to change their story after the accident.
Witnesses don’t have talk to you, but you can try to speak with people at the scene long enough to find out if they saw anything helpful to your claim. If you have a helpful witness, ask for their name, contact information, and if they’ll write down what they saw. Have the witness sign and date any written statement.
Be prepared with our free Car Accident Information Form. Keep copies of the form and a pen in your car, along with your insurance and registration cards. You’ll always be ready to gather the evidence you’ll need for a successful insurance claim.
Your auto insurance policy is a legal contract between you and your insurance company. The insurance company is supposed to defend you when you’re in an accident, but you’ve got to do your part. Your obligations include telling your insurance company when an accident happens.
In the long version of almost every auto policy, you’ll find a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you agree to cooperate with your insurance company’s accident investigation.
The clause will look something like this:
“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”
You are obligated to notify your insurance company of every accident, even if it’s not your fault and everyone says they’re fine.
Your insurance company can still protect you, even if the accident isn’t your fault. For example, when the other driver is uninsured or underinsured, or changes their mind and decides to blame you for the crash.
If the other driver hires a lawyer, or someone from the other car starts complaining of injuries days later, you can bet they’ll be contacting your insurance company to demand money. That would put your insurance company at a terrible disadvantage if you hadn’t already notified them of the car accident.
Failure to tell your insurance company about an accident is a violation of your contract that could cause them to raise your premiums, decline to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance policy.
There’s a growing number of Apple and Android apps that make starting a car accident claim faster and easier. Depending on the app, you can:
- Gather identifying information from the other driver and passengers
- Collect car registration and insurance information
- Find the GPS location of the crash
- Collect witness information
- Draw diagrams of the accident scene
- Take photographs and videos
- Notify your insurance company
Here’s a sampling of free accident reporting apps. Your insurance company may offer a similar application.
West Virginia is not a no-fault insurance state, where each driver in a crash has to use their own insurance to cover the cost of injuries. Under West Virginia’s third-party liability laws, victims of car accidents can file damage claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
There are two categories of damage claims:
Property damages include the cost to have your car fixed, the cost of a rental while your car is in the shop, the cost of personal property damaged in the crash, and the value of your vehicle if it’s a total loss.
Personal injury damages can include treatment and therapy bills; out-of-pocket expenses for medications and medical devices like crutches and wheelchairs; hospital bills; mental health services; pain and suffering; and more.
You have three ways to seek compensation for your damages after a West Virginia car accident:
- File a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
- File a claim with your insurance company (if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured)
- File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
West Virginia requires vehicle owners to carry bodily injury liability coverage of no less than $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, as well as $25,000 in liability coverage for property damage.
Liability coverage pays for injuries and property damage caused by the insured driver.
Uninsured motorist coverage pays for you and your passengers if you are injured by an at-fault driver who doesn’t have insurance. Uninsured motorist coverage is required by law in West Virginia, in an amount equal to your liability coverage.
Underinsured motorist coverage kicks in when the cost of your damages exceeds the amount of liability coverage carried by the at-fault driver. West Virginia law requires insurance companies to offer underinsured motorist coverage in amounts equal to the levels of liability coverage on your policy.
If you don’t want to pay the added premiums for underinsured motorist coverage, you must reject the coverage in writing, using a mandatory form.
Unless you have properly rejected underinsured motorist coverage, your insurance company can be forced to pay for your injuries, pain and suffering when the other driver’s liability coverage isn’t enough.
If you’ve been injured in a West Virginia car accident and have questions about your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, contact a personal injury attorney.
West Virginia drivers are subject to comparative negligence rules, also called modified comparative fault, meaning each driver will be held responsible for damages sustained in the accident in proportion to each driver’s percentage of fault.
In other words, when you’ve been in a West Virginia car accident, you can pursue the other driver for compensation for your damages, so long as the other driver was more to blame for the accident than you.
If you are equally to blame, you won’t be able to recover any financial compensation from the other driver or the other driver’s insurance company.
Under West Virginia’s modified comparative fault laws, your eligibility for compensation will depend upon your portion of the blame for the accident.
The insurance company will decide your share of blame for the accident before paying any claims. If the insurance company thinks you are equally to blame for the crash, you won’t get a dime.
Whether the insurance company decides you are eligible for partial compensation, or none at all, if you don’t agree with the insurance company’s decision, you’ll need an attorney to help you get the settlement amount you deserve.
Example of comparative negligence affecting a settlement:
Billy was heading west on Stony Road to pick up his daughter from daycare. He was texting his wife to let her know he was running late.
At the same time, Sara was late to work, traveling northbound on Church Street. As she approached the intersection of Church and Stony, she sped up to make it through the intersection before the yellow traffic light turned red.
Unfortunately, the light turned red as Sara entered the intersection. She slammed into the side of Billy ’s car, causing serious injuries to Billy.
Billy was seeking $100,000 for his personal injury claim, to cover his medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Sara’s insurance company denied his claim, arguing Billy was equally to blame for the crash because he was texting while driving.
Through his attorney, Billy filed a lawsuit against Sara.
During trial, the evidence showed Sara failed to stop at the red light, so she was legally responsible for causing the accident. However, the jury also saw evidence that Billy was texting just before the crash.
While the jury agreed that Billy’s personal injury claim was worth $100,000, they determined that he was 20% at fault because he was texting while driving. Sara was 80% at fault for the crash, for failing to stop at the red light.
Since Sara was more to blame for the auto accident, under West Virginia’s comparative fault law, Billy was awarded $80,000 (80%) of his damage claim, reflecting a reduction of $20,000 (20%) for his share of blame for the accident.
If the jury had determined that Billy was 50% or more at fault, he would have left the courtroom empty-handed, despite the severity of his injuries.
Some car accident claims can be settled for a decent amount of money without legal help. Other claims are more complicated, requiring a skilled attorney to get anywhere near the level of compensation appropriate for your injuries, pain and suffering.
Before deciding to tackle the insurance company on your own, think about the type of injuries you suffered in the accident, and what it’ll take to get a good settlement.
“Soft tissue” injuries include bumps and bruises, muscle sprains, whiplash, and similarly minor injuries. Soft tissue injury claims are pretty straightforward, calculated by adding up your treatment and therapy bills; your lost wages, and a limited amount of pain and suffering.
“Hard” injuries are much more severe, including disfiguring wounds, open fractures, internal bleeding, spinal cord injuries, brain trauma, and other serious and sometimes permanent injuries. Damages for hard injury claims can include costs for transport to a trauma center, hospitalization, surgeries, rehab, loss of wages and future earnings, and much more.
Hard injury claims are difficult and expensive to treat, requiring the insurance company to pay out significantly more money for a fair settlement. There’s just too much to lose for you to represent yourself in a severe injury claim.
Convincing the insurance company to pay the amount of money your claim is worth when you’ve suffered hard injuries usually involves medical testimony, subpoenas for records, interrogatories, depositions of hostile witnesses, and more.
Claims adjusters are trained to avoid big payouts to claimants like you. When you’ve suffered life-altering injuries, you have limited power to handle insurance negotiations and legal procedures on your own. By the time the adjuster makes their “final” offer, you probably won’t have the knowledge or energy to fight them. Insurance companies bank on that and routinely offer far less settlement money to claimants without legal representation.
Experienced personal injury attorneys have the skills, knowledge and legal tools needed to win the settlement amount you deserve for your injuries and suffering.
It won’t cost you anything to find out what an attorney can do for you. Almost all reputable personal injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation.
After that, your attorney will only get paid when you do. Personal injury attorneys typically represent accident victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning that your attorney’s fees will be paid out of your insurance settlement or court award. Contingency fees can range from 25% up to 40% of the gross settlement amount or court verdict, depending on the complexity of your case.
Before your first meeting with an attorney, gather all your accident-related paperwork. Include your medical records and bills, police report, photographs, and your notes or records of any communications you’ve had with the insurance company.
After listening to your side of the story and reviewing your paperwork, the attorney will discuss your claim’s value, how long it could take to settle, and if you’ll need to file a lawsuit.
You won’t pay any attorney fees if your attorney can’t settle your claim or loses your case in court.
When you’ve been in a car accident, a small claims lawsuit may be your best option when:
- The at-fault driver’s insurance company denies your claim
- The at-fault driver’s insurance company only offers a low-ball settlement
- The at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured
- An attorney will not accept your case on a contingency basis
West Virginia small claims lawsuits are heard in Magistrate Court. Magistrate court judges decide civil cases valued up to $10,000.
For more information, visit the West Virginia Judiciary Rules of Civil Procedure for Magistrate Court.
The West Virginia statute of limitations for injury and property damage claims is two (2) years. The statute begins to run on the date of the accident.
The two-year statute of limitations for car accident claims means that you must either settle your insurance claim or file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within two years of the accident date, or you lose your right to seek any money from the at-fault driver or the insurance company.
The insurance company is under no obligation to help you settle your claim before the two-year statute of limitations expires, and they have no legal authority to grant you an extension of time.
The insurance company knows perfectly well that if you haven’t settled your insurance claim or filed a lawsuit before the deadline, they’ve won. You’ll never be able to recover your losses from the insurance company or the at-fault driver, no matter how severely you were injured.
Don’t be afraid to speak with an attorney. Filing a lawsuit against the negligent driver will not only stop the statutory clock from running, but it will also put the insurance company on notice that they have to bring some real money to the bargaining table.
Your attorney will continue negotiations with the insurance company after the lawsuit is filed. In many cases, personal injury attorneys can negotiate excellent settlements before the case ever gets in front of a judge.
Act now to get the compensation you deserve for your personal injuries, pain, and suffering.
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