Whether you were injured in an automobile accident caused by someone else's carelessness or harmed because a business was negligent, there is a possibility of a personal injury lawsuit that could help compensate you for medical bills, lost wages and even pain and suffering. West Virginia law governing such litigation has unique requirements, though legal procedures are similar nationwide.
What Is the Jurisdiction for My Lawsuit?
The Mountain State does not have a small-claims court, but some cases can be litigated in the state's less-formal Magistrate Court system. If the plaintiff is seeking $5,000 or less in damages, the lawsuit can be filed in either Magistrate or Circuit Court; if the amount is $300 or less, the matter must be litigated in Magistrate Court. All personal injury litigation can be filed in either the county in which the injured party resides or in the county in which the incident took place.
How Long Do I Have to File Litigation?
In West Virginia, plaintiffs are permitted two years after the incident in which to file personal injury litigation, though in medical malpractice matters, the countdown does not commence until the date the problem was discovered.
What Is the Filing Procedure?
The plaintiff initiates the action by filing the complaint, which is a legal document describing the accident, outlining damages and requesting compensation. The business or individual accused in the complaint has 30 days to file a response denying the accusations; defendants also can file crossclaims or counterclaims contending that someone else is responsible for any damages.
How Will Damages Be Determined?
Requests that defendants reimburse plaintiffs for medical expenses, missed pay or property damage—compensatory damages—are part of any personal injury litigation. Payment for pain and suffering—so-called non-economic damages—is permitted, though there is a $500,000 limit in medical malpractice litigation. Punitive damages are permitted only if the plaintiff proves that the defendant's conduct sank to a standard such as reckless or criminally indifferent. They are prohibited if the defendant is a government organization or the suit is brought under contract law, and the amounts automatically are subject to judicial review after the trial. Be aware, though, that in West Virginia, plaintiffs can collect damages only if they are found to be less responsible for the incident than the defendant is.
Preparations for the Trial
As litigants prepare for court, an exchange of information and evidence known as "discovery" occurs. The process can include requests for medical records, paper or electronic documentation, and witness lists.
Rarely, however, do personal injury cases reach trial, with the vast majority settling through out-of-court negotiation or methods such as mediation or arbitration. Though alternative dispute resolution is not required in West Virginia, judges and litigants frequently will turn to these methods in an effort to efficiently and economically settle civil disputes.
Proceeding to Trial
Selection of jurors—six in most cases, though 12 are required in medical malpractice litigation—marks the beginning of the trial. The defendant and the plaintiff then present evidence and call witnesses in hopes of persuading jurors, three-quarters of whom must agree to the verdict in medical malpractice cases, all of whom must agree in other litigation. Post-verdict appeals are permitted if either party who has legal grounds to disagree with the outcome, including the amount of damages.
What Will the Lawsuit Cost?
Personal injury litigators frequently represent individuals on a contingency basis, meaning attorneys are not compensated beyond expenses unless the plaintiff receives a monetary award. The standard fee is a third of any verdict or settlement.
Consulting an Attorney
This article provides a general overview of West Virginia personal injury law. Though it is possible to handle a small case without representation, it is advisable to consult an attorney when addressing complicated matters.