West Virginia Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

West Virginia’s 300 or so traffic accident fatalities render it one of the nation’s more dangerous places to drive. If you intend to file an insurance claim or a lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of a West Virginia road accident, the following legal principles will govern your claim.

Statute of Limitations: The deadline for filing a personal injury or property loss lawsuit in West Virginia is two years from the date of the accident. A wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the victim’s date of death.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: Many accidents have more than one cause. West Virginia is a “modified comparative fault” state in this regard. When the victim is partly to blame, the court will assign him a percentage of fault based on evidence submitted by both sides. If the victim’s fault is 50 percent or greater, his claim will be dismissed. If his percentage of fault is below 50 percent, this percentage will be deducted from his total damages and he will be awarded the remainder.

Fault/No Fault Rule: West Virginia is not a “no-fault” state. A victim doesn’t have to rely on his own insurance first – he can file a claim directly against the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy, or sue the at-fault driver without first exhausting his own insurance benefits.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: The legal minimum liability coverage applicable to West Virginia drivers is $20,000 per injured victim, $40,000 per injury accident and $10,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: In addition to liability insurance, West Virginia requires its drivers to purchase insurance covering damages caused by uninsured drivers (but not by underinsured drivers). Minimum coverage limits are the same as for liability insurance — $20,000 per injured victim, $40,000 per injury per accident and $10,000 for property damage.

Types of Damages Available: Compensatory damages are available, but there is an annually adjusted cap on the amount of non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. The limit on non-economic damages is $1 million for medical malpractice claims. Punitive damages are available under limited circumstances, but not for intentional acts resulting in personal injury.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available, subject to comparative negligence principles.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Non-economic damages in lawsuits against the state government are limited to $500,000. Punitive damages are prohibited.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants aged 8 to 17 must wear seat belts no matter where they are sitting. Occupants aged 18 and above must buckle up only if they are sitting in a front seat. The maximum first-offense fine is $25.

Dram Shop Law: Licensed alcohol vendors can be sued by injured third parties if they serve an underage patron or an already-intoxicated adult who then injures the third party due to intoxication. Private social hosts face no such liability.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): A first offense DUI results in jail time of up to six months, a fine of $100 to $1,000, and a driver’s license suspension of 15 to 45 days.

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: A DUI suspect who refuses to take a blood, breath or alcohol test will lose his driver’s license for one year. The alternative penalty is a driver’s license suspension of 45 days, plus one year with an ignition interlock device (IID).

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Drivers may not text while driving or use hand-held electronic devices while driving. Drivers under 18 on Learner’s or Intermediate driver’s licenses may not use cell phones at all, even hands-free models.