WV Personal Injury Law Blogger’s take on “Knowledge is Power”
Charleston, WV — Many times I have heard the adage “knowledge is power.” Perhaps as many times, i have pondered whether there is any truth to that statement. Completing law school, passing two bar exams, and practicing law for about five years has confirmed that this old adage is indeed true. Perhaps what has most convinced me that knowledge can in fact be power is the few times in my past (prior to practicing law) where I basically allowed others to steal from me because I lacked the knowledge to protect my rights.
For example, in college my landlord kept my security deposit without a word of explanation even though I left the apartment in better shape than it was in when I first moved in. I called and wrote my landlord several times requesting my security deposit. However, he avoided my calls and never answered my letters. I eventually gave up and he got away with stealing $450 from me – a fortune to a poor college student.
This could have all been avoided if I had the knowledge I have now. My hope is that the West Virginia Personal Injury Law Blog helps others avoid being taken advantage of by those with more power, more money, more resources such as the greedy landlord discussed above. Thus, below are some things you may want to consider that could help you collect your security deposit and court costs from your landlord and deter him from stealing from his or her tenants again.
First, in West Virginia, unlike many other states, there are unfortunately no special laws to help tenants recover their security deposits. However, a tenant may file a civil suit against her landlord to recover her security deposit and court costs. A lawyer is not usually necessary and likely not practical since security deposits are usually less than $1000. In West Virginia, court staff are generally helpful in explaining the procedures for filing a suit and can direct you to where you can find the necessary forms.
The Basic Steps involved in filing a lawsuit in West Virginia are as follows:
1. File the Complaint. The person starting the case is called the Petitioner or Plaintiff. He files a written statement telling the court what the case is about. That is called the ComplaintThen he arranges to have the Complaint delivered to the other side.
2. File the Answer. The Person being sued is either called the Defendant or the Respondent. He files a written response telling his side of the story and sends it to the other side. This is called an Answer.
3. Prepare the case. Both sides have time to gather evidence to prove their case. Evidence could include papers, photographs or the testimony of witnesses.
4. The judge holds a hearing. This is when both sides appear before the judge to present their evidence to prove their case. For a lawsuit over a security deposit like above, the hearing will be held in magistrate court before a magistrate and is relatively informal.
5. The judge makes a decision.
There is an easier option available that you may want to try first. West Virginia tenants may also file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division if their landlord fails to return their security deposit. Complaint forms and more information can be obtained by calling the West Virginia Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-368-8808. Or click here for their website. Although this is a West Virginia Personal Injury Law Blog and you may be wondering what the above has to do with personal injury law, loss of personal property – money – is technically a personal injury and is referred to as damages in personal injury law.
The above example is intended to be a simple, personal example of how having the right information can make a difference. I invite readers to leave comments about their own experiences. There are in fact other options a tenant can pursue, and in some cases a lawyer may be necessary. The important point is that there are many options available for people who have been wronged. I suggest searching the keywords “tenant rights” plus “whatever state you live in” for more information.