WV Senate Stalls Insurance Disclosure Bill Likely Killing It in the Process
Charleston, WV – The legislation that would decrease lawsuits and protect folks injured in accidents by requiring insurance companies to disclose how much coverage is available after an accident is now in doubt. This is because the Senate Judiciary Committee, at the request of Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, delayed action on the bill Wednesday evening just three days before the 2012 legislation session ends.
As a Charleston, West Virginia attorney, I am deeply concerned about this move by the Judiciary Committee. This bill would have helped encourage parties to resolve personal injury claims without having to file a lawsuit. The current law often requires attorneys to file lawsuits against the parties who caused the accident just to determine how much insurance coverage they have.
One of the reasons this is true is because often a party injured by the negligence of another driver doesn’t have medical insurance, but he or she needs medical care as a result of the car accident. Fortunately, some doctors will agree to treat him or her and wait to collect until after the accident claim is resolved. However, if there is not enough insurance coverage to cover the car accident victim’s medical care, the car accident victim is still ultimately responsible for the charges.
So if at the end of the case the accident victim learns that the other driver only has $20,000 in coverage, which is West Virginia’s minimum auto policy limit, and the victim has incurred $25,000 in medical bills, he must fear the doctor coming after him possibly with the use of a collections attorney. Thus, before an injured party incurs medical costs, he needs to know that the negligent driver has enough insurance to cover those costs so that he can make an informed decision about whether or not to seek the medical treatment he needs.
If the negligent driver doesn’t have enough auto insurance to cover the accident victim’s medical expenses, the victim then has to make a tough decision: “Do I want to fully recover and then risk facing owing thousands of dollars in medical bills caused by someone else’s negligence? Or do I want to suffer for the rest of my life with an injury that could have been fixed by medical care I couldn’t afford so that I can preserve my credit and avoid harassing bill collectors?”
This is a very tough decision for any person to make. It makes it even tougher for innocent folks if an insurance carrier won’t disclose available insurance coverage. That is why I and many other personal injury lawyers file lawsuits in situations like this. If this Insurance Bill would pass, many of these lawsuits wouldn’t have to be filed and the underlying accident claim could be resolved more peaceably and inexpensively for all parties. Further, it would help ease the burden folks injured in accidents already have to bear.
I suppose those in opposition to the bill like Jill Bentz, president of the West Virginia Insurance Federation, and the President of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, view this bill as a platform to advance their name and political interests. However, in my experience, their efforts are harming those they are supposed to protect, including small businesses and the folks of West Virginia. This is because the current law encourages costly lawsuits for the reasons set forth above, and unfortunately it’s the innocent folks injured in accidents who end up bearing the brunt of this cost.
Brooks West is a West Virginia personal injury lawyer who helps people who have been injured by negligence or wrongful conduct. He is the President and founder of West Law Firm and has been an attorney since 2005. Brooks is a Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum member and has been awarded the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale-Hubbell.