Individuals in West Virginia involved in a traffic accident will soon be able to access the other driver’s insurance coverage before filing a lawsuit under a new disclosure law.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law HB 4486 after lawmakers approved the controversial bill by a one vote margin on the last day of the legislative session.
Sponsored by Rep. Tim Miley (D-Harrison), the bill allows claimant attorneys representing a driver hurt in an automobile accident to request the other driver’s insurance information before deciding whether to file a suit for damages.
Within 30 days of receiving the request, an insurer must provide information on the at-fault driver’s automobile coverage and any excess or umbrella coverage that might cover the claim. The information must include the name of the insurer, the limits of the driver’s coverage, and the declaration page of any policy that could be used to cover the claim.
Insurers that fail to provide the information could be subject to a $500 fine, plus attorneys fees, and other expenses incurred by claimant attorneys to obtain the information.
The written request must be made by a driver’s attorney and include the date and location of the accident, a copy of the police accident report, and a good faith estimate and documentation of all the claimant’s medical expenses and lost wages.
Twelve other states including Virginia and Florida have similar laws.
The West Virginia Association for Justice supported the measure, saying it would reduce the number of lawsuits by encouraging settlements.
WVJA spokesperson Tony Majestro said that if a driver has sustained $100,000 in medical expenses only to find the other driver has $20,000 in coverage it will encourage both the injured driver and the other driver’s insurer to settle claims without incurring legal expenses.
“It can cost thousands of dollars to file a suit,” said Majestro. “We think this bill will decrease the number of lawsuit filings.”
Insurer groups, however, strongly opposed the bill, arguing it would have the opposite effect since it could result in claimant attorneys demanding higher settlements in cases where another driver’s policy has higher coverage limits.
“This is nothing more than a personal injury lawyer giveaway that could very well increase lawsuit filings for the state,” said Richie Heath, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Reforms. “Ultimately, West Virginia consumers will pay the price for this ill-conceived legislation.”
While insurer groups fought the bill, they did say its final version is substantially better than the original one contemplated by lawmakers. Initially, the bill would have applied to all personal injury claims such as slip and fall accidents. The bill also would have required insurers to reveal their strategy to fight the claim.
The new law will take effect as of June 1.