Back in 2005, the legislature, due to the influence of out-of-state corporations and the flood of lobbing money from insurance companies the legislature to take away third party rights. What are third party rights? If you are in a car accident in West Virginia and you have a claim against the person who was at fault in the accident you are a third party claimant because the claim is not against your insurance but the other persons insurance company.
Today, I received a faxed letter from an insurance company involving a claim where a concrete truck struck a citizen in West Virginia. Liability is clear, the driver admitted to fault, there were significant damages, and the person was injured significantly, incurring medical bills of approximately, $12,500.00. In that letter I received, the insurance company stated that their evaluation of the claim was $3,500.00. Now, how can they do that? Obviously, if the person has $12,500.00 in medical bills, their claim must be at least worth what their medical bills. These companies are playing these games because we no longer has third party unfair settlement practice rights in West Virginia. Once insurance company from Atlanta even said we don’t have to properly evaluate your claim you don’t have third party rights in West Virginia.
There is a constant bombardment against the rights of citizen who are injured in West Virginia. This is because the main goal of insurance companies is to make money and the less they pay on claims the more money they make.
Under West Virginia Code Chapter 33, Article 11, Section 4a, eliminated the private cause of actions known for third party suits. The West Virginia legislature having eliminated the legal remedy for a third party claimant’s only provided that they can only file an administrative complaint with the commissioner if an insurance company commits bad faith or engages in unfair claims practices. A third party claimant may not include allegations of unfair claim settlement practices in any underlying litigation. The administrative complaint shall be filed as soon as possible, but no more than one year after the actual implied discovery of the unfair claims settlement practice.
Well, what has happened in West Virginia? Have our rates for insurance dropped significantly? Have all the insurance companies out of the benevolence and willingness to help claimants continued to work within the law? The sad answer to both of those questions is no.
Currently, in West Virginia if you have a claim, you are lucky to get an adjustor to call you back. If an adjustor does call you back, they normally fail to investigate the claim or properly consider your claim.
An insurance company’s number one priority is making money. Insurance companies make money through claims, through investments in the stock market, and through administrative costs of running the company so called Bricks and Mortar costs. The majority of the adjustors that work for insurance companies have been downsized. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company used to have a local office in Elkins, WV. You could go to that local office in the Bialek building and resolve your property claim as your personal injury claim. There were two adjustors in that office who worked in the Elkins region. Now if you file a claim for a property loss where someone hit you and they were at fault, or if you’ve suffered bodily injury, you have to contact an out-of-state adjustor in Ohio. You can’t drive your vehicle to a local office and have them assess the damages. You can’t go in and personally give them your medical bills and explain how you have been hurt. You are lucky if you even get a call back.
Allstate Insurance Company currently operates all of their claims out of Roanoke, Virginia. They do not have any local claims adjustors who can meet with the person and discuss their claim.
The Unfair Settlement Claims Practice Act, which legislation developed and adopted over 20 years, was a response to fraudulent and almost criminal acts consistently done by insurance companies. Well, we have gone back to those good old days, with one swift swoop, the legislature has taken away these third party rights. Why has all this happened.
There is a concerted effort by the insurance companies to eliminate the ability of someone to bring a suit if they are injured in an accident. They can accomplish this in several ways. First, they can make it extremely difficult for someone who is injured in an accident to go forward with their claim by denying the claim, delaying the claim, and/or delaying discovery. These are tactics used by the insurance company so that a person who is hurt just gives up due to being frustrated with the process. Number 2, they can make it extremely expensive for an attorney to try to help a citizen who has been hurt in an accident. They do this by running the expenses up, hiring numerous experts, taking numerous depositions, to the point that a practicing attorney is almost forced not to take a claim, unless the medical bills are significant and the future damages are significant.
So what does this mean for the common car accident where someone is in an accident, they’re hurt, they treat with a physical therapist or a chiropractor, and in six months, their better. These are the type of cases that the insurance industry wants to force out of the claims process. Now this has been successfully done in other states. For example, in the Carolinas, they have made it so expensive for someone that has a car accident with medical bills in the $5,000-$8,000 range, that most attorneys see it as cost prohibited in taking this case.
At the Wolfe Law Firm, we attempt to handle all cases and to help all citizens, regardless of the amount of damages that they have suffered. I believe if you were hurt through no act of your own or negligence of somebody else, that you have the right to have your claim fairly and properly evaluated. Should your claim not be evaluated by the insurance company, I believe you have the right to have a suit and have your redress handled in court.
So six years after the loss of third party bad faith things are not good for the citizens of West Virginia. It appears that thing are only going to get worse. The trend is that the legislature is flooded with money from insurance companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other so called citizen groups, which really are “puppets” for insurance companies. They will wrongfully continue to change laws that have taken decades to enact and that were originally designed to protect the citizens from being abused. We are slowly sliding backward down this slope.
The end goal of most of the insurance companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is to eliminate the right of an individual to have access to our civil justice system. In the end only corporations or the wealthy will be able to solve their grievances in a court of law. Only the Companies and the wealthy will be allowed the luxury of a trial by jury of citizens. Meanwhile, the rest of us, will continue to languish in the sidelines and the court system will become the haven for only the rich, the wealthy and the well heeled.