West Virginia Governor Tomblin Signs Bill Requiring Drivers to Disclose Insurance

457157_limo_accident.jpgRecently, West Virginia Governor Tomblin signed HB 4486 into law, which would permit drivers involved in an accident to access the other driver’s insurance before filing a lawsuit. This blog previously discussed HB 4486, which has generated some controversy. Some supporters of the law say that its purpose is to prevent needless lawsuits: a driver could conclude that the other driver does not have enough coverage to merit a suit. Critics, however, charge that the new law could make it easier to learn businesses’ insurance coverage and then target them in future lawsuits.

The law works as follows: the attorney representing an injured driver makes a written request to the other driver’s attorney. The writing must include the time and place of the accident, a copy of the accident report, and a good faith estimate of the injured driver’s medical expenses and lost wages, along with applicable documents. No more than 30 days after receiving the request, an insurer must provide the injured driver with the information about the at-fault driver’s vehicle coverage. This includes any excess coverage that might cover the claim. Included in this information are the insurer’s name, limits of the driver’s coverage, and the declaration page of any policy that could be used to cover the claim.

Should an insurer not provide this information, it could receive a $500 fine, as well as attorney fees and other expenses that come from the injured driver’s attorney’s attempts to obtain the information independently.

This law would join West Virginia with 12 other states that have similar laws, including neighboring Virginia. Critics still argue that the law represents a “giveaway” to personal injury lawyers that could increase lawsuits in the state. Lawmakers passed the bill by one vote on the last day of the legislative session. The law will take effect at the beginning of June.

We at the Wolfe Law Firm believe that critics’ concerns about the bill are overblown. Yes, it is possible that an injured driver, who otherwise would not have filed a lawsuit, might change his mind if he saw that the at-fault driver had gold-plated coverage. However, it is more likely that a driver who intended to sue would have filed a suit regardless. Furthermore, claims that this law could scare businesses out of state have proven to be unfounded in the other states with this law.

On the other hand, the benefits of the law might be overstated as well. It remains to be seen whether a driver seeking payment for $150,000 in injuries would settle with the other driver upon learning he only had $30,000 in insurance. Instead, the injured driver might try to bring other responsible parties into the lawsuit.

The law also seems a little unfair to those who cannot afford a lawyer and choose to be “pro se” — to represent themselves. The right to represent oneself is one of this country’s oldest rights, yet this law would deprive pro se litigants of a remedy, even if the pro se litigant were the injured party. Also, there is the question of what happens if who is at fault can’t be determined. Most likely each side would hire a West Virginia car accident attorney who would get the other driver’s insurance information, and then they would battle it out in court. If one of the drivers were a business with gold-plated insurance, it least it would not be able to pretend that it could not afford to pay the other driver’s medical expenses.