West Virginia Court Dismisses Personal Injury Case After Injured Party Fails to Appear

pipes--1-1188942-m.jpgSometimes, one of the most important things a plaintiff can do for his or her case is just show up in court. If the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney does not appear in court for a trial or scheduled hearings, a judge might have no choice but to dismiss the case.

Such was the case with Mr. Shipp, who filed a lawsuit over a slip-and-fall accident he suffered in 2010. Shipp was walking down the street in Charleston when he tripped on a gas line hole and suffered an injury. In Shipp’s case, filed with Kanawha County Circuit Court, he argued that the Mountaineer Gas Company “negligently, carelessly, and recklessly” failed to cover the hole, or maintain it in a way that protected the general public. The company also failed to properly warn the public of the danger. As a result of tripping over the uncovered hole, Shipp suffered from painful and permanent body injuries; physical pain and mental anguish; severe and substantial emotional distress; loss of capacity for enjoyment of life; and medical expenses. Shipp sought compensatory and punitive damages.

However, from there, things began to unravel. In August 2011, Shipp’s attorney filed a motion to withdraw from representation with the court, claiming that he had a total breakdown in communication with Shipp and that he doubted both Shipp’s credibility and the facts of the complaint. The motion was granted in February 2012. The court’s order specified that Shipp was to inform the court within 45 days whether he had received substitute counsel. In April 2012, Mountaineer Gas Company filed a motion to dismiss due to Shipp’s failure to comply with the court order. A hearing on the motion was set for August 20, 2012. On that date, while Mountaineer Gas Company appeared, Shipp did not. Because Shipp never appeared, or responded in any way, the court finally dismissed the case.

It is possible that Shipp realized, at the same time as his attorney, that his case had no merit and decided to simply abandon it. If that were the case, there was a more organized way to go about it — he could have filed a motion to withdraw. That way, Shipp could have saved the other party hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in litigation costs. A motion to withdraw might invite a counter-suit by the other party to win back costs spent on the litigation, but it is probably the better solution than just allowing those costs to accrue.

The Shipp scenario presents an interesting dilemma. Attorneys want clients who are cooperative and show up to scheduled meetings and hearings, and in return should be communicative and straightforward about the legal procedures and issues. Ultimately, the client is the one who makes the decisions in the case — an attorney cannot act without the client’s approval, even if the attorney knows what to do and it would be the easier option. If an attorney cannot communicate with the client, he or she will likely seek to withdraw from the case, so long as withdrawal would not “prejudice” the client. So those who are thinking of hiring an experienced West Virginia slip and fall attorney should try to have a cooperative and communicative relationship. It would be the best for all involved.

The Wolfe Law Firm has been providing legal services for nearly 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm provides services in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, bankruptcy, and mediation. If you are looking for an experienced West Virginia attorney, contact us today.

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