You become involved in a slow-speed fender-bender while sitting in a traffic jam, tap the bumper of a vehicle as you pull into or out of a parking space, or lightly graze a pedestrian or bicyclist as you navigate a turn. These are three examples of what may seem like relatively minor car accidents; however, despite appearances or perceptions about them, these collisions can have far more devastating consequences to property and persons than you imagine.
Many motorists are quick to classify their car accidents as minor ones. They do so because they want to avoid getting the police or their insurance company involved, seeking medical treatment, or losing access to their vehicle while it’s under repair.
However, at the same time, writing a Charleston motor vehicle collision off as minor and departing the crash scene without exchanging info with the other party involved or calling 911 to request that paramedics or the police report to the scene are risky behaviors. We’ll explain why West Virginia law suggests that not reporting a minor accident could be like taking a gamble.
Conflicting Perspectives About Whether It’s Necessary To Report Minor Accidents in West Virginia
If you ask a friend or family member for advice on whether you should leave a minor accident scene in West Virginia, they may say it’s fine to do so without question. However, you may receive a completely different answer from a Charleston car accident lawyer like ours at DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC. An attorney may try and convince you that it’s always best practice to report any car accident, no matter how relatively minor it may seem.
After all, property damage may not always be apparent from the outside (the exterior portion of the vehicle). However, a crash—even a slow-speed one—could cause interior or mechanical damage that can be costly to repair.
Additionally, most car crash victims find themselves flooded with many emotions as they brace for, endure, and deal with the aftermath of an auto accident. Two sensations victims often experience include anxiety or stress and a rush of adrenaline. A stressful or anxious feeling can affect victims’ abilities to think straight. That adrenaline rush serves as our bodies’ defense mechanism, often masking pain and other sensations that let us know that we’re hurt and need medical attention.
If you’re curious as to why we’re highlighting potential hidden property damage and late-onset injury situations, we’re doing so because not being aware of them could cause you to unnecessarily expose yourself to legal liability per West Virginia law.
West Virginia Laws To Know if You’re Considering Leaving the Scene of a Minor Accident
A few laws here in West Virginia are important for you to know about if you’ve become involved in a crash. Those are:
West Virginia Code 17C-4-1: Hit and Run Accidents
Our state’s hit-and-run law is codified as WV Code §17C-4-1: Crashes Involving Death or Personal Injuries; Erin’s Law. This section of the West Virginia code outlines how motorists must stop immediately after becoming involved in any collision that causes serious physical bodily injury or the death of another person.
That same statute documents what the potential penalties are for not stopping after a crash. The fines or potential imprisonment violators face is contingent upon the extent of an auto accident’s injuries or whether the collision caused a fatality.
West Virginia Code 17C-4-2: Motorist Responsibilities in Property Damage Only Cases
Another law to be aware of in our state is WV Code §17C-4-2: Crashes Involving Damage to Vehicle. That statute outlines how motorists in our state must stop at any crash scene that appears to only result in physical damage to the vehicle if there’s an occupant inside. The section of law then describes how motorists must follow the requirements outlined in WV Code § 17C-4-3, referenced below.
West Virginia Code 17C-4-6: Reporting Crashes
This state law, WV Code § 17C-4-6: Immediate Notification of Crashes, makes it mandatory for motorists involved in a car crash in West Virginia to report it to the police if it causes $1,000 or more in damages, any injuries, or someone else’s death. Motorists who fail to do so may face both civil and criminal penalties, including fines and jail time.
West Virginia Code 17C-4-3: Exchanging Contacts and Helping Accident Victims
There are two important components to WV Code § 17C-4-3: Duty To Give Information and Render Aid that motorists involved in crashes in Charleston or elsewhere in our state must be aware of to not run afoul of state law. Those include:
- Motorists must turn over their contact, vehicle, and insurance information directly to the injured party or law enforcement investigating the crash
- Drivers must attempt to reasonably assist victims of crashes they’re involved in, summon emergency crews to the accident scene, or transport an individual for medical care, provided they’re well enough to do so and the victim requests such support
West Virginia Code 55-7-15: No Liability for Rendering Aid to Auto Accident Victims
WV Code §55-7-15: Aid to Victim of Accident and Victim of Crime; Immunity From Civil Liability, specifies how anyone, whether they’re a medical professional or not, who attempts to render emergency medical assistance in good faith to an accident victim isn’t liable for any losses or damages that arise from them doing so. The state statute makes it clear that the person rendering the aid shouldn’t be doing so for remuneration, though.
Why It’s Always in Your Best Interest To Report a Minor Car Accident in West Virginia
The West Virginia laws outlined above are only some of the more notable ones that may apply to minor car accidents. As you might have learned from reading over them, the following actions can end up with you in legal hot water:
- Leaving the scene of a crash involving significant property or bodily damage without reporting it
- Not exchanging personal contact information, car details, or proof of insurance with a driver, person, or owner of a property you collided with
- Failing to call 911 to request an ambulance, attempting to render life-saving medical care yourself, or take a victim to a doctor or hospital, if requested, by the accident victim
As suggested earlier, your mind can play games on you, making you think that the crash you were involved in wasn’t as serious as it really was. You or another car crash victim may think you weren’t hurt, yet your health may deteriorate quickly in the hours or days after the accident.
It’s not worth exposing yourself to legal liability for a hit-and-run accident with injuries or property damage because you’re in a rush to leave a crash scene. On the flip side of the coin, it’s not in your best interest to let another driver leave a crash scene after they’ve struck you without reporting the incident. There’s a strong chance that you’ll lose your right to file a car accident claim or personal injury lawsuit if you later discover you’re hurt, or your car needs repairs.
The Role of a Car Accident Lawyer in Minor Accident Cases in Charleston, WV
If you find yourself involved in a situation where what seemed to initially be a minor accident has turned into something bigger than you would have ever imagined, it’s high time to reach out to legal counsel. While nothing beats “lawyering up” at the onset of a case to help control the narrative and preserve evidence in a car wreck case, doing so at any point before its settlement is better than never.
Our DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC personal injury lawyers have a long track record of advocating for the rights of car accident victims and can provide you with the support you need as you move forward in your Charleston case. There’s never any obligation associated with meeting with one of our attorneys to discuss your West Virginia legal matter, so reach out to schedule a free consultation with us today.