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Injuries or death in car accidents ignite rules of liability

Drag racing illegally on a public road usually goes beyond mere negligence in the operation of a vehicle. It almost always would rise to the level of recklessness that raises a question of criminal intent by the driver. In West Virginia and other states, car accidents arising out of dangerous activities like drag racing will generally be subject to the rule that a tortfeasor is responsible for the damages caused by the wrongdoing.

A recent fatal accident in Mason County illustrates the general point. An 18-year-old male was allegedly engaging in a drag race on Chestnut Street in Henderson when he lost control of his vehicle, crashed into a telephone pole and then the Kanawha River. His 18-year-old male passenger died in the accident, and police charged the operator with negligent vehicular homicide. Although the man could potentially be imprisoned for many years, and despite the seemingly intentional conduct, it is generally ruled that the man's liability insurance will cover him for death damages due to the deceased passenger's estate.

The decedent's next of kin are therefore entitled to make a claim for wrongful death damages, and in most instances, the defendant's liability auto insurance will be responsible for payment. In a case of reckless behavior, it is also conceivable that the plaintiff could seek and be awarded punitive damages against the operator. It would be less likely that the defendant's insurer would be liable to pay the punitive damages award, unless coverage was specifically stated in the policy.

Plaintiffs who are entitled to damages in these kinds of claims may keep in mind that a punitive damages award may be attributed to the insurer in cases where the insurer acts in bad faith and against its general duty of fair dealing. A settled intention by the insurer to ignore the necessity to expedite negotiations and settlement can lead to excess liability against the insurer. The proved way to maximize the insurance recovery that may be available from these kinds of car accidents in West Virginia and elsewhere is to consult with an attorney who is experienced in handling auto accident and wrongful death cases.

Source: wsaz.com, "UPDATE: Teen charged in Mason County fatal crash", Chad Hedrick, Dec. 7, 2016

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