West Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuit Centers on 1923 Law, One Man's Sanity & the State's Two-Year Statute of Limitations

An interesting West Virginia personal injury lawsuit has called into question the meaning of a law from 1923, one man's sanity in the short time after his personal injuries and whether or not he filed his personal injury claim within the state's two-year statute of limitations.

Say what now? OK, let's break this sucker down a bit with the help of a story in The West Virginia Record.

Michael Worley fell 30 feet to a concrete floor while working a construction job for Beckley Mechanical and West Virginia Sprinklers on May 28, 2000. He was injured but did not sustain any brain trauma during the fall.

However, Worley developed sepsis and his mental functions diminished when doctors at Raleigh General Hospital perforated his liver while inserting a chest tube. Worley remained in the hospital to recover and was eventually released 43 days later on July 10th.

Exactly two years later, on July 10, 2002, Worley filed a personal injury lawsuit against Beckley Mechanical, West Virginia Sprinklers and three other companies. All of the defendants argued that the two-year statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit had run out.

Worley cited a 1923 law delaying the statute of limitations for any person who is "an infant or insane" at the time a cause of action began. In simpler terms, Worley argued that the statute of limitations did not begin immediately after suffering his personal injury because his mental capacities had diminished.

In a bench trial determining Worley's insanity, Raleigh Circuit Judge Robert Burnside found him to be sane from May 29th to June 3rd of 2000. Burnside thus dismissed Worley's personal injury lawsuit on the claim that he should have enforced his legal rights in that time period after suffering the personal injury.

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Reversed Burnside's Decision

Worley and his West Virginia personal injury lawyers appealed, and the state Supreme Court of Appeals changed the language in the 1923 law from insane to mentally ill.

Four of the five Justices found Burnside's literal interpretation of the 1923 law to be wrong and unfair. Specifically, Justice Spike Maynard wrote that such a literal interpretation would only protect people who were mentally ill prior to the accident or became mentally ill at the same time the injury occurred. Maynard further opinioned that this interpretation by Circuit Judge Burnside did not take into account those people who became mentally ill from their injuries within a couple of minutes, hours or even days.

Maynard added that the statute of limitations could only be delayed when a plaintiff proved that the time period between the injury and the mental illness was so brief that the plaintiff could not take reasonably take legal action, which is exactly what Worley's lawyers proved.

Maynard disagreed with the assertion that Worley was sane on May 29th as he was in pain and being treated with morphine. With that in mind, he said that it was unreasonable for Worley to have enforced his legal rights on that day and noted how the plaintiff's mental condition began to deteriorate the following day on May 30th.

Maynard then told Burnside to determine when Worley became sane and to see whether or not his lawsuit fell within two years of that date. We'll keep you updated on any more developments with this personal injury case, which ultimately reveals the importance of getting in touch with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after suffering a personal injury.


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