Motorized wheelchair users in West Virginia have responsibilities, rights, and privileges similar to those of pedestrians. These conveyances can be legally operated on public sidewalks, park pathways, bicycle paths, rail trails, and in public buildings. While motorized wheelchairs (which are also referred to as motorized scooters or mobility scooters) should not be on public roads if there are any other options, they are allowed to cross at intersections just as pedestrians. They should only be operated on a roadway if there is no sidewalk, or the sidewalk is obstructed in a way that prevents safe use.
According to West Virginia law, the operator of such a mobility device is classified as a pedestrian. Unfortunately, every year innocent adults and disabled children are injured or killed while on the sidewalk or pedestrian crossing, or operating their wheelchair legally on our streets. When a car or truck hits a pedestrian or wheelchair user, there is usually no question about who is going to suffer.
Motor-equipped wheelchairs can only be used on roads with speed limits of less than 35 mph except to make the crossing in a designated pedestrian crosswalk. A person operating a motorized wheelchair must watch out for and yield to pedestrians and bicycles. The wheelchair must also be equipped with reflectors on the front, back, wheels and be visible at night from a distance of six hundred feet.
The classification of motorized wheelchairs as not being motor vehicles in West Virginia is now of increased importance for the rights of the disabled. People with disabilities' rights are not only being eroded, but being trampled upon in states such as Michigan where the classification of these mobility enabling conveyances has been moved from pedestrian status to motor vehicle status. What this means to the disabled in Michigan is that if their wheelchair is not insured and that person is hit by a vehicle, the injured party may not be compensated by the insurance company representing the offending vehicle.
In West Virginia, common sense still guides the law concerning these mobility enabling vehicles. W.Va. Code 17C states that a motorized wheelchair is not classified as a vehicle or motor vehicle. "Vehicle" means every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks or wheelchairs. "Motor vehicle" means every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails, except motorized wheelchairs.
Even with all these cautions, accidents have happened which have seriously injured wheelchair operators. In Charleston, WV in 2008, a man was crossing Lee Street in the crosswalk when a vehicle struck him and totaled his $40,000 wheelchair. The wheelchair operator sustained multiple fractures, including fractures to his radius, ulnar and femur; suffered a head injury, neurological injuries, bowel and bladder incontinence and injuries to his spinal column, foot and hips; sustained injuries to his lungs, heart and other organs; and had four teeth knocked out. The driver of the vehicle was found at fault for the collision for failing to give him the right of way while he was in the crosswalk by the investigating police officer.
If you have been injured by a motor vehicle, whether as a pedestrian, driver, passenger, or wheelchair operator, you have legal rights. You may be eligible for compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses resulting from an accident. Call today for a free consultation with a West Virginia Injury Attorney: 304-594-1800 or after hours, 304-216-6695.
Related Article: Courtesy for People Using Wheelchairs, "Seven Things that Really Irk People with Disabilities," by wvaccidentlawyer, November 2012.
WV Record, "Wheelchair Bound Man Sues After Being Hit by a Truck" by Cara Bailey, October 31, 2007.
WV Record, "Kanawha man Sues After He Was Hit by Vehicle While in His Wheelchair," by Kyla Asbury, April 21, 2010.
West Virginia Legislature Website, WV Code 17C
Michigan Auto Law, "State Farm denies No Fault benefits to paralyzed man who didn't insure his wheelchair," by Steven Gursten, July 15, 2014.