MORGANTOWN – Justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals must decide whether the two-year statute of limitations on a claim of personal injury should stop in a case of temporary insanity.
In oral arguments March 13 at the West Virginia University College of Law, Justice Brent Benjamin asked Guy Bucci of Charleston if the statute could start and stop, start and stop, start and stop.
Bucci said, "That is really the ultimate question here."
Bucci argued that it should start and stop.
He represents Michael Worley, who in 2000 climbed 30 feet of scaffolding in a Raleigh County church to install a sprinkler system.
A valve flew off, struck him and caused him to fall to the floor.
Two years and 43 days later, Worley sued Beckley Mechanical Inc.
Raleigh Circuit Judge Robert Burnside dismissed the suit after a three-day bench trial.
Burnside found that the two-year limit applied because Worley was not insane within the meaning of state law.
Worley asked the Justices to reinstate the suit.
Bucci began oral argument by describing the accident. Justice Joseph Albright said, "We can't deal with that unless we supplement the statute."
Bucci said he was not certain. Albright said he was getting metaphysical.
Benjamin asked if treatment rendered Worley insane. Bucci said, "Not necessarily the treatment."
Bucci said Worley spent 43 days in a hospital.
Albright asked if he was lucid for a substantial period of the 43 days.
Bucci said he was. He said, "You still get your 43 days back."
He said, "It sort of gets a little murky." He said Worley was malnourished.
Justice Spike Maynard said, "He was lucid enough to sign for surgery."
Maynard asked if a judge should decide insanity in a civil case just as a judge would in a criminal case.
Bucci said, "There is no difference."
Benjamin said some states set a two-year limit and some set a year. He asked if the Legislature already considered that two was plenty.
Bucci said, "All we are asking for is those two years."
For Beckley Mechanical, Christopher Brumley of Charleston said Worley wanted the Justices to change the interpretation of a clear and unambiguous statute.
Albright said the word insane has been pretty much abandoned. He asked if the Court should acknowledge a modern view of mental illness.
Brumley said he followed the statute on mental illness.
Maynard recalled a trial where an attorney asked a prospective juror to define insane. He said the juror replied, "That's my ex-wife."
When the laughter subsided, Brumley said, "I don't know what state he was in. It must have been southern West Virginia."
Maynard said, "Does the Court have the power to help the Legislature out? Should we define insane?"
Brumley said, "I am hesitant to question the power of the Justices deciding my case."
Maynard said, "On grounds of equity, you lose."
Brumley said Worley was in good shape for five days.
Maynard said, "Until his brain began to swell?"
Brumley said, "A doctor saved his life."
Benjamin said, "He filed a medical malpractice claim in two years."
A decision will follow.