THEIR VIEW: Bottle-rocket-in-anus case shows importance of administrative proceedings

By The West Virginia Record | Aug 30, 2013


A while back, this blog mentioned a rather unique case involving a fraternity party on Marshall University's campus. During the party, one of the guests attempted to shoot bottle rockets out of his anus. The rockets never launched, instead blowing up in his rectum. The explosion so startled another guest that the other guest jumped back and fell off of the deck, where he then became lodged between the deck and the air conditioning unit.

The second guest later sued the first guest and the fraternity, claiming that a railing should have been installed on a deck that was three or four feet high. As a result of the defendant's actions and the lack of railing, the plaintiff claims that he suffered injuries that, among other things, prevented him from playing catcher for Marshall University's baseball team. He later added Marshall University as a defendant in the lawsuit, including Marshall University Board of Directors and Marshall University Interfraternal Council.

Recently, the circuit court dismissed the Marshall University Board of Directors from the case on the grounds that the plaintiff had failed to follow proper administrative procedures prior to filing a lawsuit. The court noted that West Virginia Code required the plaintiff to first provide written notice via certified mail to the West Virginia Attorney General's Office, stating the claim and the relief sought, at least 30 days before filing the lawsuit. The lawsuit will continue against the other named defendants.

Aside from the facts that gave rise to the case, the case is interesting because it shows how important administrative proceedings are to the legal system. While many people think of lawsuits when they have been injured, few people are aware of the role that administrative bodies play. Often times, before you can even file a lawsuit, you must do what is known as "exhausting administrative remedies."

That means that certain claims against certain defendants must be looked into by an administrative agency before the injured party has the right to sue. This is true at both the state and federal level. For instance, if you have a claim of employment discrimination, you would first need to file either with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Likewise, if you have a Workers' Compensation claim, you would need to file with the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner's office and work your way through its channels. Some administrative agencies will permit injured parties to file concurrent lawsuits, but not all or even most.

Instead of a judge, the injured party may be addressing a commissioner, an administrative law judge, or a hearing officer. Administrative hearings are usually less formal than hearings in court. The one presiding may simply ask you questions, rather than have you follow strict rules governing evidence and testimony.

The process is set up this way to prevent gridlock in the courts and ensure that relief is delivered as efficiently as possible. That said, that doesn't mean the process is efficient -- often administrative bodies get overworked and backed up similarly to the courts. Also, you still have the option of hiring a West Virginia personal injury attorney to represent you. Having an attorney help and prepare you can often be a relief, even in a less formal situation.

The Wolfe Law Firm is an Elkins personal injury firm founded by Dorwin Wolfe. This editorial appeared on the firm’s blog.

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