(a) Every nonresident, for the privilege of operating a motor vehicle on a public street, road or highway of this state, either personally or through an agent, appoints the Secretary of State, or his or her successor in office, to be his or her agent or attorney-in-fact upon whom may be served all lawful process in any action or proceeding against him or her in any court of record in this state arising out of any accident or collision occurring in the State of West Virginia in which the nonresident was involved: Provided, That in the event process against a nonresident defendant cannot be effected through the Secretary of State, as provided by this section, for the purpose only of service of process, the nonresident motorist shall be considered to have appointed as his or her agent or attorney-in-fact any insurance company which has a contract of automobile or liability insurance with the nonresident defendant.
(b) For purposes of service of process as provided in this section, every insurance company shall be considered the agent or attorney-in-fact of every nonresident motorist insured by that company if the insured nonresident motorist is involved in any accident or collision in this state and service of process cannot be effected upon the nonresident through the office of the Secretary of State. Upon receipt of process as provided in this section, the insurance company may, within thirty days, file an answer or other pleading or take any action allowed by law on behalf of the defendant.
(c) A nonresident operating a motor vehicle in this state, either personally or through an agent, is considered to acknowledge the appointment of the Secretary of State, or, as the case may be, his or her automobile insurance company, as his or her agent or attorney-in-fact, or the agent or attorney-in-fact of his or her administrator, administratrix, executor or executrix in the event the nonresident dies, and furthermore is considered to agree that any process against him or her or against his or her administrator, administratrix, executor or executrix, which is served in the manner provided in this section, shall be of the same legal force and validity as though the nonresident or his or her administrator, administratrix, executor or executrix were personally served with a summons and complaint within this state.
Any action or proceeding may be instituted, continued or maintained on behalf of or against the administrator, administratrix, executor or executrix of any nonresident who dies during or subsequent to an accident or collision resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle in this state by the nonresident or his or her duly authorized agent.
(d) Service of process upon a nonresident defendant shall be made by leaving the original and two copies of both the summons and complaint, together with the bond certificate of the clerk, and the fee required by section two, article one, chapter fifty-nine of this code with the Secretary of State, or in his or her office, and the service shall be sufficient upon the nonresident defendant or, if a natural person, his or her administrator, administratrix, executor or executrix: Provided, That notice of service and a copy of the summons and complaint shall be sent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, by a means which may include electronic issuance and acceptance of electronic return receipts, by the Secretary of State to the nonresident defendant. After receiving verification from the United States Postal Service that acceptance of process, notice or demand has been signed, the Secretary of State shall notify the clerk’s office of the court from which the process, notice or demand was issued by a means which may include electronic notification. If the process, notice or demand was refused or undeliverable by the United States Postal Service the Secretary of State shall create a preservation duplicate from which a reproduction of the stored record may be retrieved which truly and accurately depicts the image of the original record. The Secretary of State may destroy or otherwise dispose of the original returned or undeliverable mail. Written notice of the action by the Secretary of State must then be provided by certified mail, return receipt requested, facsimile, or by electronic mail, to the clerk’s office of the court from which the process, notice or demand was issued. The court may order any reasonable continuances to afford the defendant opportunity to defend the action.
(e) The fee remitted to the Secretary of State at the time of service shall be taxed in the costs of the proceeding. The Secretary of State shall keep a record in his or her office of all service of process and the day and hour of service of process.
(f) In the event service of process upon a nonresident defendant cannot be effected through the Secretary of State as provided by this section, service may be made upon the defendant’s insurance company. The plaintiff shall file with the clerk of the circuit court an affidavit alleging that the defendant is not a resident of this state; that process directed to the Secretary of State was sent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested; that the registered or certified mail was returned to the office of the Secretary of State showing the stamp of the post office department that delivery was refused or that the notice was unclaimed or that the defendant addressee moved without any forwarding address; and that the Secretary of State has complied with the provisions of subsection (d) of this section. Upon receipt of process the insurance company may, within thirty days, file an answer or other pleading and take any action allowed by law in the name of the defendant.
(g) The following words and phrases, when used in this article, for the purpose of this article and unless a different intent on the part of the Legislature is apparent from the context, have the following meanings:
(1) “Duly authorized agent” means and includes, among others, a person who operates a motor vehicle in this state for a nonresident as defined in this section and chapter, in pursuit of business, pleasure or otherwise, or who comes into this state and operates a motor vehicle for, or with the knowledge or acquiescence of, a nonresident; and includes, among others, a member of the family of the nonresident or a person who, at the residence, place of business or post office of the nonresident, usually receives and acknowledges receipt for mail addressed to the nonresident.
(2) “Motor vehicle” means and includes any self-propelled vehicle, including a motorcycle, tractor and trailer, not operated exclusively upon stationary tracks.
(3) “Nonresident” means any person who is not a resident of this state or a resident who has moved from the state subsequent to an accident or collision and among others includes a nonresident firm, partnership, corporation or voluntary association, or a firm, partnership, corporation or voluntary association that has moved from the state subsequent to an accident or collision.
(4) “Nonresident plaintiff or plaintiffs” means a nonresident who institutes an action in a court in this state having jurisdiction against a nonresident in pursuance of the provisions of this article.
(5) “Nonresident defendant or defendants” means a nonresident motorist who, either personally or through his or her agent, operated a motor vehicle on a public street, highway or road in this state and was involved in an accident or collision which has given rise to a civil action filed in any court in this state.
(6) “Street”, “road” or “highway” means the entire width between property lines of every way or place of whatever nature when any part of the street, road or highway is open to the use of the public, as a matter of right, for purposes of vehicular traffic.
(7) “Insurance company” means any firm, corporation, partnership or other organization which issues automobile insurance.
(h) The provision for service of process in this section is cumulative and nothing contained in this section shall be construed as a bar to the plaintiff in any action from having process in the action served in any other mode and manner provided by law.