Washington is a "fault" insurance state and observes "comparative negligence"
"Fault" insurance means that responsibility for compensation for an accident falls on the party or parties responsible. You are free to pursue any avenue of compensation that may be available, including:
- Filing a "first-party" claim with your own insurance company
- Filing a "third-party" claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company
- Filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver
In simplest terms, comparative negligence means that responsibility for the accident is divided between all responsible parties. The amount of compensation is directly impacted by the amount of responsibility assigned to each party, and all contributing factors relating to the accident are taken into account when assessing a case. For instance, if you are rear-ended, the driver in the rear car is generally found to be fully at fault - but he or she may be able to argue that you stopped short and contributed to the accident.
Some states, including our neighbors Oregon and Idaho, use a system of "modified comparative negligence" that bars an injured person from recovering if he or she is at least than 50 or 51 percent at fault. However, Washington uses what is known as "pure comparative negligence," which means that even someone who is more than 50 or 51 percent at fault can recover from another party in proportion to the other party's percentage of fault.
Insurance Laws and Requirements
The state of Washington requires all drivers to have liability insurance, and has minimum amounts set in place that drivers must carry. The requirements are as follows:
- $25,000 per single person for injuries in an accident
- $50,000 per accident if more than one person is injured
- $10,000 per accident for property damage
If you choose not to purchase any of these, you must either purchase a certificate for $60,000, deposit the same amount with the State Treasurer, or secure a liability bond for the amount previously stated. This is noted in Washington's Financial Responsibility Requirement.
Reporting the accident:
One of the most important steps to undertake in the event of a collision is to report the accident immediately. This is why calling law enforcement to the scene is so important-your report can be filed quicker, documented thoroughly, and you won't need to report it to the DMV if law enforcement is present and assesses the accident.
If law enforcement does not appear on scene or evaluate the collision, you must file a report with the DMV within 4 days.
What should you do after an accident?
- Make sure the scene is safe. The last thing you need is to be hit again.
- Don't move anyone who may be injured unless absolutely necessary, and if you believe yourself to be injured, call for help.
- Contact emergency services, including the police and an ambulance if necessary.
- Be sure to follow up with a doctor right away. You could have an internal injury or traumatic brain injury. Moreover, if you wait to seek medical help, it may be harder to get compensation for your injuries.
- Don't admit fault. Avoid making any sort of statement that could be construed as taking responsibility for the accident, such as saying "I was going too fast" or "It was my fault." Leave that to the other party.
- File a claim with your insurance company-this is called a first party claim that will establish a record with your insurance company and begin to keep track of damages.
- Document as much of the accident as you can. Take photos, exchange and write down license numbers, plate numbers, and contact information of both the other driver and their insurance company. If you have pen and paper, write down as many details as you can remember about the accident's timeline. With time, memories become muddled, so it's important to keep a record.
- Contact an attorney. The sooner you get an experienced advocate on your side, the easier it will be to get the compensation you need.
What does your insurance cover?
Insurance companies are required by state law to offer you other types of insurance to aid you in the recovery from an accident. You aren't obligated to purchase them, but we do recommend reviewing your policy to make sure you have all the coverage you need.
- Personal Injury Protection (aka PIP) will assist you with any medical bills that arise in connection with the accident. It will also help cover and compensate for lost wages if you had to miss work due to an injury. If you choose to reject this insurance, you must do so in writing.
- Collision Coverage - This type of insurance is required if you are leasing or financing a car. It pays for repairs for accident-related damages that your car may suffer.
- Comprehensive Coverage - Another insurance required if you're leasing or financing a car, it covers other damages to your car that aren't accident related, like theft and vandalism.
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage - This comes to your aid if the other car involved in your accident doesn't have enough insurance purchased to cover your damages, or has none at all.
What if I'm hit by an Underinsured/Uninsured Driver?
While this insurance coverage isn't required in Washington State, it's highly recommended. If you purchased underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance (UM/UIM) then you have less to worry about if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, or a motorist who doesn't have enough coverage to pay for the full cost of your accident.
Say your damages are worth $50,000, but the other's policy is only for $30,000. Where do you get the other $20,000? If you have uninsured and underinsured motorist protection, you can file a claim for those damages with your own insurance company. Otherwise, your only option may be to try to recover from the at-fault driver's assets - and that is a time-consuming and difficult process even if the at-fault driver has assets to recover in the first place.
A committed legal team can help you
You've got enough to worry about. Let someone else take the paperwork and the stress. When an accident happens, you shouldn't feel like you're grasping for straws to get the compensation that you deserve. Insurance companies like to play the runaround, delaying action on your claim and reducing your pain to a number in their backlog. That's why it's so important to contact an attorney who is there for you, who can genuinely represent you and fight for your rights. You've been through enough. Attorney Richard Lewis has been serving the Spokane area and Eastern Washington for decades, and he has the experience needed to fight for you. Contact Richard E. Lewis, P.S. today.