According to a recent report, Washington is one of the worst states to drive in the United States. The report analyzed gas prices, maintenance costs, and road congestion, among other factors. While this report is disheartening, to make matters worse, a separate report found a troubling trend regarding driver safety within the state of Washington.
A recent report from an insurance provider, Esurance, found that Washington saw a nearly 22 percent jump in the number of fatal accidents in only a four-year period. Only eight other states and Washington DC had higher increases in accident fatalities. Undoubtedly, the increase in deadly accidents is scary. However, it is our duty as drivers to take them seriously and take action to change the trend.
On the other hand, there is some good news. Washington allows drivers to pursue financial compensation for damages resulting from motor vehicle accidents. Of course, no amount of compensation will take away the pain and impact of your injuries. However, a personal injury claim can ensure that injured victims can receive the care they deserve while allowing them to focus on their recovery. The amount of compensation that an injured victim may be entitled to will depend on a variety of factors. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney to learn about your legal rights.
Understanding Washington’s Laws Surrounding PIP
Under Washington law, injured victims have a few options for seeking recovery after sustaining injuries in an accident. If you have been fortunate enough to avoid ever being involved in an accident, it can be difficult to understand the rights provided by your own insurance policy. In addition, it may be even more difficult to understand the rights you may be entitled to under Washington’s personal injury laws.
Personal injury protection (PIP) insurance is offered as optional coverage for Washington drivers. PIP policies essentially offer drivers no-fault insurance coverage. After an accident, drivers covered by a PIP policy will be required to access their own policy’s coverage, regardless of who is at fault. These benefits will cover any medical costs or lost wages that do not exceed your policy limits. If you have PIP benefits, the law requires the policy to provide certain minimum benefits.
Required minimum benefits include:
- $10,000 for reasonable and necessary medical costs
- Up to $200 per week for lost wages, with a maximum of $10,000 total
- $2,000 per person for funeral expenses
- Up to $200 per week for lost services (i.e. house cleaning, cooking), up to a maximum of $5,000
Oftentimes, the costs of accident damages will exceed the coverage provided by your PIP policy. However, the benefits can provide much needed financial help while you progress through the personal injury claims process. Are you unsure whether you have PIP coverage? Washington state requires all insurance providers to offer personal injury protection to their policyholders. The only way policyholders may decline this coverage is to do so in writing. As a result, many drivers have this coverage by default. A personal injury attorney can help injured victims understand their policy coverage, so that they may seek the compensation they are entitled to.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim
Depending on the severity of your injuries, your personal injury protection policy coverage may cover all of your medical expenses. However, in many cases, the costs and impacts of an accident will far exceed your policy’s coverage. Many drivers discontinue recommended medical treatment after they exhaust their PIP benefits, but this is usually not a good idea. A personal injury claim may help injured victims cover medical costs above their PIP policy limits. Injured victims may also be entitled to additional compensation for other losses resulting from the accident. Common damages that may be sought in a personal injury claim include:
Your medical costs will be one of the biggest drivers of the value of your case. The extent of your medical expenses will vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the injuries you sustain. Generally, a personal injury claim will include all reasonable medical costs related directly to the accident.
These costs may include:
- Doctors visits
- Hospital stays
- Medical devices
- Physical therapy
- Mental health counseling
- Chiropractic care
In some circumstances, the insurance company may take into account future medical costs. Future medical costs are typically available for victims who suffer exceptionally severe injuries that will require life-long medical treatment and rehabilitation.
Oftentimes, future medical costs may be provided in the form of a lump sum payment that is included in the settlement agreement. When calculating future medical expenses, previous medical care, actual costs, and how long the care is likely to continue will be taken into consideration.
After an accident, it is normal to feel pressured to return to work as soon as possible. Unfortunately, most of us can not afford to take an extended period of time away from work. However, going back to work before you are fully healed can make your injuries worse and compromise your recovery. If you have PIP coverage, your policy may cover some of your lost wages, but will typically not cover all of them. A personal injury claim can help you recover lost wages from your first missed day to the date you can return. If your injuries prevent you from returning to work at all, you may recover future wages.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering is another term for non-economic damages. These damages are intangible and not easily quantifiable. Unlike medical bills or lost wages which are based on clear economic costs, pain and suffering is harder to value. The amount of pain and suffering you may seek will depend on several factors. For example, the degree of pain, the type of pain, and how much the pain interferes with a victim’s quality of life will determine the amount of compensation they may be entitled to.
Pain and suffering may include:
- Immediate physical pain
- Chronic pain
- Other mental and emotional distress
Unfortunately, far too many accidents result in fatalities. In the most recent year for which data is available, there were 491 fatal crashes in Washington state. Over 20 percent of these crashes occurred in King County. When a car accident results in the death of a loved one, the surviving family members may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim.
The costs, in a wrongful death case, are meant to offset the losses of the victim’s family and may include:
- Reasonable and necessary funeral and burial costs
- Lost wages
- Outstanding medical bills
- Pain and suffering
How Much Is My Claim Worth?
Predicting the amount of recovery an injured victim can expect to receive is tricky. Be wary of any attorney who promises that you will receive an exact value for your claim. Many factors will determine the value of a personal injury claim. Even after a thorough evaluation, it is nonetheless impossible to guess an exact amount of compensation an injured victim will receive. Factors that may affect the value of your case include:
The Severity of Your Injuries
Personal injury cases are meant to compensate a person for the actual costs associated with their injuries. As such, your case’s value will rely most heavily on the degree of your injuries. For example, a traumatic brain injury will rarely require more care with higher costs than a soft tissue injury. However, it is not just about what type of injury you have, but also the extent of the injury. For instance, back injuries may be minor or severely debilitating. The amount of compensation injured victims are entitled to will depend on the severity of their specific injury.
The Timeliness of Your Case
The statute of limitations in Washington law requires accident victims to file personal injury claims within three years of the accident. However, you should almost never wait this long to initiate the personal injury claims process. As time passes it will become increasingly difficult for an attorney to build a solid case (and access evidence from years prior).
In addition, it will also make the insurance company less likely to take the case seriously. It will be hard to prove that there was no other event that caused your injuries between the time of your accident and the time you decided to make a claim.
Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, injuries may get progressively worse over time or cause additional complications that were not initially anticipated. Even if you think you have waited too long, it is still a good idea to talk to an attorney about your case.
The Quality of Evidence
Your injuries matter and will play a big role in the value of your case, but so will the evidence you have to support your claim. As mentioned, it is extremely important to gather evidence at the scene if possible. Car accidents often involve disputes regarding who was at fault. Insurance companies will try to pay less if they think that you contributed to the accident.
However, even if you did contribute in some way to causing the accident, you are not automatically barred from filing a personal injury claim. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you learn more about your legal rights.
Evidence the insurance company will likely take into account includes:
- Your medical records
- Accident photos
- Police reports
- The driving records for both parties (particularly, any citations issued on the day of the accident)
- Witness accounts
- Video evidence
Remember, insurance companies are in business to make money. Insurance investigators will try to discredit your injuries to decrease their financial exposure. One area insurance companies frequently direct their investigation is toward the driver.
Most personal injury cases settle out of court. However, if you and the insurance company cannot come to an agreement, the case may proceed to trial, if appropriate. When a jury is determining the amount of compensation you deserve, your credibility will be important. The insurance company will try to poke holes in your story, assign fault, and play down the degree of your injuries.
Remain honest and straightforward in every step of the claims process. Never exaggerate your symptoms, but at the same time do not hide their impact, either. If you have a preexisting condition or prior accident, tell your attorney so they can determine whether it is relevant to the case.
When it comes down to it, in most cases, you cannot recover more than the insurance policy limits provide. There will be rare circumstances where you may have a claim against an individual party or corporation. However, these cases are extremely rare. It is safe to assume that your recovery will be limited to the amount of insurance coverage provided by the other driver’s policy. The amount of coverage available will depend on the other party’s insurance elections before the accident.
Washington requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,0000 per accident. If the other driver has the minimum coverage and there are more than two people in your vehicle, the combined payout cannot be greater than $50,000. If the other party is uninsured or has insufficient coverage, you may have the option to use your own uninsured/underinsured coverage.
How Long Will It Take to Receive My Settlement?
It’s natural to have questions about how long it will take to receive payment after a car accident. The financial burden of significant medical expenses can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, just like figuring out how much your case is worth, determining how long it will take to settle your case is another impossible question.
While it is always the goal is to settle your case as quickly as possible, there may be unavoidable circumstances that delay your case. However, if you are struggling to obtain adequate care, an attorney may work with your care providers to delay payment until your claim is resolved. There may be additional resources available to make your recovery easier. The law is designed to protect accident victims. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
Your Rights Matter
Just as every accident is different, every personal injury case is also different. There is no way to determine exactly how someone will respond to an accident, and there is no way to determine just how much an accident is worth.
After an accident, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions. Your feelings matter and your rights matter.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, you may be eligible for financial compensation. If you have questions or need help with your case, contact an experienced car accident attorney today.
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