Car accidents can happen to anyone, at any time. Whether your car only suffers minor property damage or someone sustains a serious injury, at some point in your life, you will probably experience a car accident. In 2017, Washington experienced 565 fatal car accidents throughout the state.
The Question of Fault
If you’ve been involved in a car accident, first the insurance companies will decide who is at fault for the accident. If there is a lawsuit that goes to trial, the jury will determine fault. Deciding who is at fault for an accident is an important question, as it determines damages and any resulting penalties or fines.
In some cases, proving fault is straightforward, but that’s not always the case. The law regarding car accidents varies from state to state. Washington is a fault state, which means that if a car accident occurs in Washington, the driver who caused the accident is liable for the resulting losses and injuries. This means that an injured victim may sue the other driver and/or his insurance company directly. To prove a car accident claim, you must establish all of the following:
- That the other driver acted negligently (negligence is the failure to use ordinary care to avoid foreseeable damages).
- That the negligence of the other driver caused the accident
- That the plaintiff sustained an injury and financial damages as a result of the accident
In some cases, a court may hold multiple parties liable for an accident. Washington follows the pure comparative negligence theory, which means that a court will reduce any compensation amount by the injured party’s percentage of fault for his or her own injuries.
Washington law requires every driver in the state to have liability insurance coverage. If you have such coverage and are involved in a crash, your insurance company will pay for your damages, up to the value of your policy. However, you may also have insurance coverage of your own that applies as well, such as:
- No-fault coverage
- Coverage that only covers property damage
Even if your insurance company should be paying for your injuries, such companies are notoriously difficult to deal with, which is why having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side can help.
Proving Liability in a Car Accident
All drivers owe a duty to everyone else on the road to use the highest degree of care to avoid injuring others or damaging property. To establish fault in a car accident, you must prove that the other driver owed you a duty of care, that he or she breached that duty, and that the breach caused your injuries and damages. It is important to establish that the other driver failed to act as a responsible person would in a similar situation. Proving liability in a car accident can prove difficult.
In car accident cases, the burden of proof rests with the plaintiff (the party seeking damages), which means that he or she must establish that the other driver was at fault. To meet the burden of proof, the plaintiff must validate all of the claims that he or she is making in the personal injury claim. The evidence must support the plaintiff’s version of the accident and any information related to the details of his or her injuries and damages. To build the best possible case for an injury lawsuit or insurance claim, it is critical to gather as much evidence as possible. The more evidence you have to support your claims, the more likely you are to obtain fair compensation. There are many different types of evidence, including medical bills, photographs, witness statements, and accident reports.
Evidence From the Scene of the Accident
Even the most minor car accident can leave you upset and disoriented. Immediately following an accident, seek medical help for yourself and any other injured persons. Call the police, as an official accident report may prove crucial in proving fault down the road. If a car accident in Washington resulted in an injury to any person and/or damage of $1,000 or more to any one vehicle or another unit of property, someone involved in the car accident must complete a motor vehicle collision report, unless a police officer has already accomplished this task.
While at the scene, collect as much evidentiary information as possible, such as:
- Contact information for all of the other drivers. In addition to names, addresses and phone numbers, try to obtain license plate numbers, drivers’ license numbers, and insurance information for all drivers involved in the accident.
- Contact information for any witnesses to the collision.
- Damaged vehicles and property. Take pictures of all damaged property from several angles.
- Photograph the surrounding area. In particular, take pictures of skid marks and any road debris in the crash area. Document all road conditions and traffic lights or signs in the vicinity of the crash.
- Take notes. What was the other driver doing when the crash occurred? Did you notice the other driver texting, driving while distracted, or using alcohol or drugs?
- Look for other cameras. Security cameras of adjacent businesses or other cameras may have recorded the accident. These recordings might provide valuable evidence, but you must gather them before they are destroyed.
Evidence of Damages
Most car accident cases involve property damage. To receive compensation for the full cost of your property damage, you will need all records related to car repairs, car rentals, or other property damage caused by the crash. Don’t forget recent improvements you may have made to the car before the accident. If your car was totaled, proof of these improvements may increase the value of your vehicle.
Physical injuries are an extremely important part of your car accident claim. You should obtain medical care immediately following any accident. You may think that you are uninjured, but do not wait to seek treatment. It may take days, weeks, or longer for the symptoms of car crash injuries to show up. Common injuries include back, neck and spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and internal bleeding. You should preserve all evidence related to your injuries, including:
- Hardcopy and electronic records of your medical care. You should have copies of your treatment record and diagnostic images, such as x-rays and MRIs. Include records of your post-treatment care, such as therapy or rehabilitation. You will also want to gather any information related to lost wages. You will need proof of any out-of-pocket costs, or copays, as well as information related to lost wages. In addition, keep records of all communications between you and your insurance company.
- Keep a journal of the aftermath of the accident. Over time, memories fade. A daily diary related to your injuries may provide useful details. Keep track of your healthcare appointments and changes in your condition. Car accident injuries are not just physical. Your mental and emotional state may contribute to an award for non-economic damages.
You Need an Experienced Attorney
A car accident may happen in an instant, but the serious and long-term losses can affect you and your loved ones far into the future. There are time limits for filing claims, so you need to consult an experienced, dedicated personal injury attorney as soon as possible.