For most of us, driving is an everyday occurrence, and we all know that car crashes happen with appalling regularity. We often see them by the side of the road as we are driving along. Odds are, you will be involved in an accident at some point. Insurance industry experts estimate that the average driver will be in a collision about once every 17.9 years. So at some point, no matter how careful you are, instead of observing a crash as you pass it, you will be involved.
In the United States, there were more than 37,150 car accident fatalities in 2017. In King County, the most populous county in Washington, approximately 16 percent of all fatalities in the state are related to car accidents. Many of these accidents happen in Seattle. It can be challenging to drive in Seattle, with its hills, bridges, tunnels, narrow roads, and rain. According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, in 2017 there were 10,959 motor vehicle collisions in Seattle. Of those, 187 caused serious or fatal injuries. In 2018 that number rose to 212 serious or fatal crashes.
Nobody ever expects an accident. Even if you were not at fault, an accident can be harrowing and leave you feeling unsure what to do next. If you were injured or lost a loved one in a car accident, you might be entitled to compensation from those at fault. You need to consult the experienced Seattle car accident attorneys at Boohoff Law to discuss your legal options.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident When You’re Not to Blame
Assess the situation. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If anyone is injured, call for help or ask someone to do so for you. Remember that injuries may not become apparent until after the accident, so it is always a good idea to get medical attention.
Move to a safe area. If you can, move to the side of the road or another safe place. If you are unable to move the car, leave it, and take yourself and others to safety. Turn on your hazard lights and place warning devices around the accident scene, if possible. Don’t drive off. Fleeing an accident scene is against the law in every state. Even if the other driver leaves the scene after a crash, stay and report the incident yourself.
Call the police immediately. Even if it was a minor accident or the other party does not want you to report the accident, call 911. The police report will be helpful for an insurance claim or future legal action, especially if the accident was not your fault. When the police arrive, simply tell the officer exactly what happened, to the best of your ability. If you are not sure of something, say you don’t know.
Report the car accident. If you have an accident that causes a death, injury, or property damage of $700 or more, you must report the accident, within four days, unless a police officer already filed an accident report. Failure to file a report may result in the suspension of your driver’s license.
Exchange information. Everyone involved in the accident should exchange information, including:
- Names, addresses, phone numbers;
- Driver license numbers;
- License plate numbers;
- Vehicle makes, models, and years;
- Car insurance information;
- Location of the accident.
Gather evidence. Gather as much evidence as possible. Ask witnesses for their contact information. Take photos of the accident scene, including any signs, traffic signals, or debris in the area. Nearby businesses may have video cameras that may have captured footage of the accident.
Avoid talking about fault. People tend to become very upset and emotional following a car accident. In the excitement, they may apologize or accept blame, even if they are blameless. Avoid discussing fault when talking with others at the scene or in conversation with an insurance provider. Saying things like “It’s all my fault” or even apologizing may be used against you by insurance companies who want to minimize their claim or other parties if there is a lawsuit. The police and insurance claims representatives will investigate the case and determine fault.
Consult a Seattle personal injury attorney. Talk to an attorney before discussing the accident with representatives of an insurance company, or signing any papers or release forms.
Financial Responsibility for an Accident
Washington requires drivers to have auto insurance. Minimum coverage requirements to register your vehicle are:
- $25,000 for injury or death to one person
- $50,000 for injury to more than one person
- $10,000 for damage to property
Whether or not you can recover damages from your own insurance company depends on what kind of insurance you have. Washington allows no-fault coverage, so if you have no-fault coverage, your policy will cover your accident up to your policy maximums, no matter who was at fault. However, if you have a traditional policy, you have to file a claim with the insurance company for the driver who was at fault, or you may need to file a lawsuit against the driver who was at fault.
Fault is a key issue in car accident cases. The police report will play a big role in determining who was at fault. For example, if someone was cited at the scene, or the report mentions other indications of blame. Witness testimony is also very important. In some cases, more than one person or entity may be at fault.
For some accidents, fault may be fairly simple. For example, because you are always supposed to leave a safe distance between cars, if someone rear-ends you, it is usually determined to be their fault. However, there are circumstances in which blame may be shared, such as when the car in front had brake lights that were not operating.
Left turns are also a common cause of accidents. Drivers are required to yield when making a left turn, so if someone making a left turn hits you, it may be determined that they were making an unsafe turn. Distracted drivers cause many accidents. Washington law forbids the use of electronic devices such as phones, tablets, computers, or gaming equipment while behind the wheel.
The Basics of Car Accident Lawsuits
If you can prove that another person’s negligence caused your accident and the injuries you suffered, you may recover compensation under personal injury law. Negligence is commonly defined as “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” If you are filing a lawsuit based on someone’s negligence, you need to establish that:
- The person at fault owed you a duty of care
- That person breached their duty of care
- The breach of duty resulted in your injuries
- Your damages were a result of your injuries
Washington lawsuits claiming $50,000 or less in damages are subject to the requirements of a mandatory arbitration program.
Many car accidents are fatal. However, even those who survive car accidents may face severe or permanent injuries, requiring medical care far into the future. Victims may suffer severe injuries such as:
- Brain injuries. There is a range of brain injuries, such as concussions, skull fractures, hematomas, and more. Because the brain controls so much of your body, recovery is often limited. Not all symptoms of a brain injury appear right away. Some signs of a brain injury may show up hours or days after a car accident.
- Spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury damages any part of the spinal cord itself or the nerves involved with the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries are extremely serious and often cause permanent physical limitations. A person’s limitations after a spinal cord injury depend upon the location of the injury and how severe it is.
- Soft tissue damage. The force of a collision can cause sudden forceful movements which may injure organs, joints, discs, or the neck. Probably the most well-known injury is whiplash.
- Burn injuries. Severe burns are extremely painful and usually require a long recovery period. Even with the best burn treatments, these injuries often result in permanent scarring.
- Scars. Burns or lacerations may result in severe scarring, which can cause psychological and emotional problems.
- Compound fractures. These are often caused by a piece of bone that breaks through the skin. Injuries to the legs, arms, hands, and feet are very common. They may require surgery and sometimes leave the victim disabled.
Compensation is based on the facts of the case and the severity of your injuries. Some states place limits, called damage caps, on the amount of compensation you can receive for certain injuries. Washington does not have such limits, and in fact, Washington courts have held that damage caps are unconstitutional.
However, in Washington, non-economic damages cannot exceed 43 percent of the average annual wage in Washington multiplied by the victim’s life expectancy at the time of the accident (minimum 15 years). Washington law also does not usually permit a court to award punitive damages for a car accident. If you were in a car accident that was not your fault, you have a legal right to seek compensation for losses such as:
- Medical bills
- Physical therapy and similar services
- Lost wages from missing work
- General pain and suffering
- Temporary and permanent disability
- Funeral and burial expenses (if you lost a family member in the accident)
- Any other costs that are directly connected to the accident
How a Seattle Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Dealing with the aftermath of an accident can be overwhelming. If you are unsure whether you need the services of an attorney, consider what the attorney can do for you in this difficult time, such as:
- Thoroughly investigate the crash;
- Based on the facts, analyze legal issues such as fault and liability;
- Gather and preserve evidence, including crash reports, eyewitness accounts, photos and video, medical records, additional documentation, and an accident reconstructionist’s report;
- Handle the insurance claim process, including communications with the insurance company;
- Work with your medical providers to manage medical bills;
- Determine a monetary figure for your damages;
- Arrange for any necessary experts. These may include accident reconstructionists to prove fault, medical experts to prove your injuries, economic experts to establish your damages and other expert witnesses;
- Work to obtain fair compensation from the insurer;
- When necessary, file a personal injury lawsuit;
- Handle depositions and other forms of discovery;
- Participate in pre-trial settlement negotiations;
- Appear for pre-trial motions;
- When a pre-trial settlement is not reached, represent you at trial.
You Have a Limited Time to Take Action
A “statute of limitations” is a law which determines how long you have to file a lawsuit after an accident. In Washington, the statute of limitations for most personal injury lawsuits, including car accidents, is three years, but you should discuss all time limits with your attorney. The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Insurance companies usually require you to make a claim or within a reasonable time after the accident, so it is important to act promptly.
If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident that was not your fault, an experienced Seattle personal injury attorney can help answer your questions, understand the claims process, and ensure you understand your best possible options for moving forward.