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Information on Washington State Personal Injury Laws

The law of personal injury in the State of Washington involves compensation by way of money for injury to a claimant’s person or reputation. Most personal injury cases in Washington involve the law of negligence in motor vehicle collisions or premises liability cases when the claimant is injured on property that is owned or occupied by somebody else.

Negligence

To prove negligence, a claimant in Washington is required to prove certain elements. Failure of the claimant to prove any single element of negligence will cause his or her case to fail in its entirety. Those elements are that:

  • The person who they blame for their injuries owed them a duty of care
  • There was a breach of that duty
  • The breach of duty caused the claimant to be injured
  • The claimant suffered legally recognized damages

Common Damages in Personal Injury Cases

As every person is different, the injuries and damages in every personal injury case are different too. Common damages claimed in Washington personal injury cases can include:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future lost earnings
  • Any permanent partial disfigurement
  • Any permanent partial disability
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of a normal life
  • Funeral and burial expenses in the event of a wrongful death

Why You Need an Injury Attorney

Insurance companies make money by collecting premiums and paying out as little as possible on valid claims. The insurer of the person who seriously injured you wants to settle your claim as soon as possible and as quickly as possible. That saves the insurance company money. Personal injury law is highly complex. You don’t know how to properly put a medical bill or report into evidence, and you don’t know the highly technical differences between direct and cross-examination either. By not retaining a qualified personal injury lawyer right after an accident, you’ll likely be giving up rights that you never even knew that you had. A judge won’t give those rights back to you either.

Contact us right away after any injury for a free consultation and case evaluation. Insurance defense attorneys, judges and jurors all know and respect us. Victims of the carelessness and negligence of others deserve full and complete compensation for their injuries.

Tort Liability for School Bus Operations

Tort Liability for School Bus Operations

Tort Liability for School Bus Operations

The elongated yellow body of a school bus is a familiar sight on the streets and roads of the United States. Because of the frequency and scope of their operations and the manner of their employment, school buses inevitably become involved in motor vehicle accidents and other incidents that result in the bringing of legal actions seeking to recover damages for death, personal injury, or property damage caused by such incidents.

In addition to the standard questions that can arise in any motor vehicle accident case, the operation of school buses creates a number of legal issues unique to the use of that category of vehicle. Damages may be sought for the death or injury of a passenger who is embarking on or disembarking from a school bus or attempting to cross a road in the course of doing so, raising questions that may include the sufficiency of mirrors or other vehicle equipment and the degree of care or attention required to be exercised by a school bus operator or by a passenger, in many cases a young child. Incidents not directly related to the highway operations of school buses, such as assaults committed by drivers or passengers, may also implicate legal issues dealing with the nature and scope of liability for the consequences of such incidents. In some states, governmental units that operate school buses may claim that such operations involve governmental functions and that they should therefore be immune from liability in legal actions arising out of school bus operations, or that they should be relieved of liability because the operator of a particular fleet of school buses is an independent contractor over whose actions a school district or other governmental unit has no control.

Tort law, the branch of the legal system that deals with the recovery of damages for private injuries or wrongs not arising from contractual relationships, has developed in the United States out of the separate legal systems of the individual states rather than out of a single unified body of federal law. As a result, the legal standards governing tort liability for school bus operations will vary from state to state.

Exclusions for Violations of Law in Motorists Insurance

Exclusions for Violations of Law in Motorists Insurance

Exclusions for Violations of Law in Motorists Insurance

Insurance companies do not defend their insureds in criminal proceedings based on automobile collisions. However, nearly all automobile collisions result from infractions of traffic regulations. The fact that an insured was violating a law at the time a covered accident occurred does not relieve an insurance company’s duty to defend that insured in a civil action or its duty to pay for the injuries or damages caused by the insured.

To limit their liability, insurance companies often include a clause in automobile insurance policies that excludes coverage for injuries and damages caused by an insured while violating the law. Generally, the violations of law have to be serious, such as fleeing from a police officer or driving a bank robbery get-away car. An insured’s failure to register an automobile as required by law would not prevent the insured from recovering for losses sustained in the vehicle’s operation under an automobile insurance policy.

If an insurance policy requires that an insured “legally operate an automobile,” it means that the insured must have a legal right to use the vehicle and not that the insured must use the vehicle in accordance with the law. In some states, insurance companies can exclude from automobile insurance coverage insureds that operate vehicles under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.

An injured party may be able to obtain benefits under his or her insurance policy’s uninsured motorist provision for injuries or damages caused by a person without insurance or whose own insurance denied coverage because he or she was violating the law at the time. For instance, if a vehicle is hit by a rock thrown from an overpass, the vehicle damage and any injuries to its occupants maybe covered by the uninsured motorist provision of the driver’s automobile insurance policy even though the person who threw the rock was not found or was not insured.

Insurance Coverage for Motorcycles

Insurance Coverage for Motorcycles

Insurance Coverage for Motorcycles

Whether it is warmer weather or increased fuel costs, more motorcycles are evident on America’s roads and highways. There is a greater danger involved in riding a motorcycle than in driving a car. As a result, insurance companies treat motorcycles and their riders differently than automobiles and their passengers. Such treatment does not violate the constitutional right of equal protection under the law.

Motorcycle owners and operators must obtain insurance that specifically covers the risks inherent in the use of motorcycles. Insurance on motorcycles can be limited to liability coverage. Some states exempt motorcycles from mandatory personal injury protection coverage. An insurance company’s denial of coverage under the medical payment portion of a policy to an insured, who was killed while riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, did not violate a state insurance provision that insurance on a life had to apply to all persons within a class and that reasonable grounds had to exist for making a distinction between those within and without the class.

Most automobile insurance policies expressly exclude motorcycles as covered vehicles. The same is true of homeowners’ liability coverage that excludes losses arising out of ownership, maintenance, operation, or use of an automobile. That exclusion applies to both cars and motorcycles.

While an insurance company can attempt to exclude motorcycles from the definition of an uninsured or underinsured motor vehicle on the grounds that motorcycles are not motor vehicles, most courts have held that motorcycles should be included under the uninsured/underinsured motorist endorsement. However, some states permit the exclusion of underinsured motorist coverage for all claims involving motorcycle injuries.

Auto Insurance Coverage for Newly Acquired Vehicles

Auto Insurance Coverage for Newly Acquired Vehicles

Auto Insurance Coverage for Newly Acquired Vehicles

When a vehicle owner has an automobile insurance policy and acquires a new vehicle, the new vehicle will be automatically covered to the same extent and policy amounts as the insured’s other insured vehicles, if the insurance policy has a provision for newly acquired vehicles. A newly acquired vehicle can be a replacement vehicle or an additional vehicle. The term also includes purchased and leased vehicles.

To qualify as a newly acquired vehicle, the insured must have bought or leased the vehicle after buying the insurance policy under which he or she wants coverage. Some insurance policies will exclude coverage of a newly acquired vehicle if it is insured under another automobile insurance policy. Some policies restrict the type of newly acquired vehicles that will be covered. For example, motorcycles may not be included in the newly acquired vehicle clause.

Most automatic coverage provisions require that the insured notify the insurer within 30 days of acquiring the new vehicle if the insured wants it covered under the existing automobile policy. Be aware that some policy notification periods can be less than 30 days. One insurance company’s notification period was 14 days. If the insured fails to notify the insurer of the newly acquired vehicle within the specified time, the vehicle will be uninsured. Unless there is a specific notice procedure in the insurance policy, an insured’s verbal notice to his or her insurance agent has been deemed sufficient to trigger the automatic coverage for a newly acquired vehicle.

An insured who buys a replacement vehicle or an additional vehicle is not required to use the newly acquired vehicle provision of an old insurance policy to insure it. The insured can buy liability coverage from a different company or a separate policy from the same company that insures his or her other vehicles. Once the insured obtains other insurance for the new vehicle, it will no longer be a newly acquired vehicle under the insured’s old policy. Only the provisions of the new and separate policy will provide coverage for that vehicle.

Arbitration for Motor Vehicle Insurance Disputes

Arbitration for Motor Vehicle Insurance Disputes

Arbitration for Motor Vehicle Insurance Disputes

Arbitration (which is sometimes referred to as a type of Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR) is a procedure in which the parties to a dispute, for example, parties who disagree about some aspect of a motor vehicle insurance policy, voluntarily submit the issues they are unable to agree upon to the judgment of one or more disinterested persons, called arbitrators, and agree to abide by the judgment of the arbitrators, which is called an award. One significant thing to note about arbitration is that it takes place outside the court system and so can be conducted less formally and with less expense than a traditional judicial proceeding.

Arbitration has the potential to be an effective way of handling disputes in the area of motor vehicle insurance. Such disputes are sometimes small or moderate in size, and this fact, together with the sheer number of such disagreements that are bound to arise in a society built around frequent use of cars and trucks, suggests that arbitration should be employed in motor vehicle insurance disputes whenever the nature of a particular disagreement and the amount involved will permit its use. Some motor vehicle insurance policies contain clauses requiring the parties to make use of arbitration in case of a dispute under the policy.

The use of arbitration in the area of motor vehicle insurance is not free of controversy or difficulty, however. Arbitration is, after all, a substitute for allowing people the sort of access to the courts in matters involving their financial interests that our citizens have traditionally enjoyed, so it is looked on by some people with disfavor. In addition, because the insurance business in the United States is regulated by the different laws of each of the 50 states rather than by a single federal law covering the entire nation, the degree of favor that arbitration procedures enjoy will differ from one state to another. (There is a federal statute, the Federal Arbitration Act, which is generally favorable to the use of arbitration procedures and which applies to some disputes involving insurance.)

Auto Accidents

Auto Accidents

Arbitration for Motor Vehicle Insurance Disputes

Arbitration (which is sometimes referred to as a type of Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR) is a procedure in which the parties to a dispute, for example, parties who disagree about some aspect of a motor vehicle insurance policy, voluntarily submit the issues they are unable to agree upon to the judgment of one or more disinterested persons, called arbitrators, and agree to abide by the judgment of the arbitrators, which is called an award. One significant thing to note about arbitration is that it takes place outside the court system and so can be conducted less formally and with less expense than a traditional judicial proceeding.

Auto Insurance Coverage for Newly Acquired Vehicles

When a vehicle owner has an automobile insurance policy and acquires a new vehicle, the new vehicle will be automatically covered to the same extent and policy amounts as the insured’s other insured vehicles, if the insurance policy has a provision for newly acquired vehicles. A newly acquired vehicle can be a replacement vehicle or an additional vehicle. The term also includes purchased and leased vehicles.

Exclusions for Violations of Law in Motorists Insurance

Insurance companies do not defend their insureds in criminal proceedings based on automobile collisions. However, nearly all automobile collisions result from infractions of traffic regulations. The fact that an insured was violating a law at the time a covered accident occurred does not relieve an insurance company’s duty to defend that insured in a civil action or its duty to pay for the injuries or damages caused by the insured.

Insurance Coverage for Motorcycles

Whether it is warmer weather or increased fuel costs, more motorcycles are evident on America’s roads and highways. There is a greater danger involved in riding a motorcycle than in driving a car. As a result, insurance companies treat motorcycles and their riders differently than automobiles and their passengers. Such treatment does not violate the constitutional right of equal protection under the law.

Tort Liability for School Bus Operations

The elongated yellow body of a school bus is a familiar sight on the streets and roads of the United States. Because of the frequency and scope of their operations and the manner of their employment, school buses inevitably become involved in motor vehicle accidents and other incidents that result in the bringing of legal actions seeking to recover damages for death, personal injury, or property damage caused by such incidents.

The Equitable Right of Subrogation

The Equitable Right of Subrogation

Subrogation is an equitable right to seek recovery of losses paid by the plaintiff for another in an action against the party that caused the losses. In insurance law, subrogation refers to the right of the insurer to seek compensation for its payments to its insured by filing an action against the person that caused the damages to the insured.

For example, if an insurer pays its policyholder for damages to the policyholder’s automobile damaged in a collision that was the fault of another driver, the insurer has the equitable rate of subrogation. In effect, the insurer has the right to step into the policyholder’s shoes and file an action against the other driver for the amount of the damages paid by the insurer.

Subrogation is an equitable right available to any party that in fairness should be allowed to seek to recover damages from a third party. Subrogation also is often included in insurance policies in the form of a condition under which the insured must agree to assign to the insurer any right of action which the insured may have against a third party regarding damages paid by the insurer.

In order to obtain equitable subrogation, an insurer must show:

  • A claim has been paid on behalf of a policyholder for a loss;
  • The loss of the policyholder was caused by a defendant or by someone for whom the defendant is responsible;
  • A cause of action of the policyholder arises from the loss;
  • The right of action may be assigned to the insurer;
  • The act or omission on which the liability of the defendant is based has caused the insurer to suffer loss;
  • The equitable position of the defendant is less than the equitable position of the insurer so that fairness requires shifting the loss of the insurer to the defendant; and
  • The damages or loss of the insurer can be specified, normally as the amount of the payment made to the insured.

Hit and Run Accidents

Hit and Run Accidents

A motorist involved in a vehicular accident is required to stop and assist injured persons. He should also provide his insurance information to the other driver. In hit and run accidents, the hit and run driver usually fails to stop because he is an uninsured motorist (UM) or his insurance is nullified by his tortious or criminal actions.

Most UM statutes require that hit and run coverage be provided in automobile policies. Even in the absence of such a statute, however, most insurers provide such coverage.

Proof of accident

There is always the potential for fraud when an insured seeks to recover under his policy for UM benefits arising from a hit and run accident. For example, the insured may have actually been involved in a one-car crash caused by his own negligence, yet he seeks to recover under the UM provision of his insurance policy. Therefore, statutes may require some corroboration of the accident, such as by evidence of damage to the vehicle, statements made by the insured to others regarding the accident, prompt notice of the accident to the police, and reasonable notice to the insurer (usually within 30 days). The burden of proving that the accident involved a hit and run driver is upon the insured.

Requirement of contact

A statute or the insurance policy may require that hit and run coverage only applies to situations where physical contact has occurred in order to reduce the potential for fraudulent claims. Some jurisdictions hold such contact provisions to be valid, while other jurisdictions do not. In addition, some jurisdictions require that the contact come from the offending vehicle, while others permit indirect contact. Such indirect contact may include situations where the contact comes from a different vehicle forced by the offending vehicle to collide with the insured’s vehicle, where the offending vehicle forces the insured’s vehicle off the road, where an object protruding from the offending vehicle comes in contact with the insured’s vehicle, or where the offending vehicle causes an object (e.g., a rock) to strike the insured’s vehicle.

Even if a statute or the insurance policy does require contact, the insured may not have to prove contact if he can establish either the identity of the hit and run driver or that the offending vehicle was uninsured.

Denial of Claims

Denial of Claims

An insurer may deny a claim for a loss made by an insured in certain circumstances. However, the insurer must follow certain standards and guidelines when making such a denial.

Reasonable basis
An insurer must have a reasonable basis for its denial of an insured’s claim. This requirement is based on the principle that parties to a contract must exercise good faith and fair dealing with respect to each other so as not to injure the right of the other to receive the benefits of the contract. If the insurer denies the claim without proper cause, a court may find that it acted in bad faith. The consequences of such a finding may include breach of contract or tort damages to the insured. Some courts, however, find that an insurer does not act in bad faith unless it acts intentionally.

The insurer may show that it had a reasonable basis for its denial if it completed a thorough and impartial investigation of the claim and determined all the grounds for denial. Some courts also require the insurer to make a showing that it reconsidered its decision to deny a claim. Additionally, the insurer’s consideration of all information that would be reasonable to consider may indicate that it acted reasonably. An example of a reasonable basis for denial may be that the insured failed to comply with many of the insurer’s requirements for filing a claim and proof of loss.

Denial letter

In addition to having a reasonable basis for its denial of an insured’s claim, an insurer must make the actual denial properly. It must follow its own procedures as outlined in the policy for giving notice of the denial. Such procedures will include sending a denial letter to the insured. The letter should be factual, respectful of the insured, and fully explanatory of the reasons for the denial. In addition, the letter should invite the insured to present further proof if he disagrees with the denial.

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