Spokane Car Accident AttorneyThe most common cause of accidents in Washington is human error—inattention and bad choices behind the wheel. Studies consistently show that most car crashes could have been avoided if the people involved had taken a little more care in driving. We see it every day, people driving while texting, eating, or just not paying attention. When drivers get behind the wheel, they have a duty to others to drive safely and with reasonable care. If they do not, they become responsible for the harm they cause to others. Unfortunately, it’s usually the insurance company that steps in this role of making things right or paying for the harm caused. Insurance companies are difficult to deal with thus usually it takes a skilled personal injury attorney to get the victim a fair settlement.
Understanding Washington State’s Car Accident LawsThe general guidelines for driving in the State of Washington are contained in the Washington State Department of Licensing Drivers Guide. This guide is used by drivers to learn the basic rules of driving. The State also provides Tips For Teens, a teen driving guide for first-time drivers. The Washington State statutes that contain the bulk of the rules regarding driving in Washington are located in the RCW’s or Revised Code of Washington located at 46.61 RCW: Rules of the Road. These are the largest source of legal rules used by lawyers to prove liability in car accident cases in Washington.
Who’s Responsible for Your Accident?Most of the time the answer to this question is clear. Sometimes it’s not, and sometimes more than one party can be responsible for an accident. Rear-end collisions are almost always the fault of the party hitting the auto in front of them. However, if the person slammed on their brakes for no good reason, they may be partially at fault as well. When it’s unclear who caused the accident, cases usually become more difficult. In a situation like that, you want to document the facts and gather evidence quickly so that it can be figured out.
What’s Involved With Pursuing a Car Accident Injury claim?All cases are different, but generally, first, the facts surrounding the case must be documented and preserved, evidence gathered, statements taken, and preserved. Things are evaluated, and a formal claim with the responsible parties are made. Usually, this is an insurance company, but it could be an individual, corporation or governmental entity. A case cannot be finalized or settled until all the damages are discovered which usually means the injured party must complete medical treatment and have a thorough knowledge of their injuries and long-term prognosis.
InvestigationDepending on the type of accident investigation may be necessary to preserve evidence and gather information. Some examples are using a private investigator to take witness statements, photos, video and gather data on the potential defendant. Sometimes more intensive investigation is necessary so that evidence can be tested, recorded or evaluated at a later date.
Consulting with ExpertsIn more complicated cases hiring experts are necessary. They provide testimony to jurors at trial to explain complicated issues and answer questions that need to be explained. Some examples include accident reconstructionists that explain how an accident actually happened, many times they use animation and video to help explain the facts of a case to a jury. Experts are professionally trained in their field of expertise. They range from accountants and economists that measure the value of dollars over time to calculate damages, to consulting doctors who explain medical procedures. Depending on the type of case, experts can be in almost any field. They are used when needed to explain things that an ordinary person without specialized training would not be able to explain.
Reviewing Insurance PoliciesInsurance policies tell attorneys lots of information depending on the case. In most cases, they’re necessary to evaluate the policy limits of the insured’s policy, in other words, the limit of the insurance company’s contractual obligation to pay for damages. This is very important because in many cases, it’s the most the insurance company is legally required to pay for damages. If the defendant does not have assets, it may be the only funds available to pay towards damages. In many cases, there are multiple insurance policies that could become available to pay damages, and there are multiple aspects of an insurance policy to review.
Pre-Lawsuit SettlementsThe majority of injury cases settle within one year of the accident without the need for litigation. This is what most injured people prefer and so do the insurance companies. It’s simpler, less stressful, and allows the injured party to move past the accident/injury and put it behind them.
Filing a LawsuitIn the minority of injury cases, filing a lawsuit is necessary. Lawsuits are used as a last resort because they’re stressful, expensive, and time-consuming. Many times it’s in cases where the facts of the accident are in dispute or the insurance company does not feel that the accident caused the injured person’s injuries. Some insurance companies like to play games during the settlement process and will only get serious once a lawsuit is filed. When necessary we file suit and proceed to take a case to trial.
Negotiating a settlementNegotiating a good settlement takes time. It takes a full understanding of the facts of the case, the injuries involved, medical damages, impact on the individual injured, review of past, present and future medical and other damages, and cost. Once there’s a full understanding of the case, with both it’s good and bad aspects, a basis for settlement can begin keeping in mind what insurance policies and assets may be available to aid in settling the case. Each case is different, and each lawyer has different negotiating techniques. I tend to lean on the gentle/nice approach, let’s talk about the things we don’t agree on and find a middle ground, rather than the typical aggressive bulldog approach that a lot of lawyers use to negotiate. I settle most of my cases and tend to build a relationship with the insurance adjuster over time, which aides in getting cases resolved efficiently and with good results.
Going to CourtMy motto is if you’re going to Court you better be ready, and ready to win. I don’t like to lose and take litigation very seriously. It takes time, commitment, and a particular skill set. If we go to Court, you will be informed, prepared and know what to expect—and you will be in good hands.
Getting CompensationTo obtain compensation in a car accident injury claim, you’ll need to:
- Prove liability—that it’s the other person who is at fault for the accident or in some cases is partially at fault for the accident or injury
- Prove damages—that it’s you who was injured, and the accident caused your injuries/damages. Damages can be broad: medical bills, past, present, future wage loss, past, present, future loss of enjoyment of life, inability to do specific activities, shortened life span, loss of consortium. The list can go on and on based on the facts surrounding the case.
Two Parts of an Accident Settlement or Personal Injury ClaimA settlement or claim can have multiple parts, here are examples of two.
1) Property DamageReport your car accident immediately to your insurance company. Your no-fault insurance policy pays the property damage part of the settlement. To protect your rights and receive a fair value for your car you need to request a copy of the insurance company appraisal to verify that their appraisal is accurate and that the appraisal was based on comparably equipped and valued local vehicles. Don’t stop there—research the Blue Book value and compare internet prices. Don’t automatically accept the insurance company’s first offer. They have a predetermined a range of value and will offer the lowest possible value on your car.
2) Personal InjuryThis part of your car accident settlement can involve many insurance companies. Do not talk to any insurance company (other than the initial report to your insurance company) or to any representative of anyone involved in the accident. They will attempt to coerce you into making a damaging statement about the accident or your injuries. Anything you say can be used against you. Beware the signing of medical records release forms. The only records you are required to release are the car accident-related injury records.
Driving While Texting AccidentsWashington’s new distracted driving law went into effect July 23, 2017. This law makes it illegal to use a handheld personal electronic device while driving—even if you’re stopped at a traffic sign/signal or stuck in traffic. The new law is called the Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (DUIE) Act. With this new law in place, it makes it easier for lawyers to prove negligence in auto accident cases. The law says when a party violates a statute it is negligence per se, so when a driver hits someone while using an electronic device in violation of the above Act, they are negligent—period. These types of cases will often lead to criminal prosecutions as well.
Accidents Caused by DefectsDefect cases are usually negligent design cases. They are cases where something renders the product not reasonably safe or able to be used for its intended purpose. This type of claim may become a products liability claim.
Auto DefectsAccidents caused by defects in a vehicle are less common, but they do happen. Some examples of past auto defect cases are tire recalls, child safety seat recalls, defective airbag cases, fuel tank placement defect, ignition switch recalls and most recently Tesla self-driving car accidents. The self-driving and electric car defect cases are on the rise and as this technology advances these types of cases may be seen more often.
Roadway DefectsRoadway defects are another small but serious cause of Washington car accidents, but these types of cases do happen. Roads can be defective and unsafe by design, or shoddy maintenance might lead to roadway defects. For example, a road whose curve obscures drivers’ view of oncoming traffic and an intersection without a traffic signal may both be considered defective by design. Defective road maintenance could mean unsafe cracks in the road, failure to salt the road after a snow storm or even failure to trim trees that obscure the view of important road signs. In either case, the organization potentially at fault is the government agency—local, state or federal—who is responsible for building and maintaining the road.
If a Car Accident Results in the Death of a Loved OneIf a car accident results in a death due to negligence by another person, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed if the case meets the criteria. A wrongful death suit claims that the victim was killed as a result of negligence on the part of the person or entity being sued and that the victim’s survivors are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the improper conduct. In these types of cases, multiple family members may have a claim, for example, if a father is killed, his wife and all children may have a claim. Wrongful death claims are usually complex. Most often the surviving spouse and closest relatives of the deceased pursue the claim on behalf of the decedent’s estate. In the State of Washington, most wrongful death claims must be brought to court within three years of the death, but you should always consult with a personal injury who handles wrongful death cases to be sure. Any monetary compensation recovered is dispersed to the spouse and next of kin according to the agreement approved by the court.
Steps You Should Take After a Car AccidentIf you’ve been involved in a Car accident it’s important to follow some basic steps in the minutes and days following the incident. To learn more about the steps below read 10 Steps You Should Take After an Automobile Accident.
- Stop Your Vehicle
- Check yourself for Injuries
- Check on the wellbeing of others
- Determine if you need to call the police
- Do not Implicate Yourself
- Exchange insurance and contact information
- Document your experience and gather evidence
- Track Expenses
- Notify your insurer and start the claims process
- Contact a personal injury attorney
ResponsibilityResponsibility matters a great deal after a serious car accident because the person who’s at fault—or his or her insurance company—is legally responsible for any costs and damages that result. Unfortunately, because auto accidents can be very expensive, many insurance companies deny their liability or even try to blame victims of serious accidents for their own injuries in order to get out of paying. If you’ve been hurt in a serious Spokane auto accident caused by someone else’s carelessness, Robert Hahn is ready to fight for your rights. In a Spokane car accident lawsuit, you could be awarded compensation for all of your injuries—physical, financial and emotional.
Watch What You SayBe careful what you say when filing an insurance claim, even if you’re speaking to your insurance company. Insurance companies are not on your side and will look for any opportunity to devalue or deny your claim. The very people who are insuring you and who agree to pay you in the event of an accident are also the people who review your claim to see if you have grounds to recover compensation. It’s always best to have very limited conversations with the insurance company and let your attorney discuss any issues with them for you—that way you will be protected. To learn more read our articles on the 8 Things You Should Know About Insurance Companies and Notifying Your Insurance Company of An Automobile Accident.
Personal Injury Attorney Robert Hahn Can HelpCar accident claims can quickly become complicated. For legal guidance and representation through each step of your claim’s settlement call Spokane’s Personal Injury Attorney Robert Hahn at (509)921-9500 or submit our free no-obligation consultation form. Allow us to review your case and work with you to recover maximum compensation for your injuries. The law says people are entitled to full compensation for their injuries. Robert Hahn says:
I know everyone has a tough time raising their family, providing for their children and spouse, and supporting their lifestyle, especially after an injury. We do everything in our power to make people whole again—to put them back where they would have been if the accident had not occurred, and with the fullest compensation for all their losses allowable under the law.
Robert C Hahn, III, PS