Russell & Hill, PLLC

Washington State Car Accident Laws

Posted on : May 31, 2024Posted By : Russell HillPosted In : Car Accident

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), approximately 100,000 motor vehicle accidents occur each year in the state of Washington, roughly 650 of which result in at least one fatality. However, despite the high frequency of car accidents that occur within the state, many Washington drivers are unaware of the specific laws that govern them. Although there is no single Washington state law titled “Washington Car Accident Laws” there are a variety of statutes that apply to different aspects of car accidents.

Statute of Limitations

One of the most important statutes is regarding the time to file. In Washington state, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim after a car accident is three years from the date of the accident. This means that you must initiate legal action seeking compensation for injuries and damages within this period. Generally speaking, if you do not initiate your legal action within this period, you forfeit the right to pursue any claims you may have. Nonetheless, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, claims against government entities often require filing a notice of claim within six months of the accident. Regardless of the specifics of your claim, it is important to be aware of all relevant deadlines to protect your legal rights under personal injury law.

In short:

  • Timeframe: Three years from the date of the accident.
  • Claims Against Government Entities: Typically require action within six months.
  • Consequences: Missing the deadline generally results in losing the right to pursue compensation.

Pure Comparative Negligence Rules

Washington state uses a pure comparative negligence system to determine fault and compensation in car accidents. This means that individuals can recover damages even if they are partially at fault for the accident. Pursuant to this rule, a court assigns a percentage of fault to each party involved, and the compensation awarded is commensurate with those percentages. . For example, if you are found 20% at fault for the accident, your compensation will be reduced by 20%.

To summarize:

  • Fault Determination: Each party’s degree of fault is assessed.
  • Compensation Adjustment: Compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault.
  • Example: If the total damages are $100,000 and you are 20% at fault, you will receive $80,000.
  • Impact on Lawsuits: This rule allows for the recovery of damages, even if one is mostly at fault, which allows for a fair distribution of financial responsibility.

Reporting and Documentation Requirements

When a car accident occurs in Washington state, and the accident results in injury, death, or property damage exceeding $500, it is mandatory that each driver involved files a police report within 4 days of the accident. Police reports are important because they serve as critical documents in both the legal and insurance processes following an accident. If a law enforcement officer investigates the scene they will typically file a police report. Pursuant to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 46.52.030(1), if a police officer does not file a report following the accident, a driver has four days from the date of the accident to file a report with the chief of police of the city or town that the accident occurred in. Reports must include all material facts relating to the accidents including the date, time, and location of the accident, any significant information about the circumstances surrounding the accident, and information about the drivers involved, including their auto insurance information.

The police report is essential for:

  • Legal Proceedings: Establishes an official record of the incident.
  • Insurance Claims: Provides necessary documentation to process claims.

Mandatory reporting requirements:

  • Reason for Reporting: Accidents involving death, injury, or significant property damage.
  • Threshold for Property Damage: Pursuant to RCW 46.52.030(5), reports made on the basis of significant property damage must demonstrate damage exceeding $500.
  • Reporting Deadline: Accidents must be reported within four days if law enforcement did not do so at the scene of the accident.

Failure to report within the specified timeframe can not only lead to complications in processing insurance claims but also potential legal consequences for the party or parties that were mandated to report. For example, pursuant to RCW 46.52.035, the state of Washington can suspend the license of such a party until the report is filed. Ensuring that the mandated steps are followed helps protect the rights and interests of all parties involved in the accident. Washington State Patrol and Local Police Departments

Some jurisdictions in Washington have some differing, specific protocols. However, the core requirements for accident reporting remain the same.

  • Reporting Process: Drivers must file a motor vehicle collision report with the Washington State Patrol or local police department, depending on the accident’s location.
  • Local Police Departments: Manage reports within city limits.
  • Washington State Patrol: Handles accident reports for incidents occurring on highways and in unincorporated areas.

Regardless of the jurisdiction, accurate and timely reporting is critical to ensure that all relevant details are captured.

Insurance Requirements in Washington State

Insurance requirements exist to protect you. It’s extremely important to comply with these requirements because insurance coverage plays a critical role in car accident lawsuits, and determines the financial resources available to you to cover your damages.

Liability Insurance and Financial Responsibility Law

Pursuant to RCW 46.30.020, no person can operate a motor vehicle in the state of Washington without liability insurance. This requirement helps cover the costs of damages and injuries caused to others in an accident. Pursuant to RCW 46.29.090, the minimum coverage requirements are:

  • Bodily Injury and Death Liability: No less than $25,000 for the bodily injury or death of one person, no less than $50,000 for the bodily injury or death of two or more persons.
  • Property Damage Liability: No less than $10,000 for the injury or destruction of personal property.

Failing to maintain insurance that satisfies these minimum requirements can lead to significant consequences, such as:

  • Fines: Drivers without insurance face substantial monetary penalties.
  • Misdemeanor Charges: Legal repercussions may include criminal charges.
  • License Suspension: The state may suspend the driver’s license until proof of insurance is provided.

In a car accident case, following Washington state’s reporting requirements makes sure all key details are documented and supports legal and insurance claims. It also helps avoid penalties like fines, criminal charges, and license suspension.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance

Pursuant to RCW 48.22.085, Washington state does not require drivers to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, so long as a policyholder specifically waives such coverage, in writing. PIP insurance provides coverage for various expenses incurred due to an accident, regardless of fault. Key details of PIP coverage include:

  • Medical Expenses: Covers medical and hospital expenses.
  • Lost Wages: Compensates for lost income due to injuries.
  • Funeral Expenses: Provides for funeral costs in the event of a fatality.
  • Additional Costs: May cover other related expenses such as rehabilitation.

PIP can provide support for injured drivers and their passengers by taking care of immediate expenses after an accident.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Despite Washington’s minimum requirements for insurance coverage, the state still experiences a significant number of uninsured and underinsured drivers on its roads. This makes carrying uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage a must. This coverage protects drivers when they are involved in accidents with drivers who lack adequate insurance.

  • Uninsured Motorist Coverage: Protects you if the at-fault driver has no insurance.
  • Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Provides additional coverage if the at-fault driver’s insurance is insufficient to cover all damages.

Steps to take if involved with an uninsured driver:

  1. Document the Accident: Collect photos, witness statements, and detailed notes.
  2. File a Police Report as Soon as Possible: Ensure an official record of the incident.
  3. Notify Your Insurance Company: Inform your insurer about the accident and the other driver’s uninsured status.
  4. File a Claim: Submit a claim under your uninsured motorist coverage to recover damages.

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage is usually included in your policy unless you opt out in writing. Given the high rate of uninsured drivers, maintaining this coverage is important to protect against potential financial losses.

Special Circumstances and How to Navigate Them Considerations

Hit-and-Run Accidents

Legal Implications and Steps to Take

Leaving the scene of an accident without providing contact information or assisting injured parties is a criminal offense in the state of Washington. The penalty for leaving the scene of an accident can vary based on the severity of the accident, ranging from fines and license suspension to felony prosecution and imprisonment.

Steps to take if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident:

  1. Stay at the Scene: Do not leave the scene of the accident, even if the other driver does. Provide assistance to anyone injured and call emergency services if necessary.
  2. Gather Information: Record as much information as possible about the fleeing vehicle, including make, model, color, and license plate number.
  3. Report to Police: File a police report immediately. Provide all the details you have gathered about the other vehicle and the incident.
  4. Notify Your Insurance Company: Inform your insurer about the hit-and-run. Provide the police report and any additional evidence you have collected.

Reporting Requirements and Insurance Claims

In Washington state, you must report any accident to the police that involves injury, death, or significant property damage. If your insurance policy includes uninsured motorist coverage, this can help cover damages if the at-fault driver is never identified.

Accidents Involving Multiple Parties

Determining Fault and Liability

When multiple parties are involved in an accident, determining fault and liability can be complex. Washington follows a pure comparative negligence rule, which means that each party’s degree of fault is assessed, and compensation is adjusted accordingly.

  • Fault Determination: Each party’s actions are examined to determine their contribution to the accident.
  • Liability: The percentage of fault assigned to each party impacts their financial responsibility for damages.

Impact on Claims and Compensation

The pure comparative negligence rule, mentioned previously, affects how claims are processed and compensated. If a party is found to be partially at fault, their compensation is reduced by their percentage of fault. For instance, if a driver is 30% at fault, they can only recover 70% of their total damages.

Rear-End Collisions

Presumptions of Fault in Rear-End Collisions

In Washington, the driver of the rear vehicle in a rear-end collision is typically presumed to be at fault. This presumption is based on the assumption that the rear driver should maintain a safe following distance and be able to stop safely to avoid a collision.

Potential Defenses for the Rear Driver

While the rear driver is usually presumed to be at fault, there are defenses that can be raised to challenge this presumption. These include:

  • Sudden Stops: If the lead vehicle stopped suddenly and unexpectedly, the rear driver might argue that they could not avoid the collision.
  • Mechanical Failures: A mechanical failure, such as brake failure, can be used as a defense if the rear driver can prove that the failure was sudden and unforeseen.
  • Contributory Negligence: If the lead driver’s actions contributed to the accident, the rear driver might be able to reduce their liability. Some examples of this are if a lead driver was driving erratically at the time of the accident, or without functioning brake lights.

Our attorneys understand these special considerations and how certain contextual nuances will come into play in building a case.

Final Thoughts

Washington state’s various statutes and regulations related to motor vehicle accidents are designed to protect drivers and ensure fair compensation after an accident occurs. Key aspects of these laws and regulations include relevant statutes of limitations, pure comparative negligence rules, mandatory auto insurance requirements such as liability coverage, and recommended car insurance coverages including Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. If you are the victim of a car crash that involves special circumstances, such as a hit-and-run accident, multi-party collision, and rear-end collision, there are particular steps that you should take to ensure that you get the compensation that you deserve.

Given the complexity of car accident laws in Washington, if you’ve been in a car accident, reach out to one of our Washington car accident attorneys today. Our attorneys will provide personalized guidance, help navigate legal procedures, advocate for your rights, and ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. Call today for a free consultation at 800-529-0842.

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