Articles Posted in Car Accident

Following a Washington automobile accident, a seriously injured person may have to deal with various insurance companies. Although dealing with an insurance company can be difficult, insurers are prohibited from acting in bad faith or engaging in unfair practices.  If the insurer does act improperly, the claimant may be able to pursue an insurance bad faith claim.  In a bad faith case, the insurer’s files may be important evidence.

In a recent case, the plaintiff sought documents and information created during litigation of the bad faith case. The plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident with a drunk driver.  After settling for policy limits with the at-fault driver’s insurance, she filed an underinsured motorist claim.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the underinsured motorist policy limit was $50,000.  The insurer offered $2,500.  The plaintiff demanded $100,000.  She ultimately filed suit against the insurance company for unfair claims settlement practices and bad faith.  She alleged her damages “far exceeded” the policy limits.

In response to discovery requests, the plaintiff denied the damages payable by the insurer exceeded $75,000, which is the threshold amount in controversy for a case to be removed to federal court on diversity jurisdiction. She responded to a question regarding whether she sought trebling or any multiplier of damages affirmatively. She also stated she intended to seek punitive damages if there was a determination the insurer violated the Insurance Fair Conduct Act.  She acknowledged the amount in controversy could exceed the $75,000 threshold, but offered to stipulate that the amount in controversy did not exceed that $75,000.  The parties never reached agreement on the language for the stipulation.  The insurer informed the plaintiff it would seek removal if the plaintiff did not sign the stipulation.

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In a Washington automobile accident, an injured person may have some coverage through his or her own insurance policy.  This first party coverage may include personal injury protection (PIP), which includes medical expenses and lost wages.  When filing a claim against your own insurer, the terms of the policy, including the definitions, are critical in determining whether coverage applies.

In a recent case, an injured man challenged his insurer’s denial of his PIP claim. According to the court’s opinion, a driver parked on the street opened his door and struck the plaintiff, who was riding his bicycle.  The plaintiff was covered by a California insurance policy with up to $5,000 in medical expenses for an “insured” under the PIP benefit.  The relevant language in the definition of “insured” was “a pedestrian when struck by” a motor vehicle.  The policy did not define “pedestrian.”

The insurer denied the plaintiff’s claim on the grounds he was not a pedestrian because he was riding his bicycle when the accident occurred.  The plaintiff sued the insurer.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer, finding the term “pedestrian,” under its ordinary and common meaning, does not include a person riding a bicycle.  The plaintiff appealed.

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When a person is injured by someone else’s negligence in a Washington automobile accident, he or she may want to seek compensation from the negligent party.  In some cases, however, the negligent party may not have sufficient insurance or may be unidentified.  In such cases, the injured person may seek recovery from his or her own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.  If the insurance company denies the claim, the injured person may have to sue his or her own insurance company.

In a recent case, a man challenged the dismissal of claims against his insurer.  The plaintiff was injured while riding his bicycle.  There were no witnesses. The plaintiff cannot remember the accident, but believes he was hit by an automobile.  He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in the hospital for 10 days.  He reported the accident to his automobile insurer.  The insurer denied his underinsured motorist (UIM) claim because it did not find evidence he was hit by a vehicle.  The insurer reopened the claim after being contacted by the plaintiff’s attorney, but denied it again.  The plaintiff sued his insurer for breach of contract, negligence, and violations of the Insurance Fair Conduct Act and the Consumer Protection Act.

The insurer moved for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he had been hit by a vehicle.  The insurer also argued his other claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

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A defendant in a Washington personal injury case may try to limit damages by alleging the plaintiff failed to mitigate damages.  A defendant seeking a failure to mitigate jury instruction must show that the plaintiff acted unreasonably in deciding on treatment when there were alternative options.  The defendant must show through expert testimony that the alternative treatment would more likely than not improve the plaintiff’s condition.  A defendant recently challenged a court’s decision not to instruct the jury on failure to mitigate in an automobile collision case.

According to the appeal court’s opinion, the defendant rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle.  The plaintiff went to a chiropractor who found she had a ligament injury as a result of the accident.  The chiropractor also found the injury was permanent.

The plaintiff filed suit and the defendant admitted liability, leaving only damages at issue for trial.  According to the opinion, the plaintiff worked as a licensed practical nurse.  She testified she had talked with her colleagues about her treatment options.  She did not want to take medications that would interfere with her work, or to have surgery or injections.  She testified the chiropractic treatments helped manage her pain.  She also testified that immobilization was no longer recommended and that no one she talked to recommended it to her.

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An employer may be held vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees in a Washington automobile accident case when the employees are acting within the scope of their employment.  An employee is acting within the scope of employment when engaged in the performance of duties required or directed by the employer or engaged in the furtherance of the employer’s interest.  An employee is not acting within the scope of employment when engaged in conduct involving a personal objective that is not related to the employer’s business.  The issue of vicarious liability was recently before a Washington appeals court.

The defendant driver failed to stop in time to avoid rear-ending the plaintiff’s stopped vehicle.  The defendant driver works as a regional manager for the defendant employer.  He works from his home and frequently travels for his job.  The defendant employer provides him with a monthly vehicle allowance for the cost of his vehicle and insurance.  The defendant employer also reimburses 80% of his vehicle maintenance and operation expenses.  The defendant driver did not tell his employer about the accident.

The plaintiffs sued the defendant driver and he admitted liability for the accident.  The defendant employer was subsequently added to the lawsuit, and the plaintiffs ultimately added a vicarious liability claim against it. The defendant driver testified in his deposition that he was driving home after working at the time of the accident.

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In Washington, drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury must stop at the scene and remain there to give their name, address, insurance information and vehicle license number to the other driver, passengers or anyone who was struck or injured.  Pursuant to RCW 46.52.020, drivers must also show their driver’s license.  They must provide assistance to anyone injured, including getting them to medical treatment.  What happens, though, if a driver is shaken up and fails to provide all of the required information? A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a case could proceed when the plaintiff originally filed suit against the wrong party after not receiving all of the other driver’s identifying information.

The plaintiff was rear-ended.  She stated the other driver was very upset after the collision and insisted they not call the police or an ambulance.  The plaintiff stated that they exchanged insurance cards and wrote down each other’s information.  She stated the other driver did not offer her a driver’s license or state her name.  She believed the other driver’s name was the name on the insurance card.  In fact, the person named on the card was the other driver’s mother.

The plaintiff filed suit against the person named on the insurance card on the last day before the statute of limitations expired.  The defendant answered, stating the plaintiff had sued the wrong defendant.  The plaintiff amended the complaint to add the driver as a defendant more than two months after the statute of limitations expired.

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When Washington car accident victims apply for no-fault benefits from their own insurer, they may not consider that the information contained in the application could affect their claim against the at-fault driver.  In a recent case, however, the information in the application played a significant role at trial.

This case involved an eight-year-old boy who was struck by a van.  The defendant stopped and got out of her van when she heard a noise and felt the van jump.  An eight-year-old boy was lying on the ground near a pickup truck.  The van had run over one of his legs.

At issue in the appeal was the admissibility of an application for no-fault benefits.  The boy’s mother speaks only Spanish.  A law firm helped her apply.  She signed a blank application for PIP benefits, and a legal assistant filled it in later.  The legal assistant used the police report in completing the form and wrote that a “child on a bike rode into the road…”

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Injuries can result from even minor automobile accidents.  Washington car accident attorneys know that defendants are likely to challenge causation in such cases, and they may even challenge whether a collision even occurred.  Documentation of the accident and the injury is extremely important, as a recent Washington appeal case shows.

The plaintiff sued the defendant, alleging he was injured in an automobile accident.  According to the plaintiff, the defendant’s vehicle crossed the center line, and the mirror of the defendant’s car struck the mirror of the plaintiff’s car.

The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no evidence the “alleged accident” caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  She admitted her vehicle crossed the yellow line and “passed closely by” the plaintiff’s car, but she denied hitting the plaintiff’s mirror.  She submitted a repair estimate from her insurer, stating there was “no damage” to her vehicle and including photographs taken by the insurance investigator.

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Personal injury cases are subject to a statute of limitations, and if the injured person does not bring a lawsuit prior to its expiration, he or she will be time-barred from doing so.  Washington car accident attorneys know that Washington law is a little more complicated than other states on this issue.  In Washington, the lawsuit is deemed commenced at the earlier of filing the complaint or serving a defendant with a summons.  Once one of these actions is achieved, the statute of limitations tolls for 90 days to allow the plaintiff to complete the other action.  If a defendant is not served within 90 days from the filing of the complaint, the action is deemed not to have commenced for the purposes of tolling the statute of limitations.  Likewise, if the plaintiff first served the defendant and does not file a complaint within 90 days, the lawsuit is deemed not to have commenced.  RCW 4.16.170.  Thus, in Washington, filing the complaint and serving a defendant are equally important in regard to the statute of limitations.  Even if the plaintiff files the complaint within the applicable period, the case may still be time-barred if he or she does not achieve service within 90 days of filing the complaint.

A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a lawsuit had been timely commenced when the defendant argued the plaintiff had only served an improper defendant within the 90-day window.  The plaintiff was involved in an automobile accident with the defendant driver.  He filed a lawsuit against the defendant driver and the Washington company he alleged was the defendant driver’s employer.  The plaintiff served the employer.  He subsequently amended his complaint to add a Georgia company, which he also alleged to be the defendant driver’s employer.

The plaintiff attempted to serve the defendant driver by mail and through the Secretary of State, pursuant to the nonresident motorist statute.  The defendant driver ultimately filed an answer, denying the paragraph that alleged the named entity was his employer.  The defendant driver then filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the claim was barred by the statute of limitations because the plaintiff had failed to serve any proper defendant before the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations or within the 90-day tolling period after he filed his complaint.  The defendant driver argued that his employer was actually an Indiana corporation that had never been named in the lawsuit or served.

Under Washington law, a driver intending to turn left at an intersection must yield to a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction that is in the intersection or close enough to be an immediate hazard.  This rule seems fairly straightforward and suggests that the vehicle turning left will usually be at fault in an accident in an intersection.  Seattle car accident attorneys know, however, that the law is not that simple, and the facts of a particular accident may mean that the driver of the vehicle turning left is not liable for the accident.

A recent case illustrates how the driver turning left is not always found to be at fault.  In this case, the plaintiff was on a motorcycle in the curbside lane traveling south.  This lane was a right-turn-only lane for vehicles other than buses.  There were a total of three southbound lanes.

The defendant was traveling north.  When the defendant reached the intersection, there was traffic in the two southbound through lanes, but they had left a gap for vehicles to turn left.  The defendant entered the intersection to make her left turn.  As she was making the turn, she saw the plaintiff in the curb lane.  She stopped in front of the southbound through lanes, before reaching the curb lane.

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