Articles Posted in Car Accident

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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Washington automobile insurers must offer personal injury protection coverage (PIP).  PIP benefits may cover medical expenses, lost wages,  funeral expenses, and loss of services.  Washington car accident attorneys know that it is not always clear whether an incident resulting in injuries gives rise to a PIP claim.  In a recent case, a Washington appeals court determined whether an insured person could receive PIP benefits for injuries he suffered when he fell out of a parked vehicle.

The plaintiff felt nauseated while he was driving with his son.  He turned onto a side street and pulled over.  He put the vehicle in park but left it running. He unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned out the window to be sick.  As he was leaning out the window, he passed out and fell forward.  He received significant injuries when he struck his head on the pavement.  His head and upper body had fallen outside the vehicle, but his legs and feet were near the pedals.  He bled profusely.  His son then drove him to the hospital.

The plaintiff’s medical bills exceeded $10,000.  He filed a PIP claim with his automobile insurer.  The policy states that it will provide the specified benefits “for bodily injury to each Insured person caused by a motor vehicle accident.”  The insurer denied coverage, determining that there was no motor vehicle accident to trigger coverage.  The insurer argued that a motor vehicle accident can only occur when the vehicle is being operated as a motor vehicle, and that is not the case when the vehicle is parked.  The plaintiff’s injuries occurred when he fell from his parked vehicle, so the insurer determined that they were not a result of a motor vehicle accident.

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The fact-finder in a Washington personal injury case must allocate fault among each of the entities that were at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries, including entities with immunity, except those immune under the workers’ compensation act.  Washington law recognizes the doctrine of parental immunity for claims of negligent supervision.  The Washington Supreme Court recently reviewed a case addressing whether a child’s compensation from the driver who struck him could be reduced due to his father’s negligent supervision of him.

In this case, the father’s girlfriend at the time struck his two-year-old child with her vehicle in the driveway of the father’s home.  A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the injured child against the father’s girlfriend.  She asserted an affirmative defense that the child’s father was fully or partially responsible for the child’s injuries, based on negligent supervision.  The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, arguing the law did not allow apportionment of fault to the father on these grounds.  The court denied summary judgment, and the plaintiff amended the complaint to add the father as a defendant. The amended complaint stated that the other defendant contended the father was concurrently negligent or engaged in willful misconduct that proximately caused the injuries.  The father did not make an appearance as a party, and the court entered a default order against him.  The jury was instructed to consider whether the plaintiff had met the burden of proving the girlfriend was negligent and had proximately caused the injuries, and whether the defendant had met her burden of proving her affirmative defense that the father was also negligent.

The jury found both the girlfriend and the father were negligent and proximately caused the injuries.  The jury attributed 50% of the damages to each of them.  The court rejected the plaintiff’s request for a joint and several judgment entered against both the father and the girlfriend for the entire amount of damages and entered only a judgment against the girlfriend for 50% of the damages.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, and the Supreme Court of Washington granted review.

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Negligent infliction of emotional distress is a cause of action available when a family member is at the scene of their loved one’s accident at the time of the accident or shortly thereafter and witnesses their injuries at the scene before there is a material change in the circumstances.  In March, Division Three of the Washington Court of Appeals found that a woman could recover damages on a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, despite knowing about the accident prior to arriving on the scene.  Recently, Division One reviewed a case in which a mother knew her son had been killed in the accident before she arrived on the scene.

The plaintiff’s 17-year-old son died from mechanical asphyxiation as a passenger in an automobile accident.  The plaintiff lived near the scene of the accident. One of her son’s friends stopped by her home and told her to call her son because there had been an accident.  The plaintiff testified that she received no answer when she tried to call.  The driver’s father subsequently came to the plaintiff’s house and informed her there had been an accident, and her son had not survived.  The plaintiff and her husband then drove to the accident scene.

They arrived at the scene about 20 minutes after the accident.  The area was surrounded by emergency vehicles, and the scene was blocked off.  The plaintiff’s son was lying on the side of the road, covered by a sheet.

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Most automobile accident cases are based on negligence.  To succeed in a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that he or she would not have been injured “but for” the defendant’s negligence.  In some cases, there are multiple causes of an accident, and fault and liability may be apportioned among several defendants.

In a recent case, a Washington appeals court considered whether the trial court had erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant, based on the plaintiff’s failure to establish causation.  The plaintiff alleged he was injured in an accident with an intoxicated driver at an intersection near a church. The plaintiff sued the church for negligence, claiming that a tree the church owned obscured the stop sign the driver had run. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the church.  The plaintiff appealed.

The plaintiff was crossing the intersection with the right of way when his moped was hit by a car.  The other driver told police he had not stopped at the stop sign.  He ultimately pled guilty to vehicular assault.

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A vehicle owner may be liable for the negligence of a driver if the driver was acting as the owner’s agent, and the owner controlled or had the right to control details of the physical movement of the agent.  Both parties must consent to the principal-agent relationship.

A Washington appeals court recently considered whether an owner was vicariously liable for the negligence of a driver who had taken the vehicle without permission in an unpublished case.  The driver was returning the vehicle to the owner at the time of the collision.

The driver of the vehicle was the adult son of the owners.  He did not live with his parents at the time of the collision, but he would sometimes visit and spend the night.  According to the court’s opinion, the parents had made it clear to the son that he was not allowed to use the vehicle.  He took the vehicle on May 23 or 24, 2014, while they were gone.

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The right-of-way can be an important issue in automobile accident cases.  It can be difficult for a plaintiff who fails to yield the right-of-way to recover compensation from the other driver.  A Washington appeals court recently reviewed a case in which the plaintiff was hit by an oncoming vehicle as the plaintiff attempted to turn left in Colburn v. Trees.

The accident occurred when the plaintiff, traveling north, turned left at an intersection and was struck by the defendant, who was going south.  There were no turn lanes at the intersection.  The defendant approached in the left lane, but he moved to the right lane after seeing a bus preparing for a left turn in the left lane.  The bus partially obstructed each driver’s view.  Each entered the intersection on a green light.  The defendant continued south, while the plaintiff crossed the southbound lanes to turn left.  The defendant tried to swerve but still struck the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff sued the defendant, and the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defense.  The plaintiff appealed.

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