Washington Hit-and-Run Claims

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.

The plaintiff’s UIM policy covered accidents caused by underinsured motor vehicles, which included hit-and-run vehicles.  The policy also provided that, if there was no physical contact with the vehicle, the insured must provide competent evidence of the facts of the accident other than the testimony of a person with a UIM claim resulting from the accident.  The appeals court noted that this language is consistent with the statutory language related to a “phantom vehicle.” A phantom vehicle is one that causes injury or property damage without any physical contact with the insured or the vehicle he occupied.

The plaintiff argued he was hit by a hit-and-run vehicle and was therefore not involved in a phantom vehicle accident.

A medical report stated the plaintiff heard a horn before his accident.  The plaintiff also stated he heard the honk in his recorded statement to the insurer.  The appeals court noted that the evidence presented was not unequivocal proof, but, because it was considering a defense motion for summary judgment, it had to resolve all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor.  The appeals court found a reasonable jury could find the plaintiff heard a horn honk, and that honk came from the vehicle that struck him.

The plaintiff also presented a photograph showing bruises on his back, shoulder, and triceps.  The appeals court found the photo could reasonably support a finding the plaintiff had been hit from behind.

The defendant argued the plaintiff did not remember the accident, had no eyewitnesses, and his belief he had been hit by a vehicle was based on speculation.  The appeals court noted the insurer did not provide any authority stating the plaintiff must provide eye witness testimony, and therefore rejected the insurer’s argument.

The insurer also argued that the plaintiff had to submit corroborating evidence other than his own testimony because the burden of proof for a phantom vehicle was also applicable to a hit-and-run claim.  The court rejected that argument as well, pointing out the phantom vehicle statute only applied to vehicles that did not contact the person or their vehicle.  Here, there was sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of fact regarding whether he was hit by a vehicle.  Thus, the phantom vehicle statute did not apply.  Additionally, even if it did apply, the photograph of the plaintiff’s injuries constituted corroborating evidence.

The appeals court found there was sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact and therefore summary judgment on the breach of contract claim was improper.  The appeals court overturned summary judgment on the breach of contract claim.  Unfortunately, the appeals court affirmed the summary judgment on the other claims due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

As this case shows, a hit-and-run claim does not require the same burden of proof as a phantom driver claim.  Whether a hit-and-run driver, phantom vehicle, or an identified negligent driver caused your injury, an experienced Washington automobile accident attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve.  Call Blair & Kim, PLLC at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.