Car accidents can be extremely stressful events. Following a collision, many victims are unsure of what to do, especially if they have suffered injuries. Injuries from a car crash can be severe and can require extensive medical care, keep you from working, and have long-lasting effects. The following are some frequently asked questions that car accident victims often have regarding recovery for their losses.
What should I do immediately after an accident?
The scene of an accident is often chaotic, but it is important to remain as calm as possible and take certain steps to protect your health and your legal rights. If emergency medical personnel advise you to go for emergency care, you should listen to them and seek the necessary medical treatment. If you can remain on the scene, you should do the following:
Wait for law enforcement and give them your side of the story;
Collect the names and contact information of witnesses and anyone involved in the collision;
Take photos of the scene and make notes of any unusual weather or road conditions;
Seek a medical evaluation to ensure any injuries are timely diagnosed.
Who can be held liable for my accident-related losses?
Any party that acted negligently and contributed to causing the accident may be held responsible for your medical expenses and other losses. Some examples of negligent parties in collisions include the following:
Drivers who violated traffic laws;
Government entities that failed to maintain, inspect, or repair the roads;
Auto manufacturers that sold defective brakes, tires, airbags, or other pertinent auto parts.
It is highly important to identify the correct negligent party so that you can seek compensation from them. The action you take to seek recovery can vary based on whether the liable party is a person, a company, or the local government.
Should I accept an insurance settlement?
When you make a claim with the responsible party’s insurance company, you will likely receive a settlement offer. Many people believe their only option is to accept the offer, however, accepting a settlement that does not fully cover all of your losses can result in financial disaster. Once you accept a settlement, you will have to sign a release that waives your right to file a subsequent lawsuit. Therefore, if the settlement is too low, you will have no other way of obtaining compensation and will be responsible for paying your own medical bills and incurring your other losses with no legal relief. Unfortunately, many insurance companies begin with a low offer, so you should always review settlement offers with an experienced attorney before accepting. A lawyer can then negotiate with the insurance company to try to obtain the maximum settlement.
What happens if an accident was partially my fault?
Washington is a pure comparative fault state. Under RCW 4.22.005, any contributory fault of the claimant reduces the amount awarded to them by their share of the total fault for the accident. For example, if a plaintiff’s total damages are $100,000 and the plaintiff is 25% at fault, the award to the plaintiff is reduced by $25,000 and defendant is only liable for $75,000.
A defendant can be held liable in a negligence action in Washington, even where the plaintiff bears the majority of fault for the accident. Veit, ex rel. Nelson v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., 171 Wn.2d 88, 117 (2011). This is what is meant by pure comparative fault. Theoretically, even a plaintiff who is 99% at fault for the accident may recover 1% of their damages from it.
Is there a time limit for filing a car accident lawsuit?
In Washington state, you have to file an action for personal injuries resulting from a car accident within three years of the wreck. (R.C.W. Section 4.16.080) If you do not meet this deadline, you may be unable to file a lawsuit to get compensation for your injuries.
Under limited circumstances, you may be able to toll the statute of limitations for your car accident lawsuit.
Here are some of the scenarios where you may be able to delay the statute of limitations under RCW 4.16.190:
Plaintiff is under 18. In such cases, the statute of limitations tolls until the plaintiff turns 18 years old.
Plaintiff is incompetent or disabled. If the plaintiff is deemed incompetent or disabled and cannot understand the nature of the proceedings, the statute of limitations tolls until the person is no longer incompetent or disabled.
Tolling the statute of limitations is uncommon. If you were hurt in a car accident, act now to get help filing your lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires for your case.