Uninsured & Underinsured Drivers – Obtaining Compensation in Washington State

Suppose you are traveling on 4th Avenue in Seattle, headed towards the Seattle Art Museum. Out of nowhere, another driver runs a red light and slams directly into your vehicle. The impact of the crash is severe causing major damage to you and your vehicle. To make matters worse, the negligent driver who slammed into you does not have any auto insurance.  Does this mean that you cannot recover compensation for your injuries?

We Help Injured Drivers Recover Compensation from Their Own Insurance Company if They Have Uninsured or Underinsured Coverage

We help injured drivers recover compensation from their own insurance company under Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, as well as additional compensation if they have uninsured/underinsured coverage.  The following sections discuss these matters, including how insurance companies frequently are reluctant to paying what they owe.

To learn how we can help, please call us at 206.388.0333 for a free consultation.

What Percentage of Washington State Drivers are Uninsured?

Data compiled by the Insurance Information Institute indicates that more than 16 percent of Washington motorists do not have any auto insurance coverage, despite being required by law to have insurance.  That is a disturbingly-high number, and is one-third higher than the national non-insurance rate of just over 12 percent.  In fact, Washington has the 10th worst rate of uninsured drivers in the United States.

Further, this data only covers uninsured motorists; it does not include underinsured motorists (i.e. drivers who have a bare-bones, minimum coverage that likely will be far less than the actual amount needed to cover damages when serious injury or property damages result).

Given that few people are wealthy enough to have sufficient cash to pay for serious injuries that they may cause, we all run a high risk that if we are severely injured by another driver, that driver will not have the assets or insurance sufficient to pay for serious injuries and damages.

Auto Insurance Requirements in Washington State

Washington State law requires every motorist have some form of liability coverage; however,  Washington offers drivers multiple options for insurance coverage, including:

  • Auto insurance
  • Self-insured
  • Liability bond
  • Certificate of deposit

If auto insurance is the chosen form of coverage, the minimum amount of coverage a Washington driver must have through their policy is as follows:

  • $10,000 to cover property damage
  • $25,000 to cover bodily injury of one person or death of one person in an auto accident
  • $50,000 to cover bodily injury of two people or death of two people in an auto accident

Along with auto insurance option, owners who have at least 26 separate vehicles may opt for self-insurance coverage (this is typically utilized by large trucking companies, rental vehicle companies, etc.).  There are financial requirements associated with using this option.

Another alternative to auto insurance is a certificate of deposit, which is a sum of money deposited with Washington State in the case an auto accident occurs. Under state law, a certificate of deposit must be for at least $60,000.

Alternatively, a liability bond can be provided, which is similar to a certificate of deposit. This bond also has a requirement of at least $60,000, and must be filed by a state-authorized surety bond company.

Seeking Compensation from Your Own Insurance Company

What happens if you are hit and seriously injured by a motorist who does not have auto insurance – can you recover for your injuries and damages?

In this situation, there are two opportunities to recover damages.

First, even if the driver who hit you does not have insurance, a lawsuit could be filed against such driver.  In most cases when a driver is uninsured, the driver will not have sufficient assets to make any meaningful payment.

The driver will likely be “judgment proof,” meaning that there either won’t be any assets from which a judgment can be satisfied, or that the assets that exist can be protected under law (sometimes, as the result of the person filing for bankruptcy protection).  It may be possible to garnish wages but even in this scenario, the amount that can be obtained from a paycheck will be limited.

Nonetheless, seeking a judgement may be worthwhile in the unlikely event that at some point in the future the driver’s financial situation improves.

Second, if you are injured in a vehicle crash by an uninsured (or underinsured) driver, you should review your own auto insurance policy to see if you have uninsured (UM) and/or underinsured (UIM) motorist coverage.

UM/UIM is an optional form of coverage intended to compensate a policyholder if they are injured by another driver who has insufficient insurance coverage or no coverage at all. Because of the relatively high percentage drivers who are uninsured or who will be underinsured in the event they cause a crash and serious injuries result, it is highly recommended that drivers secure UM/UIM coverage.  If you do not know if you have UM or UIM coverage, contact us today to schedule a free consultation and we can review your insurance policy.

Do You Have Personal Injury Protection Coverage?

In addition to UM and UIM coverage, Washington State motorists have the option to purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage through their auto insurance policy. Under Washington State Law RCW § 48.22.100,[1] PIP coverage is not mandatory, but auto insurance providers must offer PIP coverage to all of their customers. PIP coverage provides, at a minimum, the following benefits:

  • From $10,000 to $35,000 to cover medical costs for each person harmed in an auto accident;
  • Up to $700 per week for lost income (up to a total of ($25,000)
  • Up to $2,000 for funeral expenses if a person loses their life in an auto accident; and/or
  • Up to $14,200 for loss of services (e.g., if you are unable to help around the house, work on your yard, etc.)

Negotiating with Insurance Companies Can Be Frustrating and Overwhelming

Regardless of whether you have UM/UIM coverage and/or PIP coverage, in order to obtain a financial recovery after a serious car accident typically requires negotiating with an insurance company.

When dealing with an auto insurance claims adjuster after an accident, it is important to remember that the primary objective for the claims adjuster is to minimize liability and pay out as little as possible. This remains true with a UM/UIM claim, where you will be filing a claim with your own auto insurance company.  Despite being a committed customer who pays premiums on time, insurance companies nonetheless will often try to deny compensation and to minimize claims.  We fight back on behalf of injured motorists when their insurance company won’t pay what they owe.

Insurance Bad Faith

When a person files a claim against their own insurance company for benefits, this is very different than the case where an insurance company is involved who is representing a driver causing an accident.  When the insurance company is representing the driver causing the accident, they do not have any duty to treat you fairly (even if they are the same insurance company that you use).

When a person is seeking policy benefits from their own insurance company, the insurance company must treat them fairly.  This means that the insurance company must give due consideration of the claims, and that the insurance company cannot put their interests above those of the policyholder.

When the insurance company does not treat their policyholder correctly, this can give rise to what is known as a claim for bad faith.  A bad faith insurance claim is a claim that is separate and apart from the underlying claim for benefits.  In essence, a bad faith claim is in the nature that the insured purchased an insurance policy, giving rise to a duty of the insurance company to treat the insured appropriately if a claim is made, and the insurance company failed to do so.

Depending upon how egregious the circumstances, a jury award for a successful bad faith claim can often be substantially higher than the original benefits being sought.

For more information, please see Seattle Insurance Bad Faith Lawyers

Take Action Sooner Rather than Later

Under Washington law, there is a time limit within which a personal injury lawsuit must be filed, which is known as the statute of limitations.

In Washington, the statute of limitations for personal injury matters is three years from the date of the incident. This means the moment the accident occurs, the clock on the statute of limitations begins to run in most instances.

If you do not file your lawsuit within this statutorily-based time limit, you could be barred from recovering any financial restitution for your harms and losses.

In addition to making sure that a lawsuit is filed within the statute of limitations, it is also important to make sure that you contact an attorney as soon as possible so that important evidence concerning your crash can be preserved before it is destroyed.

Call Us to Schedule a Free Consultation

We offer a free, confidential consultation so that we can learn about your accident, and so that you can ask us any questions that you may have concerning your legal options.  If you retain our firm, we will represent you on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there is no upfront legal fee, as we only get paid for our time if we are successful in recovering compensation for you.


 

[1] As of February, 2019.


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