Kim is a passenger in her friend’s car. The friend is backing out of a parking space in a parking lot in Seattle when the car is hit on the passenger side by a car coming down the driving lane. The car was coming rather fast, and the impact caved in the passenger door. As a result of the impact, Kim suffered two broken ribs on the right side, and a broken right arm.
The police come to the scene and call an ambulance for Kim. At the hospital, X-rays confirm her injuries. The doctors put her arm in a cast, but nothing can be done for broken ribs. They tell her to follow up with an orthopedist. Kim makes an appointment with an orthopedist, who monitors her recovery for the next couple of months. After a month, her ribs are mostly healed, and, after six weeks, her cast comes off. She is sent to physical therapy for three weeks to recover the strength in her right, dominant arm. By three months post-accident, she is fully recovered from her car accident injuries. Kim is a chef, and couldn’t work for six weeks while her arm was in a cast. She simply didn’t have the mobility to do her job with her dominant arm in a cast.
Kim needs to be aware of Washington’s applicable statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Washington, the statute of limitations for most lawsuits over a car accident is three years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts.
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. The lesson here is that if you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact a Washington car accident lawyer.
You want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the medical and financial documentation that supports your claim for damages. You also want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault for the car accident. That is important in any case, even in a case like Kim’s, where she is going to win against at least one the drivers because she was a passenger in the case.
Washington has what is called a “pure comparative fault” rule in cases where the injured person might also bear some level of fault for the accident. Under this rule, your total damages award is reduced by whatever percentage of the “fault” the judge or jury believes is yours. If, for example, Kim was awarded $100,000 in damages at trial, but the jury found her 10% at fault -- maybe she wasn't wearing her seat belt -- her damages would be reduced to $90,000.
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Washington car insurance laws. If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Kim’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $26,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Kim and her attorney decide that another $50,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Kim’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and so they make an initial demand of $75,000 to settle the claim against the other driver. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Kim accepts $55,000 as a final settlement.
You want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before Washington's statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI. In Kim’s case, she was at MMI, and so she was ready to settle.
Read more Passenger Car Accident Injury Claim Examples.