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Your Seattle Car Accident: The Basics

Seattle is surrounded on three sides by water and is a fairly mountainous city. With all of its rain, hills, bridges, tunnels and narrow roads, this city is the perfect storm for car accidents. If you've been in a car accident in Seattle, chances are you're trying to figure out how you're going to pay for the damage. This article addresses the ins and outs of car accidents in Seattle, from what you should do after an accident to who's liable for the damage to filing a car accident lawsuit.

Steps to Take After an Accident

The first moments after a car accident are stressful. Be sure to find a safe place to stop your vehicle and check for injuries to anyone involved. After you've taken care of any health and safety concerns, it's important to collect as much information as you can about the accident in case a liability dispute arises later. FindLaw's article on first steps after a car accident has helpful information about what to do directly after an accident and how to gather evidence so that your bases are covered in the event a legal dispute arises.

Under certain circumstances, Washington's accident report laws require that you file an accident report. If you're involved in an accident that results in injury or death to any person, or results in property damage reaching a certain threshold amount, you must report it to the law enforcement office that has jurisdiction over that area. For example, if your accident occurred in Seattle, you would report it to the Seattle chief of police. The chief of the Washington state patrol sets the property damage threshold amount periodically; it was $700 as of January, 2000.

Note that if a law enforcement officer was at the scene of the accident and filed an accident report, you need not file a duplicate report under the accident report law.

Liability, Fault and Auto Insurance

The big question in a car accident case is who is liable -- that is, who must pay -- for the damage caused by the accident. Liability for an accident in Seattle is determined by Washington negligence laws and is based on fault.

Washington is a pure comparative negligence state. All this means is that, under Washington negligence law, any person at fault in an accident that causes damage to another is responsible for that damage. However, if the person claiming damages shared in the fault, his or her damage recovery in a lawsuit will be reduced in proportion to his or her fault.

Let's say that Patrick and Dan are in a car accident: Patrick is found to be 50 percent at fault and Dan is found to be 50 percent at fault. Patrick has sustained $100,000 in damages resulting from the accident. Patrick can sue Dan for $100,000 of damages, but he will only recover $50,000 from Dan, because Patrick's recovery will be reduced by his 50 percent share of the fault.

So how does the whole fault and liability thing work when auto insurance is involved? If you're a Seattle driver, you probably know that Washington requires its drivers to have auto insurance. The minimum coverage requirements to register your vehicle in Washington are:

  • $25,000 for injury or death to one person
  • $50,000 for injury to more than one person
  • $10,000 for damage to property

In Washington, whether or not you can recover damages from your own auto insurance company depends on what kind of insurance you have. Washington allows for no-fault coverage. If you have no-fault coverage, regardless of who bears the fault in your accident, your insurance policy will cover your damages up to your policy maximums. However, if you have a traditional policy, you will need to file a claim with the insurer of the at-fault driver, whether that is you or a third party. You may also skip the insurance claim altogether and move straight to filing a lawsuit to recover damages from an at-fault driver.

Before Filing a Lawsuit

Insurance companies are generally in a better position than individuals are to pay for damages, so before you file a lawsuit against a liable third party, you may want to pursue an insurance claim. FindLaw has some great information on filing insurance claims that may be helpful to you.

If, after you've worked with an insurance company, you feel that your claim was improperly denied or delayed, you may want to file a complaint against the insurance company with the Washington Insurance Commissioner.

Filing Your Seattle Car Accident Lawsuit

If you're seriously thinking about filing a lawsuit, you may want to consider consulting a Seattle attorney with experience with accident and injury law. Just having the initial consultation with an attorney can sometimes help clarify your objectives and understand the ins and outs of your case.

If your accident occurred in King County, you'll file your complaint with the King County Superior Court civil division. If you're unsure what you're allowed to claim as damages in your lawsuit, check out FindLaw's article What Kinds of Damages May I Claim for Car Accident Injuries?

You should know that all Seattle lawsuits claiming $50,000 or less in damages are subject to Washington's mandatory arbitration program. Even a lawsuit claiming over $50,000 in damages will probably be subject to some sort of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) requirement before it reaches the trial stage. Most people choose to undergo mediation before trial because it is non-binding, unlike arbitration.

Additional Resources

Whether you were injured in your car accident or are only claiming property damage, FindLaw's section on the stages of a personal injury case can give you an idea of the stages that your Seattle car accident case will likely follow. You may also want to peruse FindLaw's section on Car Accidents for more helpful information about liability, legal help and specific types of accidents.

Get Legal Help After a Car Accident in Seattle

As you can see, there is a lot to understand about car accident and personal injury law in Washington state. If you have questions regarding issues such as damages, insurance, fault and liability or anything else related to your Seattle car accident, speak with an experienced car accident attorney to get your questions answered.

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