Automobile Liability Insurance
In Washington, drivers are required to have automobile liability insurance coverage. Drivers can be ticketed for driving without being covered by liability insurance. This policy exists to protect those injured on the road by other drivers’ negligence.
Washington law requires drivers to have a minimum of $25,000 worth of coverage for each person injured by that driver’s negligence, and at least $50,000 worth of coverage for the aggregate of all injury claims arising from any single incident. To illustrate, if a driver causes a crash and injures one person, the policy must cover up to at least $25,000 of damages for the injured person. If the driver causes a crash and injures two people, the policy must cover up to at least $25,000 of damages for each injured person, for a combined total of $50,000. If the driver injures three people, any of the three may recover up to at least $25,000, but the sum of all three claims may be limited to $50,000.
With the current cost of healthcare and realities of long-term effects of injuries, the minimum liability policy limits of $25,000 per claim / $50,000 per incident are often insufficient to fully compensate injured plaintiffs. As a result, we recommend that all drivers carry significantly more than the minimum automobile liability insurance coverage required by law. If you cause a crash, you want the peace of mind knowing that your insurance will be enough to fully make up for any harm you cause. In addition, if your coverage is insufficient to cover the entirety of the injured person’s damages, the injured person may collect the balance from you directly, which could be financially devastating.
Liability insurance covers damages to those injured by the negligence of individuals covered under the insurance policy. The types of damages covered include, but may not be limited to:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future lost earnings
- Past and future loss of services (e.g. the cost of hiring a gardener to maintain your yard while you are incapacitated)
- Compensation for pain, suffering, and disability
- Loss of consortium (e.g. compensation to the injured person’s spouse for the hardship brought about by the injuries)
Ordinarily, liability insurance coverage is paid out in one lump sum, after which the claimant may not pursue additional compensation from the defendant or the defendant’s insurance company. This differs from other types of insurance, which make incremental payments as damages or expenses accrue. If you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, that person’s liability insurance will not generally cover your medical bills along the way as they become due. However, those expenses should be included in the lump sum settlement reached with the liability insurance company at the conclusion of your claim.
Ordinarily we recommend that claimants wait until they have completed medical treatment before settling their liability claim. This is because once you settle your claim, you cannot seek more money if it later turns out that your injuries are worse than you originally realized. Before a claimant has completed medical treatment of a back injury, for example, it is impossible to know whether they will recover with physical therapy alone, or if they will end up needing multiple back surgeries. When you don’t know what it will take for you to get better, or if you will be able to get better at all, it is impossible to adequately evaluate damages.
Auto insurance companies owe duties to their policy holders with respect to proper claims handling. In the context of automobile liability coverage, an insurance company is obligated to fairly represent the interests of their policy holders, and to engage in good faith settlement negotiations with those injured due to negligence. This means that the insurance company must investigate and attempt to settle claims on behalf of policy holders, so that they are not put at risk of ongoing litigation or judgments in excess of the liability policy limits. If an insurance company fails to meet its duties, policy holders may be entitled to assert claims directly against the insurance company for breach of the insurance contract, breach of the duty of good faith, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the consumer protection act, and claims under the insurance fair conduct act (IFCA).
If you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, you will likely be negotiating settlement with an adjuster from the negligent driver’s insurance company. Insurance adjusters are trained to minimize the amount they pay on claims. To ensure that you obtain full value on your claim, we always recommend that you consult with a lawyer before negotiating any settlement. For a free consultation, call us at (206) 624-8844.