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Automobile insurance generally follows the car rather than the driver. This means that the owner of a vehicle could potentially be held liable for damages caused by anyone else who drives it. However, coverage differs from policy to policy, and varies depending on the situation, and a driver should be aware of the terms of his own policy.

The most common situation where a person other than the owner is driving a vehicle is where a parent allows their child to drive their vehicle. Whether a parent will be held liable for the negligence of their child, as applied to motor vehicle accidents, is determined by the “Family Car Doctrine.” See Can I Be Held Responsible For Damages Caused By My Child?

However, where a person resides with the owner of the vehicle, and uses the vehicle on a regular basis, many insurance policies require that this person be listed as an “insured” under the policy in order to be covered. To be safe, every person (of driving age) who resides in one home should be listed on every applicable insurance policy.

But what about a situation where a friend borrows the car and causes damage? The vehicle owner will be held liable for damages caused by a friend who he allowed to drive the vehicle. The only way to avoid liability in this scenario is by proving the friend did not have permission; this is difficult to do because insurance companies assume permission absent clear indications to the contrary.

Where a vehicle owner allows a friend who is an incompetent, reckless, or unfit driver to drive his vehicle, the vehicle owner will likely be held liable under the theory of negligent entrustment. Some examples of an incompetent, reckless or unfit driver include one who is drunk, underage and/or unlicensed, ill or otherwise not physically able, and someone with a history of bad driving.

On the other hand, where a vehicle is stolen from the owner and driven without permission by a criminal, the vehicle owner will not be held responsible for damages caused or injuries incurred. However, in the case of an accident, the vehicle owner is likely to be stuck with the bill for his own vehicle repairs.

It is for these reasons that, prior to loaning your vehicle to another person, you be familiar with the terms of your policy, know what kind of driver the person is, and deny permission to anyone you are not prepared to be held liable for.

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In many households, a single vehicle is shared by multiple family members. Often, this includes teenage children. As a large percentage of motor vehicle accidents are caused by young drivers, parents wonder whether they would be held liable for the negligence of their children if anything were to happen.

A parent will not be held liable for the torts of his child solely because of the parent-child relationship. This relationship, in and of itself, does not create liability. Liability, if any exists, depends upon agency principles. Specifically, whether a parent will be held liable for the negligence of their child, as applied to motor vehicle accidents, is determined by the “Family Car Doctrine.”

Generally, the Family Car Doctrine states that a parent can be held liable for injury/damages caused by their child if: (1) the vehicle is owned, provided, or maintained by the parent, (2) for the customary use, pleasure, and convenience of family members, (3) a family member was driving the car at the time of the accident, (4) and the vehicle was used with the express or implied permission of the parent.

Therefore, in a situation where a parent owns a vehicle, and allows his child to drive it, he will likely be held liable for any damages that follow. Conversely, where a child is forbidden from using the car and takes it without permission, there is certainly an argument against liability.

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Yes! Absolutely, no doubt about it, every time. If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, call the cops. They may be too busy to come out to the scene, or they may not think the accident merits police involvement, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call.

Cops can assist in the following ways:
1. Sometimes the other driver is hostile and irritated, possibly even drunk or otherwise under the influence. In these situations, it may not be safe to approach this person. By calling the cops and allowing them to deal with this person, you keep yourself safe.
2. Sometimes the other driver tries to leave the scene of the accident, in order to avoid liability or for other unknown reasons. By calling the cops, you increase your chances of tracking down this person. Without getting his information, you (generally) have no claim.
3. Sometimes the other driver provides false contact or insurance information, in order to keep you from making a claim against him. On your own, you simply have no way to know whether they are who they say they are, or whether the information they are giving you is accurate and up-to-date. The other driver is much more likely to be honest with an officer, and the officer has ways of verifying the information.
4. When police come out to the scene of a motor vehicle accident, they are required to make a report of the incident. This report not only provides the information necessary to make a claim, but also serves as proof that an accident occurred, as well as provides the details of the accident.
5. The police may take photographs of the scene and/or the damage to the vehicles. These pictures will later be helpful in a claim against the other driver.
6. The police may help track down witnesses that otherwise would have been lost.
7. As an added bonus, the police will likely issue a traffic citation to the other driver.

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In a claim for a typical automobile accident where an injured person’s claim is against the at-fault driver’s insurance company, a person’s own insurance company can be helpful in assisting with the claim. A person’s own insurance company is often more responsive, informative, and honest; they have additional incentive to “be nice” because you are their paying customer.

However, there are two main situations where an injured person pursues a claim against their own insurance company. The first is where the at-fault driver was uninsured, and the second is where the policy limits of the at-fault driver’s insurance are insufficient to fully compensate the injured person.

In each of these situations, a person’s own insurance company essentially steps into the shoes of the at-fault driver’s insurance company. It is essential to understand that, where this occurs, your own insurance company no longer has your best interest in mind. Instead, their goal now matches that of the at-fault driver’s insurance company: to convince you to settle as quickly as possible for as little as possible.

Because your own insurance company becomes “the opponent” in these situations, the reasoning for hiring an attorney echoes the reasoning for other more typical claims. See Why Do I Need An Attorney? In short, one of the most important things an attorney provides is his experience. With experience comes knowledge. An experienced personal injury attorney, like the attorneys at Newton & Hall, Attorneys at Law, PLLC, will have the knowledge to determine who is at fault for an accident and why, what steps to take to maximize your recovery as well as what to avoid doing, which expenses are recoverable, and the overall value of a claim.

An experienced personal injury attorney knows exactly what to do, and how to do it, to ensure an injured person receives a fair and reasonable settlement.

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Pretend for a second that you have a big baseball game tonight.  The insurance company is the opponent. When they show up for the game, they bring their entire team.  They have their best hitters, catchers, pitchers, and coaches all waiting to give it all they’ve got. If you want to have any chance at winning the game, wouldn’t you show up with an entire team as well?  In the case of a motor vehicle accident, an attorney is your “team” who will assist you in “winning” against the insurance company.   

 If you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident, and handled the claim with the adverse insurance company on your own, you’ve been ripped off.  The simple truth is that insurance companies have one goal in mind when they deal with an unrepresented claimant: to convince you to settle as quickly as possible for as little as possible.  All too often, unrepresented claimants end up settling for much less than their claim might actually be worth. 

One of the most important things an attorney provides in this type of situation is his experience.  With experience comes knowledge.  An experienced personal injury attorney, like the attorneys at Newton & Hall, Attorneys at Law, PLLC, will have the knowledge to determine who is at fault for an accident and why, what steps to take to maximize your recovery as well as what to avoid doing, which expenses are recoverable, and the overall value of a claim. 

 Even more importantly, not only does an experienced personal injury attorney have the knowledge to determine the value of each individual claim, but they also have knowledge of the procedures necessary to recover it.  Without the assistance of an attorney, for example, you may not be aware that you can recover lost wages.  Even if you did, you likely weren’t aware that you would need to support a claim for lost wages with paystubs, tax documents, letters or other documentation provided by your employer, and/or doctor’s notes.  An experienced personal injury attorney knows exactly what to do, and how to do it, to ensure an injured person receives a fair and reasonable settlement.      

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You’ve been involved in an automobile accident and were injured.  You were taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital, where they took x-rays and did a CT Scan. Maybe you followed up with your primary doctor a couple times since then, or maybe you’ve started treatment with a chiropractor or physical therapist.  Regardless of the type of treatment you’ve received or plan on receiving, you are likely highly concerned about how you are going to pay for it. 

Where another person is responsible for an accident, their insurance company will ultimately offer you a settlement which should cover the cost of all reasonable and necessary medical bills you may have incurred.  However, they will not pay for your bills as they are incurred; instead, they will offer you one lump sum at the end.  Because this process can take months or even years, in order to avoid these bills getting sent to collections and negatively affecting your credit, it is best to deal with the bills yourself as they come.   

In that regard, the first place to look for coverage is your own automobile insurance policy.  An automobile insurance policy can be broken down into various parts; the portion of the policy which could pay for medical expenses is called Personal Injury Protection.  Personal Injury Protection, often referred to as PIP, is “no fault” in that the coverage is available for an insured to use regardless of whether they caused the accident or not.  A driver’s PIP is also available for use by his or her passengers.  Where an accident is between an automobile and a pedestrian, the driver’s PIP is also available for use by the pedestrian.  One of the greatest benefits of PIP is that, unlike health insurance, there is no deductible or copay.  PIP pays a bill in its entirety.

The second place to look for coverage is your own health insurance.  In the context of this post, this includes Medicare and Medicaid.  Coverage for medical treatment related to an automobile accident is secondary in that your health insurance company will only provide coverage once they have confirmed that there is no PIP available for your use.  Once this is confirmed, health insurance works the same way it does for your regular health care.  Whether related to an accident or not, health insurance will generally take care of a portion of a medical bill, often leaving a remaining balance.

Where a person has no PIP and no health insurance, there are a few other options they could try to utilize.  Attorneys often work closely with particular medical providers and are sometimes able to get the provider to agree to “hold” the balance until settlement.  In this way, the client gets the treatment they need without the added costs and negative effects of the bill going to collections.  These providers will often place a lien on a client’s claim which legally entitles them to payment before funds can be distributed to a client.

Of course, there is always the option to pay the bills up front and wait to be reimbursed from settlement, but not many people can afford to do this.

At the end of the day, an injured person’s priority should be to get the medical treatment they need, regardless of how the bill will be handled.  The worst case scenario is that the bills go to collections for a short while, then get paid off at the time of settlement.  It is always our goal at Newton & Hall, Attorneys at Law, PLLC to recover in an amount sufficient to cover all medical bills incurred, along with any added interest or costs.                 

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There are a lot of things people do everyday while driving that are technically against the law, yet ordinarily not given a second thought.  The law requires a person to turn into the inside lane when making a turn, yet people often make wide turns.  The law requires a person to leave sufficient space between the front of their own vehicle and the back of the vehicle in front of them, yet rush hour on Interstate 5 is a mess of bumper to bumper cars every single day.  The law requires a person to slow down at a yellow light, yet it is common for a person to speed up in order to beat the red light.  For more information and a complete listing of the Rules of the Road, see RCW Chapter 46.61.

 The list of infractions committed by drivers on a daily basis goes on and on, and generally isn’t considered a big deal.  In lieu of an accident, the consequence for committing one of these infractions is simply a traffic ticket, and the maximum punishment for a traffic ticket is a monetary penalty.  However, when the committing of an infraction is the cause of an accident, the consequences can be far reaching. 

 The term “liability” refers to the state of being responsible for something.  A person who causes an accident is liable for the damages stemming from that accident.  However, determining who is liable for an accident isn’t always easy.

 The determination of liability begins with the police officers who respond to the scene of an accident.  The police will speak with all involved, look at the damage to the vehicles involved, and, more often than not, issue a citation to the person they deem to be at fault.  It’s important to note that, although a citation is evidence of negligence, it isn’t determinative of liability.  Simply stated, just because a police officer issued a ticket to a person doesn’t mean that person will ultimately be held responsible for the accident. 

The ultimate determination of liability comes from the insurance companies who insure the involved parties.  As soon as the claim is reported, each insurance company will first take a recorded statement from their own insured.  Sometimes, this alone is sufficient to determine liability.  For example, if a person reports a claim to their own insurance company and admits full responsibility for the accident (“I was talking on my cell phone and didn’t see him”), the insurance company will accept liability and proceed forward on the claim.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes liability is hotly contested and becomes a “he-said-she-said” situation where it’s one person’s word against another.  When this occurs, the insurance company (or companies) will often launch an investigation and look into every last bit of evidence to assist them in the determination.

 Where liability is contested, especially where a person doesn’t have insurance of their own to fight for them on the issue, it can be a complete nightmare for a person to deal with.  It is especially frustrating when a person knows with complete certainty that the other party is lying or otherwise trying to avoid liability.  The best thing a person can do to avoid finding themselves in this situation is to document every detail of the accident- take pictures of the vehicles before moving them off the road, take pictures of the damage to each vehicle, get contact information for any witnesses, etc.  The best thing a person can do once they find themselves in this situation is to consult with an attorney.    

 As a last resort, if a person is in disagreement with the determination of liability by the involved insurance companies, they can file a lawsuit with the court and take the matter to trial for a judge or jury to determine.  It is rare that a claim requires this, but the option is always there.  In any matter involving disputed liability, it is important to consult with an attorney who can advise you as to the best actions to take in your particular situation. 

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Often, there is no warning.  A sudden loud noise, a blurred scene as the vehicle is pushed around, and the instant onset of pain; these are often the first indications to the occupants of a vehicle that an accident has just occurred.  Many people are so disoriented by the impact and by the surprise of what just happened that they say or do things that aren’t necessarily in their best interest.  There are several things a person can do at the scene of the accident, or can avoid doing, to protect them and improve their claim.

The immediate priority is your health. Are you feeling sharp pain? Is there blood? Did you hit your head? If you or anyone else involved is injured, seek medical attention immediately. 

Regardless of injury, it is always a good idea to call the police and get an officer out to the scene. Many times everyone involved is polite and agreeable at the scene, but you just never know whether they will change their story later on.  A “he said, she said” situation can be messy and doesn’t always end up as it should in terms of liability.  Getting the police involved will assure that the accident scene is documented correctly, and that all necessary information is exchanged between parties.  The police will come to the scene and speak with each involved party, issue any citations, assist with the towing of vehicles, and give an Exchange of Information document to all involved.

If an officer is on the way, tell the other driver that you would prefer to wait for him to arrive before speaking with them.  It is better to say nothing, than to say the wrong thing. 

If able to do so, take pictures of the accident scene and the damage to the vehicles prior to moving them off of the road.  Often, people move their vehicles to the side of the road immediately after an accident so as to not impede the flow of traffic.  However, if there is any question as to who is at fault or what happened, pictures of the accident scene can assist in answering these questions.  Once the accident scene and vehicle damages have been documented, all vehicles should then be moved out of the roadway, if possible.  

Once everything has been taken care of at the scene, and the officer has indicated that everyone is free to leave, every person involved should get checked out by a health care professional.  If there are no apparent injuries, an appointment can be made to be checked out by your primary care provider at the earliest possible opportunity.  In the alternative, most urgent care facilities accept walk-ins.  It is important to understand that not all injuries manifest themselves immediately after the accident- most people see an increase in symptoms for approximately two weeks following the accident.

In order to get the claim opened and get the ball rolling, you must give your statement to the at-fault driver’s insurance company.  Most of the time, if the claim gets reported properly, the adverse insurance company will contact you within a day or two.  Feel free to contact them yourself if you do not hear from them right away.  Keep in mind that the adverse insurance company does not have your best interests in mind- it is their job to get you to settle the matter as quickly as possible for as little as possible.  Therefore, you should aim to say as little as possible; stick to the facts of the accident and the damage to your vehicle.  There is no need to discuss your injuries, and it is best that you do not discuss your injuries or any other matters. 

It is at this point that you contact Newton & Hall, Attorneys at Law, PLLC to schedule a free consultation.  Our attorneys know exactly what to do to assist you throughout this process to assure you get the best possible recovery.                 

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Sometimes it happens during the initial phone call with a potential client.  Other times it happens a month later, while the client is still seeking medical treatment for their injuries.  And still other times, it happens as we move forward on a claim and are attempting settlement.  Regardless of when it happens, I inevitably am asked time and time again: “What is my claim worth?”

While an experienced attorney can make an educated guess as to the value of a claim, it is just that: a guess.  There is no formula; no hard and fast rule.  There are numerous things to consider in determining the value of a claim. 

Sometimes clients will phrase the question as “Isn’t my claim worth three times my medical bills?”  This method of valuing a claim is an absolute myth. Consider the following scenario: two people are involved in a motor vehicle accident- one has a sore back and racks up $10,000 worth of massage bills, the other fractures a bone and requires a $10,000 surgery.  In this situation, each of the injured parties has $10,000 in medical bills, but you can see why their claims clearly would not be valued identically. 

Some of the things that are taken into consideration in valuing a claim include the type of accident, the severity of the accident,  the amount of damage to the vehicles involved, type(s) of injuries sustained, pain level, duration and cost of medical treatment, type(s) of medical treatment, whether there are any pre-existing conditions, and the impact on daily activities and quality of life.  It is clear that, in the scenario above, the second person has sustained a much more serious injury, his pain levels were likely higher and lasted longer, and the medical treatment he received was more reasonable/necessary.  His claim, therefore, is simply worth more than the claim of the other person.

Another thing to consider is the value of a claim versus what a person can actually recover.  While an injured person’s claim may be valued at higher, he will be unable to recover any more than the insured’s policy limits.  In Washington State, a person is required to carry at least $25,000 in liability insurance.  In the situation, for example, where a person has $40,000 in medical bills, but the at-fault driver’s policy limits are the state minimum of $25,000, it is extremely unlikely that the injured person can recover anything in excess of the $25,000 limits regardless of the actual value of his claim.  The only other option a person has in this situation is to attempt to sue the driver personally, which is not likely to yield any actual recovery.     

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In speaking with the insurance company for the at-fault driver after being involved in a motor vehicle accident, a person is often led to believe that the situation is time sensitive.  Insurance adjusters, knowing they have the upper hand in dealing with an unrepresented person, all too often convince people to settle their claims for much less than they might actually be worth.  Time and time again, clients state that the insurance adjuster told them that it would be in their best interest to settle quickly, or that “this is the best they can do.”  The reality is that the insurance company does not have your best interest in mind.  They simply have one goal: to convince you to settle as quickly as possible for as little as possible. 

The amount of time a person has to resolve their claim is called a statute of limitations.  A statute of limitations is a type of law that restricts the time within which legal proceedings may be brought.  Under Washington law, RCW 4.16.080 sets forth the statute of limitations for personal injury matters.  It states that “an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property, including an action for specific recovery thereof, or for any injury to the person or rights of another” must be commenced within three years.  This means that, contrary to what the insurance adjuster may tell you, a person actually has three years to settle their claim.

When people are involved in motor vehicle accidents, they often find themselves overwhelmed trying to navigate the ins and outs of the process of dealing with an insurance company.  Because of how complicated it is and how much time they find themselves putting into dealing with it all, I notice that clients start to consider settlement long before their case is “ripe” for settlement.  Settling quickly for less than a claim is worth is simply letting the insurance company win.

When navigating a claim on behalf of a client who has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, I do not encourage a client to move forward until they have recovered from their injuries.  While this is sometimes just a few short weeks in, other times it can be years down the road.  It is important to remember that this process takes patience, and that patience will assure you get the best possible recovery.