An auto accident is the most likely scenario in which you may find yourself injured and/or unable to work, dealing with car repairs, and frustrated while trying to sort it out all out with insurance companies, medical offices, and employers. Along with physical headaches, you may also suffer logistical headaches pertaining to getting kids to school, getting a rental car, or dealing with your general household obligations. All of these added burdens are tough enough as it is, but when you add the physical pain and discomfort of your injuries to the equation, the situation can become unbearable. Our firm has successfully represented thousands of auto accident victims. We can ease many of these burdens and successfully navigate your claim to a successful resolution.
The most common automobile accident is a rear-end accident involving minimal to moderate property damage, in which the vehicle occupant sustains a “soft tissue” injury. Many times the visible property damage in these accidents is quite minimal and out of sync with what the accident felt like.
Typical injuries sustained are sprains and strains to the head, neck, back, and shoulders. These injuries might be treated with physical therapy, chiropractic, and/or massage treatment, and typically there are x-rays taken. Frequently victims will be prescribed muscle relaxers and/or pain killers at an emergency room or urgent care facility and are told to follow up if their problems do not otherwise resolve. These cases are referred to in the industry as MIST cases (Minor Impact Soft Tissue) and are the most aggressively defended claims in the insurance industry. Some people can manage these injuries and get back to work and activities with some limitations, while others might be knocked out of their normal routine for weeks or even months and in some cases years. We have had many cases where one person in the car is severely injured and another person in the same car might not be injured at all.
We offer free consultations and meet our clients in our office or at a location convenient for you. We have met clients in hospitals when necessary and will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our clients are treated with respect and compensated fairly for their damages.
Common defenses employed by the insurance companies include credibility attacks against you, attacks against your medical providers, and claims that all your symptoms are imagined or stem from something other than the motor vehicle accident. At Becker Franklin Rovang, all attorneys have significant prior experience defending personal injury lawsuits on behalf of insurance companies so we are very familiar with how these defenses are utilized and how to effectively fight them.
In addition to the rear-end accident, other common auto accidents requiring legal representation include:
- Failure to yield incidents where someone fails to yield when turning. Most commonly it is the failure to yield while making a left turn.
- Failure to stop at a stop sign or red light.
- Parking lot accidents. Regular statutes do not apply so these are frequently hotly contested.
- Distracted driving accidents where someone was talking on their phone, texting, or doing anything other than keeping their eyes on the road.
- Impaired drivers who are either drunk or high and have no business being on the roadway.
- Both controlled and uncontrolled intersection accidents.
- Accidents where there are disputes about who has the right of way. These include lane change accidents and accidents in traffic circles or roundabouts.
- Road rage incidents escalating into injury.
- Snow and Ice accidents where it is claimed that roadway conditions were to blame for the accident.
- Vehicle Defects where it is claimed brake failure, sudden acceleration, inoperable brake lights, or other mechanical issues caused the crash.
- Single Car accidents where a driver left the roadway or struck an object.
- “Phantom Vehicle” accidents where the crash was caused by a vehicle that left the scene and nobody can identify who it was.
- No insurance car accidents where the victim or the at-fault party doesn’t have any insurance.
Primary Issues in an Auto Accident Case
In an auto accident claim, as well as most personal injury claims, the two central questions are:
- Who is at fault? The term “liability” refers to this question.
- What is the claim worth? Often referred to as “damages.”
Answering these questions sensibly requires a complete understanding of the applicable laws and regulations, as well as a detailed analysis of the facts. At Becker Franklin Rovang, we evaluate these questions to obtain the best possible results for you.
1) Who is at fault? Liability
In an automobile crash involving a drunk driver who crosses the center lane and causes the crash, there is usually no question that the drunk driver is at fault and the victim is not. However, the inquiry does not end there. If the drunk driver was “over-served” in violation of legal guidelines at a bar or restaurant, there may be some shared legal responsibility on behalf of that commercial establishment. It may be the case that the bar or restaurant is ultimately deemed to be only 1 percent at fault, but this can have huge ramifications upon the personal injury claim.
For all auto accidents, and all personal injury claims in general, being able to investigate and evaluate all the relevant factors is essential to obtaining a just result for an injured person. Knowing what to investigate and how to go about doing so comes from experience and training. Having handled thousands of auto accident claims, we are well equipped to cover all the necessary bases.
Similarly, the fact that one party got a citation from the police does not conclusively establish the question of fault. In other words, whether or not someone got a traffic ticket is not binding on the question of fault. We have had numerous clients who actually received a traffic citation in relation to an automobile accident when they were not the cause of the accident. We have successfully resolved these cases in favor of our clients.
There are lots of issues that ultimately may not be relevant to your case that insurance companies will try to argue with you when you are negotiating your claims. When it comes to fault, these issues may include things like the speed you were traveling, or contentions that you stopped too fast, followed too close, or that you “should have” or could have seen someone else blow a stop sign or run a red light. The law does not require you to have a crystal ball and foresee everything that might happen despite the arguments you might hear from an insurance adjuster.
Washington's Pure Comparative Fault Rules*
A car accident case in Washington is pretty straightforward, at least in theory: You are injured in an accident, you file an insurance claim or lawsuit, and you're awarded compensation for your damages. But what happens when an insurance adjuster or the court decides that you are also partly at fault for a car accident?
Washington uses a "pure comparative fault" rule to sort out injury cases in which the person filing the lawsuit also bears part of the blame for the accident. Here's how it works. Suppose that your total damages -- medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and all your other losses -- come to $10,000. However, at trial the jury decides that the other driver involved in the accident was 90 percent at fault, and you were 10 percent at fault. What happens to your $10,000 damages award?
Under the "pure comparative fault" rule, you receive the damages award minus an amount equal to the percentage of your fault. In the example above, this means you'll walk away with $9,000: the $10,000 total minus $1,000 that represents your 10 percent share of the fault.
The Rules of the Road are found in the Washington State statutes here: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.61. There are also many laws and rules developed via case law. To fully evaluate fault issues, one must have a thorough understanding of the applicable laws and the experience of having argued these issues in our courts.
* Injured passengers are typically never at fault and should seek legal advice immediately to fully understand their situation and options.
2) What is the claim worth? Damages
The damages you are entitled to pursue is also an area that requires full understanding of the law pertaining to damages, as well as investigation and review of your specific factual circumstances. There are two broad categories of damages that the law permits you to obtain. These damages are described as economic and noneconomic damages.
Recovering economic damages can be simple and straightforward, or highly complex. For example, if you lost hours at work due to your injuries and you work hourly, this is a fairly simple wage loss claim to establish. On the other hand, if you run your own business or you get paid via commissions or profit sharing, it can be much harder to show the wage loss you have incurred. Maybe you had to hire another employee to do the things that you normally did for your business? Or maybe your attitude and motivation were so negatively impacted that you could not make sales like you normally did? In organizations like the military, there may be ramifications to promotions due to being on limited duty or being physically unable to deploy. Worst case scenarios may involve losing your job or not being able to work at all.
These losses often require experts such as economists and vocational experts to fully establish, or they may need to be developed by attorneys familiar with the evidence required to prevail on these claims. You are entitled to claim past, present, and future wage loss and the same goes for your medical expenses. It is vital to understand your legal rights before finalizing any settlement.
At Becker Franklin Rovang, we fully develop economic loss claims to make you whole. We advance all costs for necessary experts and understand the full extent of the damages the law allows an injured person to recover.
As to non-economic damages (often referred to as “pain and suffering”), the law does not provide a specific way to calculate these damages. Non-economic damages include but are not limited to: emotional distress, pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. In order to get fairly compensated for these losses, these claims must be properly presented and argued on your behalf. There is no magic formula or book that you can open that tells you how much a person’s pain is worth, or how much the emotional distress related to a permanent injury is worth. Every person has issues and impacts that are unique. Non-economic damages claims must be fully developed and effectively presented in order to maximize the financial recovery.
How much is it worth if you can’t pursue your favorite hobby like you used to? What if something you loved doing in the past is now a source of pain and agony? We’ve represented clients who could no longer work out at the gym, or gave up going fishing, hiking, or camping. For others, it may be more ordinary things like having difficulty cleaning or cooking or keeping up the yard or garden.
It is easy for most of us to figure out the loss of value of a couple hours of work, but what about the loss of enjoyable time spent with your family or playing with your kids or grandkids?
The value of non-economic damages is ultimately determined by how well your claim is developed and presented and how well you understand the audience that would ultimately decide what these damages are worth. You simply won’t receive adequate settlement value until the insurance companies recognize that you are willing and able to present the evidence to a jury and realistically obtain the type of money you are seeking. There are countless factors that are weighed in assessing and evaluating general damages.
Settlement and Timing
Timing in a case can be a critical factor. Insurance companies often want to settle your claim soon after an accident. This is because once you sign a release, you can no longer pursue your claim, even if your injuries and treatment continue. Your case is effectively closed.
There are far too many cases where injured people settle their cases early in exchange for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, only to realize the nature and extent of their injuries were far worse than originally thought. Even worse, the money they obtained as compensation for their damages was not reasonable for their case to begin with.
It is vital to be cognizant of timing issues and not consider settlement until your case is “ripe” and also not wait so long that your claims are “stale.” We discuss these issues with you during your free case evaluation.
Washington's Statute of Limitations
In the legal world, a "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your ability to go to court and seek legal relief after you suffer some kind of harm. Every state carries these laws, and there are different time limits depending on the kind of case you're filing.
In Washington, a person who is injured or suffers property damage after a car accident has three years, starting with the date of the crash, to go to court and file a lawsuit.
The three-year limit applies to when a lawsuit needs to be filed, not when it needs to be resolved. Also, this three-year time limit doesn't apply to uninsured or underinsured motorist claims. The rules are also different for those under the age of 18 when the accident occurred. There are also different legal wrinkles that apply to statutes of limitations depending on specific factual circumstances. These are all matters we are happy to discuss with you when we evaluate your case. In our experience, the earlier we can get involved with representing our clients, the better.
At Becker Franklin Rovang, all of our clients' cases are big cases to us. We have successfully represented auto accident victims with injuries ranging from soft tissue injuries that resolve in a relatively short period of time to catastrophic permanent injuries requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation.