Last year there were 122,337 motor vehicle collisions in the State of Washington, resulting in 508 deaths and 27,190 injuries. Fatal and injury-causing collisions are not going away anytime soon, as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and distracted driving while using a cell phone remain significant problems. If you are involved in a collision, there are just a few things to keep in mind to protect yourself and your family.
1. Get needed medical treatment promptly if you or your passengers are injured. Go to the nearest hospital emergency room or to your personal physician. An untreated injury may become worse. If you delay or fail to obtain treatment, the at-fault driver's insurance company (and even your own insurance company) may blame you for aggravating your own injuries or claim that you were not genuinely injured in the collision. Many people have an admirable tendency to minimize their own injuries, and will say they are "fine" even if they are not. If you have any concerns, you should get them checked out.
2. Call the police at the scene of the collision if you can. In many collisions, there are no witnesses other than you and the other driver. Memories do not improve with the passage of time, and people may change their stories. Do not move the vehicles while waiting for the police to arrive unless they pose an immediate hazard to other traffic. If the police are not able to respond, you should ask for the other driver's address, phone number and insurance information and submit an online motor vehicle collision report at https://fortress.wa.gov/wsp/wrecr/OMVCR/.
3. Report the collision to your own insurance company. However, you should be careful about giving statements to the other driver's insurance company, or giving the other driver's insurance company access to your medical and employment records. These statements and records can be used against you and affect your claim.
4. There are legal time limits for making a claim, called the Statute of Limitations. The applicable time limit in Washington is generally three years, but it can vary depending on the circumstances and it is not a good idea to wait long before making a claim.
5. If you have a serious injury, do not try to settle your own claim, either with the at-fault driver's insurance company or your own insurance company. Insurance adjusters spend all day every day settling claims, and they are trained to settle claims as quickly and cheaply as possible. Some are polite while others are pushy, but all adjusters represent the insurance company's shareholders rather than you. You only have one chance to settle your claim, and you owe it to yourself and your family to consult with a lawyer who has expertise in injury and insurance claims before making such an important and permanent decision.
George Ahrend practices law in Moses Lake, and previously served as the lawyer for the largest trial lawyers association in Washington, representing its interests before the Supreme Court in insurance, personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, product liability and similar matters.