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Wheeler, Montgomery, Sleight & Boyd Law Offices
902 Esther Street,
Vancouver, WA 98660.
FAX: (360) 690-0068
Personal Injury Law in Washington
Personal injury is a term that covers a considerable range of circumstances, all of which have one thing in common: An individual is hurt or impaired in some manner as a result of the negligent actions of another. It can be a result of almost any type of accident, most commonly an auto accident, but may also be the result of a slip and fall or any other injurious event that causes physical injury. The nature of the injury or the manner in which it takes place can come from an endless number of causes, but the significant common factor in personal injury cases is that the injury is allowed to take place due to the established negligence of another person or entity.
According to Washington state law, any person or entity that "fails to exercise ordinary care in the prevention of harm to others may be liable for any damage or harm they cause". If an injury takes place that is the result another party's negligence, then that person has failed to exercise reasonable caution and care in the prevention of harm to others. This failure, once established, makes the negligent party proportionately responsible for monetary damages in the form of medical bills or property restoration costs.
Washington State has a comparative negligence law that provides for proportionate responsibility and recovery in personal injury cases. Each party must accept liability in the degree to which it is responsible for any specific loss. This means that if your own carelessness contributed in some degree to the injury or damages you suffered as a result of someone else's negligence, the amount of the recovery you receive may be reduced proportionately by the percentage for which you were responsible. Comparative negligence also provides for a proportionate recovery in a situation where multiple parties caused your injury. In that case, the multiple parties are each proportionately responsible for their individual monetary damages based on the percentage of liability they share. A good attorney can help increase the award of damages to a party who may have some level of comparative negligence for the accident that caused their injuries.
Comparative negligence extends to product liability as well. In a case where injury or damage is incurred because of defective goods, the same burdens of proof apply. If it can be established that a manufacturer failed to warn or exercise due care in protecting the public from harm, and injury or property damage arises as a result of access to its product, that manufacturer may incur liability for the resulting damage or injury. Again, if carelessness on the part of the victim is found to have contributed to the injury or damage, any award granted the victim may be reduced proportionately by that amount.
Legal determinations must be made based on the law and facts surrounding the incident to identify the responsible parties in a personal injury case. This is often a complicated process. Sometimes individuals are responsible, but most often, that liability then transfers to an insurance company. Determining responsible parties early on is important so that medical treatment can be provided and property can be restored. In order for an insurance company to cover medical costs or damages out of pocket for an accident, they must first make a determination of responsibility. Insurance companies are seldom quick to do this and more often than not, injured parties find themselves in the precarious position of requiring medical care and property restoration with no financial means to provide for it because the parties are still trying to determine who's liable and to what degree.
Auto insurance policies in Washington typically include a type of coverage called PIP - Personal Injury Protection. This coverage was designed to provide for the victims of a scenario like the one described in the previous paragraph. PIP is a "no-fault" type of coverage that insurance companies in Washington State are required to offer by law. The "no-fault" determination means that regardless of which party is ultimately at fault in an accident, PIP coverage provides for the immediate, reasonable, and necessary care of injuries sustained by the insured as a result of the accident in question. The insured party receives funds through his own insurance policy to provide for his own care, funds that will be reimbursed at some future point in time, either by himself, which is rare, or by the party found to be at fault for the accident. If, in fact, it is determined that the insured is not responsible or at fault for the accident, his insurance company will eventually recover their out-of-pocket PIP medical costs from the at-fault or responsible party. This is called subrogation and allows the insurance company to assume the costs of their own policyholders and then, at a future time, collect those costs from the party or parties who are ultimately responsible.
In order to determine fault in an accident of any kind, a detailed investigation is generally undertaken by both sides. It is usually a lengthy process addressing many issues. In the event you are involved in an accident, there are many things you can do to assist in the process, such as preserving evidence in the form of damaged property, taking pictures of intact accident scenes, and securing the names and contact information of any potential witnesses. However, because of the complexity of the investigative and legal processes, and the sophistication level of most insurance companies and their representatives, you will be ill equipped to deal with any investigatory effort where the other side's primary goal is to absolve itself of all liability and transfer that legal and financial responsibility to you. Hiring legal counsel is the best approach, particularly in a case of where physical injury or measurable property damage is sustained.
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