What should I know about my personal injury case?

Overview of Personal Injury Cases

In order to explain how these cases work and answer questions that you might have about what to expect in connection with your case, I would like to detail the general manner of handling personal injury cases in my office. Of course, each case is unique and handled in its own way but, in general, all injury cases have many basic similarities. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about your case at any time.

Confidential Client Information

While preparing your case, I will assemble information about you. Normally, I need information relating to your injury and losses as a result of the accident. This information will be maintained as confidential unless we determine that it is legally discoverable by the defense or that it will be beneficial to your case to disclose it to the insurance company or defense attorney.

Medical Investigation

The law requires waiver of the Physician-Patient Privilege in injury cases. Your medical records will be discoverable by the defense lawyers. If you feel that your medical records contain any sensitive information not relevant to this case, please let us know as we may be able to secure a protective order to prevent disclosures of this sensitive material. I may also personally interview your doctors. We may forward forms to you to fill out from time to time which will assist us in keeping track of your treatment, medical expenses, and other information that we need for settlement.

Delay in Concluding Your Case

No settlement can be made until a complete, detailed investigation has been finished and all medical information has been gathered, including medical bills, medical reports, and other evidence supporting your claim. In some cases, it is impossible to obtain the necessary medical information because the client is still under treatment and the doctor cannot give an opinion with respect to the client’s prognosis until treatment is more complete.

Settlement Evaluation

When all the necessary information has been obtained, I will sit down with you and evaluate your case. We may then prepare a settlement demand letter, which will be forwarded to the insurance company or the defense attorneys. The insurance company or defense attorneys normally require several weeks to respond. Ordinarily, they do not accept the original demand and further negotiation is required. When the case is settled, the insurance company draft will be issued. This insurance company draft is different from a check, in that checks are presented to a bank and funds are immediately disbursed. An insurance company draft must be presented to a bank, and the bank must then contact the insurance company for authorization to honor the insurance draft. The insurance company will not authorize disbursement on a draft until after it
has received releases and other settlement papers. The company draft deposit itself takes seven to ten days.

Starting a Lawsuit

In many cases, it is necessary to start a lawsuit immediately before any settlement attempt is made. This procedure is followed in the case of certain injuries and with respect to certain insurance companies.
There is a time limit for starting a lawsuit. That time limit is usually three years from the date the injury took place. If a lawsuit is not filed within that time, it can never be brought in the future.

Filing the Lawsuit

A lawsuit is commenced when I prepare a summons and complaint, file those documents with the County Clerk, and a professional process server delivers a copy that is actually served upon the defendant. It is important to remember that approximately 85% of all cases are settled before trial, and that even after a lawsuit is initiated, a settlement is still very probable.
From the time the lawsuit is filed to the time of actual trial depends upon the county where the lawsuit is filed. At the present time, in Kitsap County, it generally takes about one to two years from the time the case is filed to the time it is brought on for trial. If we utilize an arbitration procedure, the time period is often considerably shorter.

Discovery Deposition

The law allows the testimony of witnesses to be taken before trial, and this testimony is called a discovery deposition. In this situation, you or the defendant, or some other witness, is sworn to tell the truth and questions are asked in the presence of a court reporter, who takes down all of the testimony. If the defense counsel requests to take your deposition, I will attend the deposition with you. A deposition is extremely important because the testimony can be used at the time of trial, and because the deposition often determines the amount of settlement to be made in a case. Before any deposition, you will be notified, an appointment will be made with me, and we will sit down and discuss the deposition thoroughly.

Interrogatories

Once a lawsuit is started, written questions may be submitted to the parties which are required to be answered in writing within a period of time provided by law. We will send written interrogatories to the defendant, which he/she is required to answer under oath. You will undoubtedly receive interrogatories from the defendant also, which you will be required to answer. If this is done, you will receive instructions from this office regarding the procedure to follow in answering the questions.

Medical Examination

The law authorizes the defendant to require you go to a doctor for an independent medical examination. The doctor will then submit a report to the defendant’s attorneys, and we will be provided with a copy of that report. If the defendant requires a medical examination of you, we will give you instructions on what to do at that time.

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What should I know about my personal injury case?

When should I demand settlement from an insurance company?

Settlement Demands

Every claim is different and we can submit what we want in our settlement demand. The facts of the case and the damages involved will dictate when a settlement demand should be submitted. Sometimes, timing is everything. Our goal is to reach a resolution of the claim for the most money possible when it makes sense to do so. Your job is to get better and follow the doctor’s advice.

What we do not want to do is to compromise the claim by an early settlement that does not represent a fair value for the claim. I often tell clients that their claim should not be settled until the injured party is stable, meaning that either the injured party feels as good as they did before the accident or we have a medical doctor willing to state in writing that there is no further curative treatment and that his or her patient has a permanent injury.

The elements of the settlement demand include a narrative that we write and share with you for your review and input before submitting it to the insurance company. The narrative is a summary of the case. We will typically include information about your background, employment, prior medical history, the facts of the accident, the medical treatment thereafter, and the damages. The demand usually takes the form of a binder that is indexed with the collision and liability information, the medical charts and reports, and all of the bills and wage loss documentation. If we do not settle the case, we may use the narrative in what is called a Prehearing Statement if we elect to litigate the case in mandatory arbitration.

One way to improve the demand binder is through the use of pictures. We always like to include pictures of the property damage to the vehicle following the collision. We also like to include “action shots” of activities the injured party engaged in prior to the accident. The pictures should be within the recent past rather from years ago. Examples might include pictures of the injured party golfing, jumping off a diving board, fishing, taking a golf swing, displaying crafts or other projects, you get the idea. Three to five really good pictures are more valuable for our purposes than lots and lots of poor quality photographs. Also, if the accident caused any bruising or visible damage to the person, especially any scarring, the demand, if possible, should include those pictures.

When should I demand settlement from an insurance company?

How can I prepare for my deposition?

WHAT IS A DEPOSITION?

A deposition is the taking of testimony by a question and answer method, under oath, before a certified court reporter. You will be asked questions by the opposing attorney, and the questions and your answers will be recorded by an official court reporter. Although there will be no judge present, there is little difference between testimony at a deposition and testimony in a courtroom.

DIFFERENT KINDS OF DEPOSITIONS

There are different purposes for depositions, and you should speak to your attorney to be sure  you know why the deposition is being taken. Different types of depositions require different preparation.

DISCOVERY DEPOSITIONS OF A PARTY TO THE CASE.

This is a deposition which is taken by an attorney to discover what a witness is going to say at trial or to find out what a particular witness knows about the case. If the opposing attorney has scheduled your deposition, it is most likely because he is going to explore your knowledge of the case. The questions are broad and wide ranging, limited only by whether or not they are likely to lead to evidence which might be admitted to trial, or by claim of privilege. This is the type of deposition which is addressed in this blog.

DISCOVERY DEPOSITIONS OF A WITNESS WHO IS NOT A PARTY.

If you are not a party to the litigation, you most likely have no stake in the deposition that is being taken. If that is the case, the most important thing, as in any deposition or testimony, is to be honest and accurate in your responses. You may find the comments in the rest of this blog enlightening, but you should not be concerned about whether your testimony hurts or helps one side or the other. Your job is to tell the truth.

DEPOSITIONS TO PRESERVE TESTIMONY.

This is a deposition taken by an attorney who wishes to preserve the witnesses testimony for trial. At trial, instead of calling the witness into the courtroom for testimony, the deposition testimony will be presented to the jury. Many times, this type of deposition is preserved by videotape. It is most commonly used in Washington State to present the testimony of expert witnesses or treating physicians. It is useful because it is difficult to schedule testimony at a precise time and date due to court congestion, and witnesses with expert credentials or physician witnesses charge for their time. They do not like to be inconvenienced by sitting around in a court room for hours or days at a time. Preparing for this kind of deposition will be the subject of a different blog.

PURPOSES OF A DEPOSITION:

Simply stated, lawyers take depositions to discover what a person’s testimony will be and to preserve testimony for use in trial.  It is important for you to know what the lawyers are trying to do in a deposition if you want to understand what is going on.  The opposing side is taking your deposition for several reasons:

First, the opposing attorney wants to discover what you know concerning the matters involved in the case.  In this respect, he is legitimately searching for evidence.

Second, he is looking for evidence favorable to his client’s case.

Third, the opposing attorney wants to commit you to statements under oath.  If you have testified under oath in deposition to a certain fact, then you are committed to that point.  If you attempt to change your testimony later, the opposing lawyer can read that portion of the deposition to the jury during trial.

Fourth, the opposing attorney may be looking for ways to discredit your testimony or to discredit the testimony of other witnesses through you.  He may try to get you to make conflicting statements, or statements which conflict with the testimony of other witnesses in the case.  Minor conflicts are inevitable in every case.  However, major conflicts in the testimony of witnesses can seriously affect a case.

Fifth, expect opposing counsel to ask you about your doctors and “what did your doctors do for you?”   If you feel a doctor or other medical provider did “nothing” for you, please let me know ahead of time, and we will consider not claiming compensation for that treatment.  Please keep in mind that we have to prove that your treatment was “reasonable and necessary.”

These are the legitimate objectives of the deposition.  It is not a legitimate purpose of a deposition to harass or embarrass you or to increase expense.  Although you may be slightly inconvenienced by your deposition, very few depositions are taken for improper purposes.  Before your deposition is taken, you and I will meet to thoroughly discuss your knowledge of the facts in the case and the subjects on which you may expect to be examined.

YOUR OBLIGATION AS A WITNESS:

Your duty as a witness is to be accurate and tell the truth.

IDEAS TO REMEMBER AT YOUR DEPOSITION:

It would be much easier if people could obtain justice by merely appearing in a courtroom and telling the truth. Unfortunately, the opposing party may tell a different story.  What’s more, he has a lawyer who may attempt to convince the judge and the jury that his story is true and that your testimony is either false or erroneous.  How do you deal with an opposing attorney?  Please consider the following ideas which may reduce the chance that he will take advantage of you or treat you unfairly.  Please read them over and discuss them with me before your deposition.

Idea No. 1:   Remember the purpose of the deposition.

As the plaintiff you can assume that the opposing attorney’s purpose in taking your deposition will be to discredit your case against his client.

The atmosphere in the deposition room may be casual and even friendly, and the opposing attorney may be charming and personable, but do not forget the purpose of the deposition which is to get favorable testimony for the opposing party’s case.

Idea No. 2:  Never volunteer.

The most important advice I can give you before your deposition is to never volunteer information.  More damage is done to a lawsuit by a “helpful” witness than any other source.

This is an extremely hard rule for any witness to learn.  Most of us want to be helpful.  Nevertheless, if the question can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” do not volunteer a further answer unless the simple yes or no leaves your testimony in an unfavorable light.  If the opposing attorney asks you for an example, do not volunteer a second or third example.  If the opposing attorney does not understand the subject well enough to phrase his questions, you are not required to take it upon yourself to explain the subject matter to permit him to ask intelligent questions.  Do not volunteer information of any kind.

It is by no means suggested that you should hide any information.  If the question calls for fact X, then state fact X fully and concisely.  However, do not volunteer facts Y and Z as a part of your answer.  Let the lawyer ask his own questions; that is his job.

Idea No. 3:  Make sure you understand the question.

Never answer a question unless you fully understand it.  Make sure that you hear the entire question.  Some lawyers have a habit of dropping their voices toward the end of a sentence.  Sometimes noises outside of the deposition room interfere with your ability to hear the question.  If this happens, insist that the full question be repeated to you.

If the question is long and complicated, you may ask the attorney or court reporter to repeat it for you.  A question may not make sense.  Lawyers have been known to ask a great number of unintelligible questions.  If you do not understand the question, you should immediately say so.  The attorney will then rephrase his question.  If he restates the question and it is still unclear, you may again state that you do not understand the question.  Indeed, you should continue this process until he has stated the question in such terms as to make it clear.

This is not to imply that you should be overly technical or picky about the question.  If the question is understandable, then answer it.  However, if the question is ambiguous, confusing or unintelligible, then you should insist that the question be restated in terms you can understand.

Idea No. 4:  Take time to think.

First:

Listen to the whole question.  Never answer before the lawyer finishes his question; the last word of his question may change its whole meaning.

Second:

Consider the question carefully.

Third:

Think through your answer.  Take as much time as you need to phrase your answer.

Finally:

State your answer concisely. Never rush this process.  Remember that your answers are more important than finishing by noon or getting home before rush hour.

Idea No. 5:  Never guess.

If you do not know the answer to a question, say so.  “I don’t know” is a full and complete answer.  You would be amazed at the number of people who refuse to admit that they do not know everything.

Obviously, if you know the answer to the question, you must answer it.  But if you do not know the answer, then rest assured that it is a sign of wisdom to admit simply that you do not know.

You may be called upon to give reasonable estimates concerning information within your knowledge.  For instance, you might be a reasonable judge of the length of a table or the height of the ceiling in the deposition room.  If so, it is proper to answer with the qualification that your answer is an estimate.

If you do not know the size of an object or if you have difficulty estimating distances, then you may state that you have no estimate or that you simply do not know.  Opposing counsel is not entitled to require you to guess and you should decline to guess.  Occasionally, attorneys will say “I don’t want you to guess; I just want your best estimate.”  If your best estimate is still a guess, then state that you have no judgment beyond a guess.

Do not be intimidated into thinking that you should know the answer to a question or that you might appear foolish for not knowing.  Don’t let the questioner play on your pride.

Idea No. 6:  Remember – sometimes you can’t remember.

There will be times that you can’t remember important facts.  All of us have this shortcoming; many persons are unable to recall the dates of their children’s birthdays or addresses or their childhood residences.  If this happens, do not be afraid to say, “I can’t remember.”

It is extremely dangerous for a witness to testify from assumption rather than from memory.  There is no rule which says you have to remember if you don’t.  On the other hand, if you do remember, you are obliged to testify.  Keep in mind that a witness who pretends not to remember important facts in deposition may be discredited if he later tries to convince a jury that he can remember the facts at trial.

Idea No. 7:  Be patient.

A common mistake is to assume that if you quickly spit out all of the facts, the deposition will end sooner and you can get back to work or matters that seem more important.  This assumption almost always fails, because an impatient witness has been so helpful that the lawyer is encouraged to continue indefinitely.  After all, why should the lawyer stop if he is getting the information he wants?  Moreover, the witness has suggested so many avenues of inquiry that the lawyer can spend hours asking for details.  Don’t make the “Let’s get it over with” mistake.

Occasionally, some lawyers intentionally drag out a deposition to wear the witness down mentally and physically.  Recognize this tactic for what it is and do not let impatience interfere with your testimony.  Further, if you are getting tired and feel that your testimony may be affected, call for a break and talk it over with me.

Idea No. 8:  Be polite but firm.

A witness seldom impresses a judge or a jury with flippant, sarcastic or cute answers.  Coarse and vulgar language has no place in a deposition or courtroom.  However, good manners do not require you to back away from the truth.  Don’t let the opposing attorney talk you out of the facts or bully you away from the truth.  If you believe in your testimony, then stick to your guns.  Remain polite but firm in your testimony.

Idea No. 9:  Speak clearly.

Remember that the court reporter must write your answers.  Therefore, you should avoid non-verbal answers.  In other words, say “yes” or “no” instead of nodding or shaking your head.  If you point to an object or a place or if you hold up your hands to indicate a distance, you will find that most experienced trial attorneys follow with a statement something like, “Let the record reflect that the witness is indicating approximately three feet.”

While we are on the subject, I also urge you to answer with a clear yes or no.  Avoid “uh-huh,” “huh-huh,” “yeah,” “yep,” “nah” and other similar substitutes.  The trouble is that the substitutes can be misunderstood by the court reporter with the result that your answer might be recorded as just the opposite of what you intended.

Idea No. 10:  Correct your answer.

You may discover during the deposition that you have given an incorrect or inaccurate answer.  You have a right to correct your prior answer at any time.  Don’t be afraid to correct your prior answer.  It is far better to correct the answer before the deposition is over than to explain an incorrect answer from the witness stand in the courtroom perhaps months or years later.

Idea No. 11:  Listen to the objections.

Lawyers occasionally object to questions during a deposition.  If I object, stop and wait for me to finish.  The court reporter will note the objection for later ruling by the court.  You will usually be expected to answer.  I may instruct you that you should not answer.  If I instruct you in this way, please follow my advice.

If I object to a question, you should listen very carefully to the objection because it may point out to you that the opposing counsel is asking an unfair question.

For instance, I may object on the grounds that the question is vague, ambiguous, confusing or misleading.  If such an objection is made, you should be careful to make sure that you fully understand the question before you answer.

Idea No. 12:  Be comfortable.

You have a right not to be made uncomfortable.  If the deposition room is too warm or too cold, you may request that reasonable changes be made.  If your chair is situated where the sunlight shines in your eyes or the air conditioner blows directly on you, you may change chairs.  If the chairs are uncomfortable, you may ask for a more comfortable chair.  Do not hesitate to ask for a drink of water if lengthy testimony has caused your throat to be dry.

Lawyers sometimes let depositions run on for extended periods of time without a break.  If you are feeling uncomfortable or experiencing pain and  need a short recess, do not hesitate to suggest one.  If you become tired and feel that your testimony may be affected, let me know.  If you feel ill, you may insist upon a recess of the deposition.  If the deposition has extended beyond the time anticipated and it is interfering with an important matter, you should bring this to my attention.

COMMON PITFALLS AND TRAPS

  1. As your attorney, we have drafted a complaint for damages in which we have made certain allegations and requested money damages. The complaint is a legal document that is drafted by attorneys and allegations are made on behalf of the client, and opposing counsel may sometimes refer to this document as “your complaint”, even though it was drafted by your attorney, signed by your attorney, and you may have never bothered to read it.

If questions are asked about something your attorney drafted, you should make it clear that your attorney is the one that drafted the document on your behalf. If you have not seen the document, feel free to say that you have not seen it. You have the right to trust that your attorney has made all allegations to fully and in good faith based on information he has gleaned from you in the course of representation. It’s okay to say that.

  1. Your attorney has also drafted a “statement of damages”, at the request of opposing counsel, setting forth the damages that may be claimed in the lawsuit including all medical bills and a figure for “general damages”. The request for general damages is generally high, and is disclosed and claimed so as not to limit the value of your case. How much your case is really worth in terms of general damages, is totally up to the jury. Injured plaintiff seldom have a firm grasp of what general damages should be, and it is fair to me that figure up to the jury and not attempt to guess at it during your deposition.

Sometimes opposing counsel will ask you if you are claiming certain types of damages which have not been explicitly discussed with you by your attorney. For instance, opposing counsel may ask if you are claiming lost wages, mileage, psychological damages such as fear of driving, anxiety, depression, aggravation and anger, loss of consortium, loss of life’s pleasure, or pain and suffering.

All of these terms describe what attorneys call “general damages”. You probably will not have a firm grasp of a dollar amount which should be awarded for any particular element of damage, and once again it is totally appropriate for you to leave that up to the jury to decide after hearing all the testimony. If defense counsel surprises you by asking for an element of damage which has not been explicitly discussed, you may truthfully answer that question by stating that you will claim it if your attorney thinks it is appropriate and you will let him know after discussing it with your attorney. Remember, you’re only asking what is fair and justified.

  1. Opposing counsel may ask who referred you to a particular doctor, and it is quite possible that your attorney has referred you to that doctor. Don’t be afraid to say so if the question is directly asked of you. If your attorney refers you to a doctor, it is because that doctor has a reputation for being competent and honest in his evaluations and recommendations.
  1. Attorneys sometimes ask “compound questions” which may be confusing and should be restated. For instance, an attorney may ask “Were you talking on your cell phone as she drifted into the merge lane?”  When this kind of a question is asked, you may be focused on whether or not you are talking on your cell phone, and not realize that the attorney has assumed that you were actually “drifting into the merge lane”. Even if you enter this kind of a question “no”, you have left the implication that you were drifting into the merge lane, even if that is an untrue fact. Feel free to ask the attorney to restate the question. If your attorney objected to the form of the question because it is a compound question, you will know you are on dangerous ground and should be careful to answer each question truthfully.
  1. Attorneys will sometimes ask if anyone has discussed her testimony or told you what to say. If this question is asked in an aggressive way, a person may feel as though it were wrong for them to discuss the deposition with their attorney. There is nothing wrong with discussing your upcoming deposition with your attorney and preparing for an attorney who may be trying to get you to compromise your case with unfair questions. Remember, their attorneys are trying to prepare you for unfair tactics, and the bottom line is that you should tell the truth at all times.
How can I prepare for my deposition?

What is Washington’s law on MAR (Mandatory Arbitration)?

MAR-Mandatory Arbitration

Mandatory arbitration is available for cases with a total value of less than $50,000.00 or when the plaintiff waives any claim above $50,000.00. Rather than waiting in line for a jury trial date and possibly being put on stand-by or suffering a court delay, the parties receive a set date and time. The parties submit a Prehearing Statement of Proof to the arbitrator no later than two weeks in advance of the hearing. These documents often include what is submitted in the settlement demand binder. The arbitrator reviews the papers prior to the hearing. The hearing takes place in the arbitrator’s conference room. The atmosphere is more relaxed than a jury trial setting and the rules of evidence are also more liberal. The time it takes to arbitrate a case is much shorter than the time it takes to try a case. Usually the plaintiff and perhaps one or two lay witnesses testify, but the experts, including the plaintiff’s treatment providers or other experts, often do not testify live at the hearing. Their opinions are usually well documented in the chart notes or reports within the medical files already submitted to the arbitrator. A case that might take two to three days to try in front of a jury is often fully arbitrated in three to four hours.

Andrew Becker has been serving as an arbitrator since 1989 and has literally arbitrated several hundred cases. He has arbitrated more than that amount as a lawyer for one of the parties, usually the plaintiff. Our experience is that the arbitrators, who serve at a reduced hourly rate, take the mandatory arbitration program seriously, review the materials closely, and pay careful attention at the hearing.

The selection of the arbitrator is done by the County’s Superior Court office. Each side to the litigation gets a list of arbitrators from the Superior Court. In a two-party case, there would be five names of potential arbitrators on the list. Each side gets to circle two and strike two and send the list back in. The court’s arbitration department then notifies the arbitrator of his or her appointment and the arbitrator works with the parties to set a date for the hearing. In advance of the hearing, the parties usually undertake some discovery including records stipulations, depositions, and sometimes a limited amount of written interrogatories.

After the hearing the arbitrator provides a written decision or award within 14 days of the hearing. The award is filed with the court. At that point, either party may appeal the award within 20 days. An appeal from Mandatory Arbitration is called a “de novo” appeal. That means that the jury is not told about the arbitration award and the case is tried as if no arbitration had occurred. If no appeal is filed, the award may then be reduced to a judgment. There is a major disincentive for a party to appeal. If a party appeals and does not improve their position at trial from the arbitration award, the prevailing party receives not only the jury verdict, but also actual fees and costs from the time of the appeal “de novo” all the way through trial.

After an arbitration award, many carriers will pay the award, others may appeal “de novo”, and others may wish to negotiate further on the case. Our response will depend on the facts of your specific case. Many cases are resolved through the mandatory arbitration process. It is usually much quicker and much less expensive than the jury route.

Learn more at www.bfrinjurylaw.com

What is Washington’s law on MAR (Mandatory Arbitration)?

What is the “Common Law”?

In the development of what is called the “common law”, courts in the Western world would decide the just resolution of a dispute between people, and for that particular situation, the first decision would be guidance for all subsequent decisions on similar issues. For instance if a man killed his neighbor’s cow, the court might decide that the just resolution would be for the wrongdoer to compensate the owner of the cow it’s fair market value. That initial decision would be “the law” for that kind of a dispute and would be entitled to “stare decisis”, a kind of status giving the decision some weight as precedent in deciding future cases.

The next case that comes along may be a situation in which a man killed his neighbor’s cow, but when he is pulled into court, the alleged wrongdoer might point out that the neighbor’s cow was eating his hay, and that the owner of the cow repeatedly refused to control his animal. In that situation the court might decide it is just to give the owner of the cow the body of his animal, but not order compensation for its death since the animal was a nuisance to its neighbor.

What’s important to realize here is that even though the first decided case was the common law in existence when the second case came along, the factual situation was different, and the equities were different. The second situation called for a different solution in order to be fair to all parties, and thus the common law evolves.

That’s why it is dangerous to take a lawyer’s blurbs and opinions from the internet and apply them to your particular situation.

You should not rely on the internet for legal advice!
People hear what they want to hear. They tend to interpret what they hear and apply general comments to their own personal situation as justification for actions that they already want to take. It is much better to ask someone who is not personally involved for an objective and honest opinion, even if it is not what you want to hear.

What is the “Common Law”?

What To Do If You Are Involved In An Automobile Accident

If you are involved in an automobile accident involving another occupied automobile, the law required that you immediately stop and exchange information with the opposing driver. The duties are set out by Washington statute:

RCW 46.52.020:

“Unless otherwise provided in subsection (7) of this section the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person, or involving striking the body of a deceased person, or resulting in damage to any vehicle which is driven or attended by any person or damage to other property shall give his or her
• name,
• address,
• insurance company,
• insurance policy number, and
• vehicle license number and
• shall exhibit his or her vehicle driver’s license to any person struck or injured or the driver or any occupant of, or any person attending, any such vehicle collided with and
• shall render to any person injured in such accident reasonable assistance, including the carrying or the making of arrangements for the carrying of such person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that such treatment is necessary or if such carrying is requested by the injured person or on his or her behalf.”

Obtain the opposing parties information.

It is important to collect the same information from the other driver, and to write down any comments made by the other driver. Most people do not write down the names and phone numbers of witnesses, thinking that the police will make an adequate record. Oftentimes, the police do not write down that information and it is therefore a good idea to collect it yourself if possible. If you have a camera or a cell phone with camera capability, remember that pictures are worth a thousand words. Recording the scene could come in very handy later if there is a lawsuit that results from the collision.

Report the incident to your insurance company.

Your insurance policy requires that you cooperate with your own insurance company. You should report the accident to your insurance company and cooperate with your own insurance company as they gather information about the collision. Write down your claim number, your claims adjuster name, and the phone number for the claims adjuster. It is always best not to discuss the specifics of your injuries without having consulted with an attorney first. This is especially true at the beginning of a claim, when you may not know the full extent of your injuries and you may be optimistic about your recovery. If your optimism is ill-founded, you will later regret not having had the benefit of counsel. We are not suggesting that you exaggerate your claim in any manner since that course of action is dishonest and unwise, but that you merely decline to discuss specifics until you are certain of your situation.

Consult an attorney before talking to the opposing insurance company.

In all likelihood the opposing party’s insurance company will want to take information from you. It is always best to consult with an attorney before you consent to a tape recorded interview by
the opposing party’s insurance company. Especially in cases of injury, it is our experience that is the at fault insurance company will attempt early on to take a tape recorded statement, and may make an offer of settlement for damages, including medical expenses or pain and suffering.

It is our belief that it is a mistake to settle with an at-fault insurance company for personal injuries too soon after a collision. Many times, people are injured in a collision and do not realize the full extent of their injuries until days or weeks or even months have passed. Remember, once you have accepted a settlement check from an at fault insurance company for personal injury or bodily injury, the claim will be closed and you will not be able to recover additional money, even if you later find out that you are more seriously injured than you first thought.

Obtain medical treatment for your injuries.

If you are injured due to someone else’s negligence, you may have a claim for personal injury (also called bodily injury), including necessary and reasonable medical bills pain-and-suffering loss of life enjoyment and incidental expenses that are directly attributable to your injuries. The value of a claim for personal injury is always negotiable, but it is important to seek treatment that you actually need and to document your injuries by seeking competent medical treatment.

Do not try to bolster your claim by seeking treatment that you do not actually need. Such a course of action is dishonest and generally backfires. The rule of thumb is to obtain treatment that you need, but do not seek treatment if you don’t need it.

How to pay for your medical treatment.

Hopefully, you were right been in an automobile which was fully insured. Your immediate medical needs should be covered under the Personal Injury Protection (called PIP or MEDPAY) portion of the insurance policy. Be sure to tell your medical care providers of that your injuries were received in a car accident, and give your treating care provider information related to your claim so that your insurance company can be billed directly. This should be your primary source for payment for treatment.

The secondary source for payment of medical treatment will probably be your personal health-insurance policy. Once again, you should inform your care providers that your injuries were received in a car accident. Your personal health-insurance company will most likely have a subrogation interest in any recovery that you receive. In most circumstances, your automobile insurance PIP coverage will also result in a subrogation lien against any recovery that you might obtain.

A subrogation claim, simply put, is a claim arising from the right of an insurer to be made whole by whoever caused your injuries and therefore cost your insurer money for your care. A subrogation interest operates as a matter of law and must be satisfied in most circumstances, but there are exceptions which your attorney can explain to you in more detail. Generally, you cannot settle a claim without paying back the insurance company which paid for your health care.

Property damage settlement.

It is common for the at fault insurance company to settle a property damage claim to your automobile separately from any claim you might have for medical expenses or other bodily or personal injury. This is an exception to our advice not to accept a settlement check too soon after a collision. Accepting a settlement for the property damage from the at-fault insurance company does not extinguish your claim for injuries that you might have received from the at fault driver.

If the opposing insurance company asks that you sign any kind of a release of claims, consult an attorney first. If there is fine print on the back of the check, read it very carefully. It may be a release of all claims, which could extinguish other rights to recovery that you may have. You should insist that your automobile be prepared in a professional and responsible manner, consistent with industry standards. Don’t accept repairs which are substandard.

If your car is not drivable, you are entitled to a rental car, but will probably have to pay the cost of the rental car until you have settled the property claim with the at fault insurance company. If you accept a rental car proposal, you have a duty to minimize the amount of time you drive the car at someone else’s expense, and you therefore should promptly to your automobile and return the rental car immediately when the repairs are complete.

If your car is totaled, you must come to an agreement with the opposing at fault insurance company on the fair market value of your car, and when a reasonable offer is made for the value of your car you should once again immediately returned the rental car. There is no obligation for the opposing insurance company to pay for your rental car after they had made a fair offer for the value of your car. When you accept the fair market value of a totaled automobile, the insurance company that paid you owns the wrecked automobile and you should sign title over upon receipt of the payment. You generally will not receive any extra money for improvements that you have recently made to law directly increase the fair market value of your automobile. In some cases, you may purchase the wrecked automobile back for its salvage value.

You are entitled to the fair market value of your car, if it is totaled.

The amount of damages you are entitled to for your totaled automobile is the fair market value of your car. Fair market value is the value that a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller in a free and open marketplace. You are not entitled to the amount of debt you owe on your car, unless you happen to owe the exact fair market value of your car. People who drive new automobiles often find that their car is not worth as much as they owe, and they may find themselves in a situation where they still owe payments for a car they no longer own.

In today’s marketplace, buyers have the ability to determine if automobiles have been previously damaged, and the fact that your car has been in a collision may affect its resale value. We call this a “diminished value” claim, and it is an amount which you may be entitled to recover under certain circumstances.

What to do if your vehicle is towed.

Your insurance company or the at-fault insurance company should reimburse you for the expense of having your vehicle towed. If your car is totaled, you have the right to retrieve personal property from your vehicle, and you should therefore contact the towing company and ask permission to remove items of personal property from your vehicle. Be sure to take pictures of your vehicle, since the pictures may come in handy later in the event of a lawsuit. The tow yard will require identification and they may require proof of ownership for their own protection. If your car is not totaled, act promptly to get it out of the tow yard and into a responsible repair shop.

You are better off with an attorney.

The at-fault insurance company would like you to believe that you will have more money in your pocket if you don’t have to split it with an attorney. That is the reason that the at fault insurance company often contacts victim was of automobile accidents within hours or days of the collision to take tape-recorded statements and offer money. That assertion is not true. If your injuries are minor, and the offer from an insurance company is fair, reputable attorneys will tell you that, and send you on your way without taking a fee.

The attorneys at Becker Rovang, PLLC can tell you many stories of cases that have come into our office with low initial settlement offers from insurance companies anxious to keep attorneys out of the loop, that eventually settled for many multiples of the initial offer. The initial consultation is free.

If you don’t like what you hear, walked out of the office and don’t look back. More information is better than no information, and you certainly will not be worse off for consulting with an attorney prior to making a decision which could affect your life.

What To Do If You Are Involved In An Automobile Accident