How To Determine Fault In A Car Accident In Washington
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How To Determine Fault In A Car Accident In Washington

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Posted on March 28, 2024

In the chaotic aftermath of a car accident, it’s common for drivers to point their fingers at each other, and most car accident victims know not to admit fault even if they believe they caused the accident. Insurance companies are highly motivated to dispute their client’s fault in a car accident to protect their profits. So how does anyone arrive at an official answer when determining fault in a Washington car accident?

Washington is a fault-based insurance state for car accidents. Unlike the country’s few no-fault insurance states, Washington requires car accident victims to file compensation claims against the driver or other entity who caused the accident. But before the process can play out, an investigation takes place on both sides—often with an attorney for the injured party investigating on one side, and the insurance adjuster investigating on the other.

What Evidence Helps Determine Fault in Car Accidents

Motorists involved in car accidents must notify the police. Law enforcement typically comes to the scene and makes a report. They may take photos and speak to any willing eyewitnesses, but often the police investigation is rudimentary since law enforcement focuses its resources on criminal investigations. At an accident scene, their main goal is to quickly restore traffic flow. For this reason, it’s helpful if a car accident victim can use their cell phone to take photos of the accident scene before it’s disturbed and add the contact information of eyewitnesses before they leave the scene.

When a car accident attorney investigates fault for an injured client, they do the following:

  • Review the police report
  • Depose eyewitnesses
  • Examine photos and any available videos from traffic cameras, surveillance cameras, or dash-cams
  • Examine the accident scene
  • Consult with accident reconstruction experts
  • Review the injury victim’s medical reports

At the same time, the insurance companies for both parties in the accident assign insurance adjusters to investigate the accident. While attorneys for victims document evidence of the other driver’s fault, the insurance adjuster’s goal is to minimize the amount the insurance company has to pay out on a claim.

Understanding Contributory Fault in a Pure Comparison Negligence State

Washington is a pure comparison negligence insurance state that allows a car accident victim to recover compensation for property damage, medical expenses, lost income, and compensation for pain and suffering even if they were partly at fault for the accident. According to Washington Chapter 4.22 RCW:

“In an action based on fault seeking to recover damages for injury or death to person or harm to property, any contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as compensatory damages for an injury attributable to the claimant’s contributory fault, but does not bar recovery.”

In an extreme example, even if a car accident victim was 99% at fault they could still recover one percent of their losses. This system sometimes incentivizes insurance companies to assign undue fault to injury victims to minimize the amount they have to pay out on a claim. For instance, in a claim amounting to $100,000, if the insurance company determines the injury victim is 50% at fault, they only have to pay out $50,000.

How A Car Accident Lawyer Helps

An injury victim’s car accident attorney is the best ally in navigating a claim. A Kent car accident attorney investigates all aspects of the accident and documents evidence proving liability to defend their client against common insurance company tactics. An attorney also carefully calculates their client’s damages to maximize the amount they can recover and then negotiates with the insurance company with the goal of obtaining the largest possible settlement. If the insurance company disputes the claim or seriously undervalues the amount, the injury victim may file a lawsuit within Washington’s three-year statute of limitations and take the matter to court.