Washington state is not a no-fault auto insurance state. Rather, it uses a tort liability system for car accidents. This means that when someone is injured in a crash, they can seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
However, Washington drivers are still required to carry some level of no-fault coverage, also known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP). So while Washington is not a true “no-fault state,” no-fault insurance does play a role.
Below we’ll discuss exactly how auto insurance works in Washington after an accident, including:
- What no-fault insurance is
- The difference between no-fault and tort liability systems
- Washington state’s comparative negligence laws
- The required minimum PIP coverage
- When you can file a liability claim after a crash
- And more
What is No-Fault Auto Insurance?
No-fault insurance gets its name because it allows you to file a claim with your own insurance company after an accident, regardless of who was at fault. This is different from a tort system, where the at-fault driver’s insurer pays.
With no-fault insurance, claims go through your own policy’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. PIP pays for medical bills, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket expenses up to the limit of your policy.
The main advantage of no-fault is that you can get your bills paid quickly without having to prove fault or go through the at-fault driver’s insurance. But no-fault insurance generally does not provide compensation for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.
That’s why 12 states currently have “pure” no-fault insurance systems, where filing a PIP claim is your only option after an accident, unless your damages exceed a certain threshold.
Washington Uses a Tort Liability System
Washington is not one of those 12 pure no-fault states. Rather, it uses a tort liability system.
This means the at-fault driver is responsible for paying for all damages they cause in an accident. So if someone’s negligence injured you in a crash, you can make a liability claim directly through their auto insurance policy for both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages refer to quantifiable losses like:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property damage
Non-economic damages cover intangible losses like:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Disfigurement or disability
So in Washington, the at-fault driver’s liability coverage is the primary payer after an accident. Your own PIP coverage is secondary.
Comparative Negligence Laws in Washington
Washington also has comparative negligence laws on the books. This means if an accident injured you and the other driver, you could both potentially recover damages from each other’s insurance.
For example, say you were found 25% at fault and the other driver 75% at fault for the crash. You could still recover compensation from the other driver’s insurer for your damages, but your payout would be reduced by your percentage of fault.
So in this scenario, if your damages were assessed at $100,000, you could recover $75,000 from the other driver’s insurer (their 75% portion).
Comparative negligence differs from some states that bar recovery if you’re more than 50% or 51% at fault for an accident. In Washington, you can recover as long as you’re not 100% responsible for causing the crash.
Required Minimum PIP Coverage in Washington
Although Washington primarily uses a tort system, state law does require drivers to carry a minimum level of no-fault coverage.
Specifically, every auto insurance policy sold in WA must include at least $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. PIP provides no-fault benefits for medical expenses, lost wages, and other out-of-pocket costs after an accident.
So while PIP is not the primary form of coverage, it guarantees drivers have immediate access to some accident benefits. This provides a safety net if the at-fault driver:
- Doesn’t have insurance
- Doesn’t have enough coverage
- Denies your liability claim
PIP also helps pay initial bills while you gather evidence and build your liability claim against the at-fault driver. Then your insurer can seek reimbursement once you receive a settlement.
Drivers can choose to purchase more than the $10,000 minimum PIP if they want additional protection. But you must reject PIP coverage in writing if you don’t want it at all.
When to File a Liability Claim After a Crash
In most cases, you’ll want to pursue a liability claim against the at-fault driver in addition to filing a PIP claim with your own insurer. Here are some common scenarios when a liability claim makes sense:
You have extensive damages
If your damages exceed the minimum $10,000 in PIP benefits, you’ll need to file a liability claim to recover full compensation. Serious injuries often result in high medical bills and lost wages that surpass PIP limits.
You want compensation for pain and suffering
PIP only covers quantifiable economic damages. To get compensation for non-economic pain and suffering, lost quality of life, etc., you need to file a liability claim.
Dispute over fault
The at-fault driver’s insurer may try to deny or dispute a liability claim. An experienced attorney can help establish fault and negotiate a full, fair settlement.
Multiple parties may be liable
Sometimes accidents involve multiple potentially negligent parties, like a driver and manufacturer. An attorney can identify all liable parties to include in a claim.
You need leverage in settlement negotiations
Insurers often make lowball offers banking on unrepresented victims accepting less than full value. Legal representation levels the playing field.
Next Steps After an Accident in Washington
If you’re injured in a crash caused by a negligent driver, these are important steps to take:
- Seek medical attention even if you don’t feel hurt right away. Symptoms can take time to appear.
- Report the accident to your insurance company to start your PIP claim.
- Document the crash scene with photos and witness statements.
- Consult an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your options.
- An attorney can handle the claims process while you focus on recovery.
Don’t leave money on the table. Get professional legal help navigating Washington’s comparative negligence system and insurance laws. With an attorney in your corner, you can maximize compensation so you can move forward after an accident.
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