Injured? Start Here

What is Personal Injury Law?  Can I be compensated for my injury?

Personal injury law is designed to protect you if you or your property are injured or harmed because of someone else’s act or failure to act.

A personal injury lawsuit is a civil (not criminal) cause of action. The wrongdoer compensates the victim with money. There are three different classifications: negligence, strict liability, and intentional torts.

Every claim, regardless of its basis, whether negligence, strict liability, or intentional, has two basic issues — liability and damages.

Was the defendant liable for the damages you sustained, and, if so, what is the nature and extent of your damages? If you can prove liability and damages, our system of justice will award you compensation for your loss. Even if liability is established, the parties in a lawsuit may argue strenuously over the proper amount of damages. Some types of damages, such as lost wages and medical bills, are easy to calculate. But reasonable minds can differ on other kinds of damages, like a person’s expected future earnings and how to quantify “pain and suffering.”

I’ve been in an accident. What’s the first thing I should do?

There are a number of things you can do in the first few days and weeks after an accident to protect your right to compensation should you want to file an injury claim. Except for claims filed against a government entity, there is no required step you must take to obtain a fair settlement, and no specific order in which you have to proceed. While you may not be in condition to be thinking clearly the following guidelines are helpful for you or someone close to you to keep in mind in the early days following an accident.

  • Write down as much as you can about the accident itself. What  injuries were sustained? What happened? What losses did you incur immediately, such as time away from work, lost wages) as a result of the accident.
  • Make notes of conversations or anything that was said to you by other persons, witnesses or responders involved in the accident.
  • Preserve any physical evidence from the scene of the injury-accident that may clarify who caused the accident and what damage was done.  Take photographs if your able.
  • Notify anyone you think might be responsible for the accident of your intention to file a claim for your injuries.

What should I do in the event of an automobile accident?

Be Ready for a Collision Before It Happens

When you have just been hit it is hard to get your thoughts together to do what needs to be done to protect your ability to get the care you need and the recovery you deserve.  Here is a short list of what to have with you whenever you take your car on the road – and what to do using those items when an accident happens! Pen and small notepad – you will need these to:

  1. Write down the name, phone number, driver’s license and insurance information for the person who hit you.
  2. Write down the names and phone numbers of any witnesses to the collision
  3. Write down the license plate, make and model of the car that hit you.
  4. Write down the cross streets or other information about where the collision has occurred.
  5. Write down the name, badge number and department of the officer(s) who respond.

If there are multiple cars involved get this information about EVERYONE! A camera with a flash. Your cell phone camera can work during the day. You will need this to:

  1. Take photographs of your car in the area it was hit.
  2. Take photographs of the car that hit you where it ran into yours and of the license plate on that car.
  3. Take a photo of the other driver.
  4. Any   debris or Skid marks on the road take photos of those as well.

Again, if there are multiple cars involved do this for each one! A first aid kit.

  1. Flares.  In most situations you do NOT want the vehicles moved from where they come to rest after the impact.  Place flares to warn approaching drivers.
  2. A charged cell phone to call the police, and to call for aid if needed by you or others.

What to Say to Others at the Scene

When you get out of your car after being hit your adrenaline is going to be flowing. You may be dazed, confused and in shock.  You may not yet actually recognize pain or injury.  When asked if you are okay, tell the other driver, witness or officer that you are not sure rather than just saying no.  If you are experiencing any discomfort or pain, be clear that you are and include everything when you answer. Don’t try to be tough or worry about making the other driver feel bad –  what you say in the initial period after the accident at the scene can either help you or make problems for you down the road.

You can tell the other driver and officer you are hurt without feeling obligated to agree to an ambulance. If you are having a lot of joint or spine pain, serious head pain, having trouble talking or understanding the conversation or have open wounds, it is in your best interests to get help from the paramedics and to go to the emergency room.

Watch out when giving estimates of time, speed, and distance.  Do your best to answer with what you can recall and actually saw or heard – don’t speculate or try to fill in the blanks if at that stressful moment you cannot actually recall a particular detail.

If asked it you lost consciousness – well, if you did will you know it?  Probably not.  If there is a period of time you don’t remember clearly you may have briefly lost consciousness.  Say so.

Ask  the other driver what happened. They may surprise you with an admission of responsibility. They may apologize. They may make something up to excuse their behavior in hitting you. Whatever it is you need to know what they are going to say then  – it may change later!

What To Do When You Leave the Scene

  1. Record the Details: Write out a note to yourself about what you were doing, where you were going, where the accident took place, what lane you were in, how fast you were going, when you first saw the car that hit you, what part of your body hit what part of the inside of the car, and so on. Write down what was said in your conversation with the other driver. Write down what was said in the conversation with the officer.  Getting these details about what happened leading up to, during and after the collision down on paper sooner rather than later will help you tell your story accurately down the road.
  2. Assess Your Condition: As you leave the scene or by the time you get home you may begin to experience pain and stiffness, headaches or other symptoms.  If they are debilitating go to an ER or walk in clinic. If not, get some rest and contact your doctor first thing the next day to make an appointment to be seen for an evaluation as soon as possible.  When you go to that appointment be as clear as possible about how you are feeling. Don’t worry about seeming to be a whiner or try to tough it out. Holding in what you are feeling or being tough will not help you get better, may lengthen the time it takes you to get better, and can hurt your ability to attain a fair recovery down the road.
  3. Report the collision: Call the insurance companies and report the collision. An important point to remember – You DO NOT HAVE TO GIVE A RECORDED STATEMENT!  It is in your best interest to calmly and respectfully tell them they do not have permission to record your conversation- that you will answer their questions informally but they may NOT record you. Then give the basic information about what happened but do not be pressured into filling in details you do not know or honestly don’t remember.  Make sure you mention all the areas of concern you have physically because of the collision not just the symptoms and pain that are the worst at that moment.  Advise them you will be seeking care. Write down the claim number for the collision assigned by each company. Get call back information. The person who takes the initial information is likely not going to be the actual adjuster who handles your case.
  4. Distinguish Between Your Automobile Insurance Company and the Company for the Other Driver: Start a separate word document or piece of paper for each insurance company involved.  Your insurance company has different responsibilities or duties to you than the other driver’s insurance company has.   You need to keep the companies separate.

You will be looking for the other driver’s company to pay for the repair to your car and potentially provide you with a rental car while your car is being fixed right away.  This is the property damage portion of your claim against the other driver.

The other part of the claim relates to your bodily injuries.  Be aware the insurance company for the other driver has no obligation to pay for any of your ongoing medical treatment, income loss  or otherwise  pay you any money for your damages from the collision.  They are only going to pay when you are ready to settle all of your claims and discharge the other driver from any further financial responsibility.  Bodily injury includes medical care past and future, lost wages, pain and suffering  and the reduction in the quality of your life (also known as general damages).  Once you accept a settlement on this part of your claim there will be no further recovery possible in almost all cases.

Ask your own insurance company what type of coverages you have.  If you know where the declaration page for your own insurance policy is, get it out and read what it says. You will be looking in particular for items like Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. This is critical, especially if you do not have health insurance.  PIP coverage will enable you to go to the doctor and/or therapist of your choice to get care related to the collision paid for dollar for dollar with no co-pay or other patient responsibility.

What Early Insurance Paperwork to Fill Out

  1. What to say yes to: If you have PIP coverage your insurance company will ask you to fill out a PIP application that asks for information about the collision, your injuries and treatment.  Be general in describing the collision. Be specific in detailing all of the parts of your body that are injured and all the symptoms you are experiencing.  You will need to sign a release to allow your own insurance company to get copies of your treatment records and bills for care you asking them to pay for after the collision.
  2. What to say no to:  Almost anything the other driver’s insurance company asks you to sign. Do not allow them to access your medical or employment records. Do not fill out a written statement for them about what happened.  Do not agree to meet with them in person.  Remember the other driver’s insurance company is not looking out for your interests no matter how nice they may be. The only thing the other insurance company is interested in is PAYING AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE and GETTING YOU TO SETTLE AS QUICKLY AND AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE.

The only exception is with respect to what it takes to get your car fixed. You need to give the other driver’s insurance company access to your car to do a damage estimate. Once the estimate is written you have the right to choose the shop that will perform the work. Often the full extent of the damage cannot be assessed until the car has been taken apart so do not accept the eyeball only estimate the adjuster may give you as the final determination of the damage. There may be an additional supplemental estimate and work order needed. When the car is repaired obtain a copy of the final work order including any such supplemental work orders.

Make sure the car is actually fully fixed before you sign the document releasing the at fault insurance company from further  repair expenses.  Read that release before you sign it and make sure the only thing you are accepting payment for and releasing them from further payments on is the PROPERTY DAMAGE.

How much time do I have to file a claim?

How much time do I have to file a claim? What is the Statue of Limitations in Washington state?

A rule of law known as the Statute of Limitations may place a  limit on the maximim time you have to file a personal injury claim depending on the type of injury and the circumstances?

In a nutshell:

Claims for Personal Injury: 3 years.

Claims for Fraud: 3 years.

Claims for Libel / Slander / Defamation: 2 years.

Claims for Damage/Injury to Personal Property: 3 years.

Claims for Product Liability: 3 years from the date of injury, or within three years of the date the injury is or reasonably should have been discovered.

Breach of Contract Claims: Written, 6 years; Oral, 3 years.

RCW 4.16.020Actions to be commenced within ten years — Exception.

The period prescribed for the commencement of actions shall be as follows:

Within ten years:

(1) For actions for the recovery of real property, or for the recovery of the possession thereof; and no action shall be maintained for such recovery unless it appears that the plaintiff, his or her ancestor, predecessor or grantor was seized or possessed of the premises in question within ten years before the commencement of the action.

(2) For an action upon a judgment or decree of any court of the United States, or of any state or territory within the United States, or of any territory or possession of the United States outside the boundaries thereof, or of any extraterritorial court of the United States, unless the period is extended under RCW 6.17.020 or a similar provision in another jurisdiction.

(3) Of the eighteenth birthday of the youngest child named in the order for whom support is ordered for an action

RCW 4.16.040Actions limited to six years.

The following actions shall be commenced within six years:

(1) An action upon a contract in writing, or liability express or implied arising out of a written agreement.

(2) An action upon an account receivable. For purposes of this section, an account receivable is any obligation for payment incurred in the ordinary course of the claimant’s business or profession, whether arising from one or more transactions and whether or not earned by performance.

(3) An action for the rents and profits or for the use and occupation of real estate.

RCW 4.16.070Actions limited to five years.

No action for the recovery of any real estate sold by an executor or administrator under the laws of this state shall be maintained by any heir or other person claiming under the deceased, unless it is commenced within five years next after the sale, and no action for any estate sold by a guardian shall be maintained by the ward, or by any person claiming under him, unless commenced within five years next after the termination of the guardianship, except that minors, and other persons under legal disability to sue at the time when the right of action first accrued, may commence such action at any time within three years after the removal of the disability.

RCW 4.16.080Actions limited to three years.

The following actions shall be commenced within three years:

(1) An action for waste or trespass upon real property;

(2) An action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property, including an action for the specific recovery thereof, or for any other injury to the person or rights of another not hereinafter enumerated;

(3) Except as provided in RCW 4.16.040(2), an action upon a contract or liability, express or implied, which is not in writing, and does not arise out of any written instrument;

(4) An action for relief upon the ground of fraud, the cause of action in such case not to be deemed to have accrued until the discovery by the aggrieved party of the facts constituting the fraud;

(5) An action against a sheriff, coroner, or constable upon a liability incurred by the doing of an act in his official capacity and by virtue of his office, or by the omission of an official duty, including the nonpayment of money collected upon an execution; but this subdivision shall not apply to action for an escape;

(6) An action against an officer charged with misappropriation or a failure to properly account for public funds intrusted to his custody; an action upon a statute for penalty or forfeiture, where an action is given to the party aggrieved, or to such party and the state, except when the statute imposing it prescribed a different limitation: PROVIDED, HOWEVER, The cause of action for such misappropriation, penalty or forfeiture, whether for acts heretofore or hereafter done, and regardless of lapse of time or existing statutes of limitations, or the bar thereof, even though complete, shall not be deemed to accrue or to have accrued until discovery by the aggrieved party of the act or acts from which such liability has arisen or shall arise, and such liability, whether for acts heretofore or hereafter done, and regardless of lapse of time or existing statute of limitation, or the bar thereof, even though complete, shall exist and be enforceable for three years after discovery by aggrieved party of the act or acts from which such liability has arisen or shall arise.

RCW 4.16.100Actions limited to two years.

Within two years:

(1) An action for libel, slander, assault, assault and battery, or false imprisonment.

(2) An action upon a statute for a forfeiture or penalty to the state.

RCW 4.16.160Application of limitations to actions by state, counties, municipalities.

The limitations prescribed in this chapter shall apply to actions brought in the name or for the benefit of any county or other municipality or quasimunicipality of the state, in the same manner as to actions brought by private parties: PROVIDED, That, except as provided in RCW 4.16.310, there shall be no limitation to actions brought in the name or for the benefit of the state, and no claim of right predicated upon the lapse of time shall ever be asserted against the state: AND FURTHER PROVIDED, That no previously existing statute of limitations shall be interposed as a defense to any action brought in the name or for the benefit of the state, although such statute may have run and become fully operative as a defense prior to February 27, 1903, nor shall any cause of action against the state be predicated upon such a statute.

Community Resource Links - Where to Turn for Information on Special Types of Injuries, and Resources

Local hospitals

Harborview Medical Center, 206-744-3300

Seattle Children’s Hospital, 206-987-2000 or 866-987-2000

Swedish Medical Center

Swedish Medical Center Ballard Campus, 206-782-2700

Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill Campus, 206-320-2000

Swedish Medical Center First Hill Campus, 206-386-6000

Swedish Medical Center Edmonds Campus, 425-640-4000

Swedish Medical Center Issaquah Campus, 425-394-0600—Specialty-Center

University of Washington Medical Center, 206-598-3300

University of Washington Neighborhood Clinics, 800-852-8546

University of Washington Northwest Hospital, 206-364-0500

Virginia Mason Medical Center Main Clinic, 206-223-6600 or 888-862-2737

How to perform CPR

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Washington state Department of Health, 800-525-0127,

First aid guidelines,