The roar of engines, the screech of tires, the shattering of glass – these are the sounds that haunt the nightmares of those involved in car accidents. Spokane witnesses its fair share of crashes along its roadways.  In the aftermath of vehicle accidents, the victims are often thrown into a whirlwind of medical bills, lost wages, and emotional trauma. Amidst this turmoil, navigating the complex legal landscape can be an overwhelming task. This is where the guidance of a seasoned auto injury attorney can prove invaluable.

Unraveling the Complexities of Liability

Determining liability (legal responsibility) after a vehicle accident is often not as straightforward as it may seem. Washington State adheres to a pure comparative fault system, as outlined in RCW 4.22.005. This means that even if you bear some percentage of fault for the accident, you may still be entitled to compensation. However, the amount of compensation you receive will be reduced proportionately to your degree of fault. For example, iff you were injured in a car crash and a jury determined you were 20% at fault, while the other driver was 80% at fault, your total damages awarded would be reduced by 20%.

To establish liability in a vehicle accident case, the injured party must prove that the other driver acted negligently.  Negligence is defined as the failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances. In a vehicle accident context, some common examples of negligence include:

  • Distracted Driving: Texting, eating, adjusting the radio, or engaging in other activities that divert attention from the road.
  • Speeding: Exceeding the posted speed limit or driving too fast for weather or road conditions.
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI): Operating a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs (see RCW 46.61.502).
  • Violating Traffic Laws: Running red lights, failing to yield, making unsafe lane changes, or other traffic rule violations.

A crucial aspect of Washington’s comparative fault system is that injured parties must consider how their actions potentially contributed to the accident. Even a minor degree of fault can reduce the final compensation amount. For example, a pedestrian is struck while jaywalking (outside a designated crosswalk) but the driver was also texting. Here, both the pedestrian and driver share some fault.

Vehicle accidents can involve multiple parties, adding further intricacies to establishing liability. For example, in a chain-reaction collision involving several vehicles, the task of determining the percentage of fault for each driver can be exceptionally challenging. Additionally, Washington law recognizes “joint and several liability” – where multiple at-fault parties can be held individually liable for your total damages.

Statistics underscore the significance of understanding these complex liability issues. The Washington State Department of Transportation reports that distracted driving contributes to approximately 30% of all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the state. Speeding is a contributing factor in around 25% of fatal crashes in Washington.

Proving negligence and navigating complex liability scenarios requires a skilled attorney experienced in vehicle accident law. Your car accident attorney can investigate the accident, collect evidence, assess fault percentages, and advocate for your interests against potentially aggressive insurance companies and defense attorneys.

Types of Damages

Washington law recognizes two primary categories of damages for vehicle accident victims:

  1. Economic Damages

These directly address the financial repercussions of an accident and are relatively easier to calculate. They include:

  • Medical Expenses (RCW 7.70.060): All costs associated with the diagnosis and treatment of your injuries, including hospital stays, surgeries, doctor’s appointments, rehabilitation, medications, and future medical care.
  • Property Damage: Repair or replacement costs for your vehicle and any damaged personal belongings (e.g., electronics, clothing).
  • Lost Wages: Income lost due to being unable to work because of your injuries. This includes lost salary, benefits, and sick or vacation time.
  • Loss of Earning Capacity: If your injuries significantly limit your ability to work at the same level or in the same field as before the accident, you may be entitled to compensation for this loss of future income potential.
  1. Non-Economic Damages

These address the less tangible but equally devastating consequences of an accident. Examples include:

  • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for physical pain, discomfort, and the emotional anguish caused by your injuries.
  • Emotional Distress: Mental suffering like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or other emotional impacts stemming from the accident.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If your injuries prevent you from participating in activities you previously enjoyed, you may be compensated for this diminished quality of life.
  • Loss of Consortium: This applies if your accident injures your spouse, significantly altering your relationship and causing loss of companionship, support, or intimacy.

While economic damages can be somewhat easier to quantify using bills or pay stubs, proving the scope of non-economic damages can be a highly subjective and complex area.  Here’s why:

  • Difficulty Quantifying: Putting a dollar value on pain, suffering, or emotional trauma is inherently challenging.
  • Insurance Company Disputes: Insurance companies often attempt to minimize or discredit claims for non-economic damages.

Washington State imposes caps (limits) on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. While this does not generally apply to regular vehicle accidents, it’s useful to be aware of the complexities surrounding damage calculation.

The Importance of Time

The state’s statute of limitations, outlined in RCW 4.16.080, sets a strict deadline generally giving you three years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. If you attempt to file a lawsuit after the three-year statute of limitations has expired, your case will very likely be dismissed by the court.

This means you’ll permanently lose your right to seek compensation for your injuries, regardless of how strong your case might be otherwise. There are a few limited exceptions where the statute of limitations might be extended :

  • Delayed Discovery of Injuries: In some scenarios, particularly where injuries are not immediately evident, the “discovery rule” may apply. This means the clock might start ticking from the date the injury was discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.
  • Minors: Individuals injured in a car accident while under the age of 18 have a tolled statute of limitations, typically until they reach their 18th birthday.
  • Mental Incapacity: If the accident victim is deemed mentally incompetent, the statute of limitations may be paused until competency is regained.

Even with potential exceptions, seeking legal advice as soon as possible after a vehicle accident is crucial for several reasons:

  • Evidence Preservation: As time passes, key evidence like witness memories, physical evidence from the scene, or surveillance footage may erode or disappear entirely.
  • Investigating Your Case: Personal injury lawsuit lawyers need time to properly investigate, assemble evidence, and build a strong case on your behalf.
  • Negotiation Leverage: Having your legal team prepared gives you a significant advantage in settlement negotiations with insurance companies.
  • Medical Treatment: Promptly addressing legal matters can help you focus on your physical recovery, knowing your rights are being protected.

Empowering the Injured

The aftermath of a vehicle accident can be a harrowing and confusing maze. Having a dedicated car accident attorney on your side can bring clarity, offering not only legal guidance but also peace of mind. If you or someone you know has been injured in a vehicle accident in Spokane, don’t hesitate to seek help.

At Craig Swapp & Associates, our team has a deep understanding of the complexities surrounding vehicle accident injuries. We will help you navigate this challenging time and fight for your right to just compensation.  Contact us for a consultation and let us be the guiding light during your journey toward recovery.

Written By: Ryan Swapp     Legal Review By: Craig Swapp