Frequently Asked Questions
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Did I get enough money for my totaled car?
I’ve handled numerous cases involving totaled vehicles in my time in practice. In my experience, the value offered for your totaled car is not always accurate. The amount you get back in return for your totaled car is often an average of an index of 10 similar vehicles currently on the market in a reasonably nearby area. Insurance companies use outfits such as Autosource for their market surveys. A reasonably nearby area cannot be more than 150 miles away unless there are no comparable vehicles within that range. See WAC 284-30-391: Methods and standards of practice for settlement of total loss vehicle claims.
For example, if you live in Seattle and the insurance company includes a car from Spokane or Pullman in the index then that value is not valid. If there are plenty of comparable vehicles within close proximity to your home then there is no reason to have to go more than 150 miles out. Similarly, it is important that when receiving the valuation that you ask for the list of cars used to make this valuation.
I just handled a matter in which the totaled car value index included a vehicle that had been previously totaled and received a rebuilt title. This would not pass Carfax muster. This vehicle’s value was well below any of the other cars thus indicating an irregularity in the valuation. Another vehicle was being sold for $1,000 more than what the company doing the market survey reported. Also, another two vehicles, with almost double the mileage, were very low priced as compared to vehicles with closer mileage even using the standard deduction for miles.
The bottom line is that these market surveys utilized by insurance companies often provide valuations biased towards the insurance companies. If you do your homework early to explore the value of your totaled vehicle then you will be in a better position to challenge the biased valuations that we see far too often.
Usually in cases with totaled cars there are sufficient injuries to want to retain an attorney anyways, and especially if you notice significant irregularities in the amount you get back for your totaled vehicle it might be worthwhile to have an experienced car accident injury attorney review your case.
How much does it cost to talk to you about my accident?
I never charge for initial consultations. This consultation allows us to review the facts of your unique accident together. I can discuss your case either over the phone or in person. After reviewing your case, we can determine if it is in your best interest to have me represent you for your injury. Oftentimes it is a good idea to retain an attorney, but in some cases an attorney may not be needed. The only way to be certain is to contact me for a free, no obligation consultation.
Who usually pays in an insurance case?
It is an unfortunately prevalent notion that car accident attorneys file suit against the insurance company of the at-fault party. The at-fault party is typically the named defendant. For example, John Doe may be represented by Allstate Insurance but the suit will be against John Doe. However, the insurance company stands behind the at-fault party and it pays for the damages in a personal injury case. This is due to the indemnification agreement between the at-fault party and his or her insurance which states the insurance company is responsible for paying the damages (up to a policy limit). However, in the case where the damages are higher than the policy limits, the attorney will then typically obtain compensation from the client’s underinsured motorist coverage.
If the client does not have underinsured motorist coverage, or if the underinsured motorist coverage is insufficient, then the attorney may choose to file suit in order to recover damages from both the insurance proceeds and the at-fault party’s reachable assets. Oftentimes there are no reachable assets in this situation leaving the client with a deficient settlement. This is why it is very important to have underinsured motorist coverage. It should also be noted that with the insufficient insurance coverage situation there are strategies to maximize the net recovery to the client. It is prudent to have ample underinsured motorist coverage because often the persons who are drunk drivers and cause the most severe injuries are driving with low insurance limits.
If you or a friend has been in an accident it is very important that you consult with legal counsel to assure you get the best recovery possible. Contact us today for a free consultation to see how we can help you.
Does my preexisting condition mean I can't get a good result for my case?
Despite what an insurance adjuster may tell you, having a preexisting condition does not prevent you from achieving a successful result for your personal injury case. Oftentimes individuals with preexisting conditions are more susceptible to injuries from car accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, or bicycle accidents. This situation can fall under the “Eggshell Plaintiff” rule. This rule states that an offending party does not receive a reduction on what they owe for damages even if the injured person is injured substantially more than usual (given pre-existing conditions or other vulnerability). In other words, the law must take the injured party as they are when determining damages.
The exact damages depend on:
1. Whether the condition was dormant or
2. Whether there are ongoing prior problems within approximately one year of the wreck.
In the first situation the injured party can recoup all the damages caused because the impact triggered the condition to become active in the injured party. An example of this would be if an injury caused an individual with an undiagnosed heart condition to suffer from a heart attack due to a chest injury. In the second situation the injured person can recover the damages associated with the aggravation of the pre-existing condition. An example of this situation would be if an injured party with a recovering fractured bone had their injury worsened by the impact.
I recommend you take the time to talk to an attorney about your case and your preexisting condition to see how much help is available for you. I have handled cases in the past with similar circumstances and I am confident I will be able to provide you with the help you need.
What is the "RCW"?
The RCW, or Revised Code of Washington, is the set of permanent laws currently being enforced by the Washington State government. The entirety of the RCW can be viewed online using the RCW search engine. The RCW is a complicated set of "legalese" and a comprehensive understanding of the material is helpful when dealing with the legal situations. Even looking at recent controversies in the news shows how the various rules of the RCW can interact to lead to unexpected outcomes for seemingly clear cut cases.
Luckily, attorneys like Scott exist to provide clients with excellent legal advice that will help them navigate the complicated web of laws in Washington State. If you have a question about a legal issue facing you in the Washington area, contact Scott for a free, completely non-committal consultation.
What is a Personal Injury Case?
I have been asked on many occasions to explain what kind of case qualifies as a personal injury case. Lots of people have heard the term "personal injury," or even been told by a lawyer that he handles “personal injury cases” or “car accident cases,” but what does that mean?
A personal injury case in general is any type of claim where a person has been injured or sometimes even killed due to someone else’s fault. There are legal terms and rules in determining "fault" but let's just assume we know who the person is that's 100% responsible for causing the injury you suffered. Injury cases can be car accidents, semi-truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accident, or other injury or even death causing accidents.
Any time you are injured because of someone else's actions you may have a personal injury case. To have a personal injury case you must have an injury to your body. For example in car accidents, when the damage is solely to your car you do not have a personal injury case. However, if your car was damaged you have a property damage claim. In many car accidents your car will be smashed up and you will be injured, in these cases you have both a personal injury and property damage claim. When this happens, the insurance company will usually, but not always, fix your car without too much trouble to you. Personal injury cases focus on the injuries to your body and the insurance companies are oftentimes much less cooperative when it comes time to discuss resolving your injury case.
In the most serious accident sometimes a person's injuries are so bad that a death occurs. When an injury accident causes a person's death a “wrongful death” claim may arise. I truly hope that you never find yourself in this situation, but if you do I recommend you find an attorney who understands the complexity of Washington wrongful death laws.
I'm on a jury for a personal injury case. Are all medical bills covered by insurance?
In Washington, as in most states, evidence about whether or not a plaintiff’s medical bills have been paid by insurance is kept from a jury during a trial. There are many reasons for this law. Sometimes, however, juries attempt to account for the fact that insurance has paid the medical bills and adjust their award accordingly.
If you are on a jury in a personal injury case you should not do this. The reason is that insurance is not simple and different insurance "rules" may apply to the claims at hand. In most cases the plaintiff has to pay back her insurance company out of any award, so she really was not insured at all! Almost all insurance policies require the injured person to pay back any amount the company paid for the medical bills if the plaintiff wins her lawsuit.
Insurance policies differ and not every insurance policy requires this type of reimbursement. What the courts have done, however, to make the issue fair for everyone, is to simply take insurance out of the consideration of the jury.
If you're a juror please don't discount a plaintiff's damage award because you think the medical bills have already been paid. In almost all of my cases my clients have to repay the insurance company that paid the medical bills. Insurance companies would love this to happen, but it really only hurts the injury victim.
If you're called for jury duty please go. The justice system in Washington and all other states depends on citizens showing up for jury duty when called. I know it’s a pain and you get paid peanuts, but I need you and my clients need you. We need jurors like you to fight the greed of the insurance companies that force their customers to file lawsuits to get the insurance benefits owed.
How often do you "win" your cases?
We would love to tell you that we win every case, but we don't. As in life, there are no guarantees - even with a very good case. As most trial attorneys will tell you, there are cases that should be won at trial, and are not, and there are cases that should be lost, and are won.
Each case is different based on the specific facts involved in each situation. Your case may be similar to another of my client's but not exactly the same in every way. Different impact speeds, different type vehicles, angle of impact and many other factor go into the mix to cause your injury. You also have a unique body that is injured and healed in its own unique and individual way. As you can see many factors affect an injury case.
In addition, there are many cases where a confidential settlement has been reached that my clients would definitely consider a 'win' but I cannot publicize the details of the case.
I settled my Seattle car accident case with the at-fault driver's insurance company. Do I have to pay taxes on my injury settlement money?
Many of our clients ask us about taxes when we start getting close to a settlement with an insurance company. The short answer in Washington is generally no taxes are owed on money received in settlement of a personal injury claim.
Restitution for a loss is not considered income for tax purposes. According to current IRS law, if an injured person obtains a settlement from an at fault third party (for example, from the at fault driver who hit you), that settlement money is not taxable.
Of course there are always exceptions, nothing in the law seems to be black and white. The IRS generally taxes punitive damages. What are punitive damages? Punitive damages are money that a defendant is ordered to pay over and above the full value of a case. They serve as an additional punishment given to a defendant in cases of outrageous conduct. However, in Washington State punitive damages are not usually available for injury claims.Oftentimes when you hear about huge verdicts in the media from car accidents the case is from another state that allows punitive damages in injury cases.
If you are thinking about accepting an insurance company's settlement offer it might be a good idea to give an experienced Washington injury attorney a call to review your rights and make sure you're doing the right thing.
Another option is order my free book for Washington residents “The Guide to Washington Injury Cases.” The book has good quality information for you to use in handling your injury claim.