Car accidents in Vancouver: Make sure you are covered

I probably get five calls a week from people in Clark County who have been injured in a car accident and who lack the financial resources to recover from the collision. Medical bills, wage loss, property damage, rental cars – these things add up quickly. Indeed, as a personal injury lawyer in Vancouver, Washington, I am daily reminded that a) car accidents are expensive and b) people often lack the money they need to get lives back on track after a collision.

My advice – across the board, 100 percent of the time – is to make sure that you have sufficient insurance coverage in case someone else hits you with their car. No, it does not matter how good of a driver you are. Let me explain why.

Insurance is a service that allows all drivers to equally share the risk of driving. Since everyone who drives faces the same amount of risk, the logic goes, we should share the risk of driving. That is why almost every state (except for Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia) requires all drivers to have liability insurance. For Washington, see RCW 46.30.020.

Under liability insurance, you pay a monthly premium to your insurer. When you cause someone else injury or death with your car, or if you damage another person’s property with your car, your insurance company pays for your liability in that situation.

Seems simple, right? Well, it gets more complicated. Your insurance company pays for your liability only up to your policy limits. A policy limit is the maximum amount of money that your insurance company will pay under your insurance policy.  In Washington, every driver must have policy limits of at least $25,000 for bodily injury liability (with a total of $50,000 in case two people are injured). See RCW 46.29.090.  These laws, when taken together, means that every driver in Washington should be automatically ready to pay for $25,000 for injuring another person with a motor vehicle.

There are two main problems with the scheme. First, not everyone buys liability insurance. In fact, Washington has fairly high level of uninsured motorists, with anywhere from 16-30 percent of motorists failing to purchase sufficient coverage. Second, car accidents routinely cause more bodily injury than $25,000. If this happens, and if you’re the at-fault party, you’re probably on the hook for the excess judgment. Believe me, you would be surprised to know how often a person lacks sufficient coverage to cover the damage and injury they cause with their motor vehicle. 

If you are not the at-fault party, luckily, liability coverage is not the only kind of coverage. All motorists  can (and should – that’s my advice 100 percent of the time!) buy uninsured and under-insured motorist coverage (frequently referred to as “UIM” coverage). You buy these policies from your own insurance company in addition to your liability coverage. With this coverage, if you get injured by a person who lacks sufficient insurance coverage, your own insurance company covers whatever that driver cannot (up to the policy limits, of course). Additionally, personal injury protection or “PIP” coverage must be offered by all insurers, and provides easy access to quick money for some costs associated with a motor vehicle collision, including medical expenses, lost wages, etc. For more information on these policies, see Bill Robison’s post from last year, which can be seen here.

In the end, my message is simple: make sure you have full insurance coverage! If you get hit by an uninsured or undersinsured driver, you will need it.  Money – easy, quick access to it – can give you the flexibility to lessen the impact that a motor vehicle collision has on your life.


After a Clark County car accident, you might see a drone in the sky

Watch the skies above Clark County, for risk-busting, profit-maximizing drones, sent by an insurance company to investigate the immediate aftermath of motor vehicle collisions. It could happen soon. And it’s not my idea; it’s theirs. 

In 2012, there were 3,800 reported car accidents in Clark County. That’s a lot of spying to do. With that much air traffic, I hope they are insured.


Distracted Drivers

It is hard to believe that the publicity surrounding the effects of distracted driving has made no apparent dent in this dangerous practice. Leaving my office each evening I count numerous drivers on the phone as they hit the streets. Stopping at a street corner every driver seems to have a phone pressed to their ear as they roll through the crosswalk without looking, narrowly missing pedestrians and sometimes other cars.
Within days one motorcyclist was killed and another injured by a distracted driver in our county. The increase in high speed rear end collisions is largely due to drivers who do not even brake, they have no clue traffic ahead has stopped.
Driving while talking on a cell phone is equivalent to driving after several drinks. Texting while driving is even worse, yet we see drivers doing both everywhere we go.
How can this practice be stopped? Major penalties are one way. Making sure juries hear about it is another. The best way is personal responsibility. Don’t answer or attempt to initiate a phone call while driving. Your life depends on it.

Distracted Driver Cover Up

We hear a great deal about distracted driving these days. Texting, talking, recording, even posting to social network cites have all been blamed for serious injury crashes in the past several months. It seems like a new study of the carnage caused by distracted drivers appears every month. The New York Times is even running a series on the topic. It seems like an epidemic has been loosed on the highways and biways of our country and there is nothing that can be done about it.

Making distracted drivers face full personal responsibility is one place to start. The facts about what causes crashes must be admissible in every case. One role of jurors in our courts is to enforce safety rules that protect everyone from danger. In the area of distracted driving the courts are failing to give jurors information they need to complete their mission. We are seeing more and more cases where courts rule that, when the defendant in a case admits fault, the facts supporting the admission are not told to the jury. In other words, the defendant can hide his own conduct from the jury. The defendant is still free to attack the injured victim of that conduct while pretending to accept fault. Acceptance of fault however has two parts, accepting what you did is wrong and doing everything you can to make it right. The tactic of hiding the basis of fault switches the focus of the case from the misconduct of the defendant to any form of character assassination the defense (read insurance company) can dream up to turn on the injured victim. Defense tactics include stalking injured persons with video cameras in an attempt to record a minute of activity that the company’s hired gun doctors can claim is inconsistent with the injuries diagnosed. This is then put before jurors in a vacuum in which trust is shifted to the defendant who is “doing the right thing” by admitting fault. The whole story is never told, the safety rules are weakened and the body count piles up.




Before You Hire a Vancouver Washington Personal Injury Lawyer

The process of hiring a personal injury lawyer in Vancouver can be difficult and it is normal to feel overwhelmed.  A good lawyer will help you win your case, and look out for your interests. There are many issues to consider when choosing a lawyer. Be sure to interview a number of different Vancouver lawyers to be absolutely sure you find the lawyer who will best handle your case. A good place to start is an internet search using Google, Bing, Yahoo, Avvo, or other tools to run down information.The following questions are intended to help you in the selection process as you choose the right Vancouver attorney.

  • Start with: Have you tried a case like this? Have you arbitrated a case like this? Many who call themselves “personal injury” attorney’s have never tried a case.
  • What training do you have in this area of law? Do not be afraid to ask for documentation of education including continuing education. This is a very important part of selecting the right lawyer for your needs.
  • Do you teach this area of practice to other lawyers? A sure sign of a quality lawyer is acceptance as a teacher among peers.
  • What is your work experience in your areas of practice?  Many lawyers dabble in personal injury and wrongful death cases hoping to pull in a case and make a quick settlement. You do not want a divorce lawyer handling your serious personal injury or wrongful death case. Don’t be afraid to ask how many cases the lawyer has taken to trial or arbitration.
  • What is your rate structure? We believe graduated rate structures are a come on and an indication the lawyer is not willing to fight for you. In our office at Caron, Colven, Robison, Shafton, most personal injury and wrongful death cases are charged a contingent fee of one third at every stage of the proceedings. We do not demand a higher fee to do what you hired us to do, go to trial. We aggressively pursue our cases and anticipate filing most of them.
  • Have you handled this type of case before? Ask for examples.  While not completely necessary to know, it can ease your mind to know that your lawyer has worked on cases like yours in Vancouver, Portland and Southwest Washington.
  • Does the attorney handle appeals? Most aggressive and experienced personal injury, litigaton, insurance law and wrongful death attorneys will have some appellate decisions listed under their name.
  • How are litigation costs handled? Serious personal injury lawyers do not ask you to pay up front or force you to finance your personal injury or wrongful death case as you go. A law firm that cannot afford to fund your case is not a good choice.
  • How will you keep me posted on the progress of the case? Before hiring a Vancouver lawyer make sure you understand how they plan on communicating the details of the case with you. When you are harmed in an accident in Vancouver, contact the law firm of Caron, Colven, Robison & Shafton today for a free initial consultation.
  • Look carefully at the fee agreement. Are you being asked to pay overhead in addition to a contingent fee agreement? Is the agreement more concerned about the lawyer getting paid after you fire them than anything else? Graduated fees are often a sign of a lawyer who does not want to take your case to trial. A low 25% fee followed by 33.33% to 50% fees if the lawyer actually has to go to court can be intended to force you to settle short.

Motorcycle Crashes Taken Seriously: A Case Study

This is a discussion of an actual case. In this case we suspected liability would be contested based on statements an officer made to the cyclist. We acted quickly to ensure all evidence was secured. As a result we obtained a favorable result. The lesson however is that a motorcycle case must always be treated as contested.

An experienced motorcycle rider stopped at a stop sign at a rural “T” intersection. The stop sign was positioned at least a cars length back from the white stop line. As the bike foot pushed his bike toward the stop line a teenager “cruising” along the main road that formed the top of the “T” cut the corner and slammed into the motorcycle. The collision caused serious injuries. The teen and a passenger claimed the motorcycle had “come out of nowhere” and pulled into their path. The officer placed the point of impact near the center line of the main road. This indicated a failure on the motorcyclist’s part to yield the right of way. The investigating officer went to the hospital and charged the motorcyclist with DUI on the basis of an admission to having had two beers. He arrested him for investigation of felony vehicular assault based on injuries to the passenger on the bike.

The motorcyclist called William Robison Vancouver Washington personal injury attorney. Mr. Robison’s first action was to call motorcycle accident reconstruction engineer Larry Tompkins, P.E. As in other cases, they met at the scene. At the scene Tompkins documented the evidence while Attorney Bill Robison looked for witnesses.

From evidence Larry gathered at the scene it obvious that the automobile driver had driven far off the roadway to hit the motorcycle. In fact, it was clear that the automobile driver had begun his turn well before the intersection, far from the officer’s point of impact. He had crossed a wide parking strip then reentered the road hitting the motorcycle from the right side. The point of impact was adjacent to the stop sign.

Two witnesses were also located. Both were eye witnesses. Both had attempted to tell the officer the automobile driver was lying about the crash. These witnesses confirmed that the teen driver had cut the corner. Realizing his mistake he had  attempted to drive behind the motorcycle but struck the passenger as the cyclist tried to pull away to avoid the impact. Marks where the motorcycle had spun in a circle were clearly visible on the pavement.

A quick investigation resulted in a recovery of policy limits from the at fault driver. We also recovered the liability coverage on the motorcycle and the underinsured motorist coverage for the passenger even though there was no evidence at all that the motorcyclist had done anything wrong. This is one case where the prejudices of the investigating officer actually worked a substantial benefit, at least for the passenger on the motorcycle.

No charges were ever filed, after the investigation conducted by Mr. Robison and Mr. Tompkins was reported to and reviewed by an experienced collision investigator with the law enforcement agency in charge of the investigation the report was corrected (but not before the motorcycle coverage paid the limit to the passenger).

Every motorcycle collision is a contested case. For that reason the lawyer experienced in handling these cases will start out by hiring a qualified reconstruction engineer, visiting the scene, examining all vehicles and carefully recording all information.

It is important that the lawyer understand accident reconstruction. This means, in addition to being familiar with the literature, the lawyer understands basic physics as they are applied to collision reconstruction. Failure to appreciate that every motorcycle case will be vigorously contested can mean the difference between success and failure.

Motorcycle Accident Attorneys

The first lesson any lawyer who wants to handle motorcycle crash cases learns is that you can’t handle these cases like car crashes. Liability will nearly always be denied. Even if fault is clear there will be attempts to blame the motorcyclist for “failure to avoid”. This defense can be based on the thinnest of evidence. Unless the case is quickly and carefully documented the evidence to defeat such defenses may be lost.

1. Motorcycle crash witnesses estimates of speed are seldom right. Witnesses will over estimate the speed of a motorcycle proportionally to the loudness of the exhaust and brightness of the color. Studies show that even those experienced in this area will place the speed of a motorcycle with loud pipes and bright colors well above that of a drab and quiet bike. For this reason it is important to have a qualified motorcycle crash reconstructionist investigate the crash as soon as possible.

2. Research shows drivers do see you. Other drivers do see motorcycles far more often than believed. Studies show that drivers misinterpret information regarding the motorcycle. They estimate the distance poorly and rarely accurately judge speed. Good defensive riders appreciate this fact and assume they will not be seen, or if seen not given the right of way. Automobilists often claim the motorcycle had no lighting or exaggerate speed to cover their fault.

3. Motorcycle speed can be accurately estimated from crash data. Several methods of estimating impact speed in car v. motorcycle cases have been studied. Skid length, wheel deformation, fork displacement and throw distance all factor into the equation. The length of skid marks, number of tires locked, points of impact and rest and data regarding the roadway all enter the equation and must be documented as soon as possible.

4. Eye witnesses often are not. Frequently a careful interview of someone claiming eye witness status will disclose that they are not an eye witness. Many times an interview will disclose that the witness was drawn to look by the screech of tires or the noise of the collision. What the witness actually saw and what he thinks he saw are often very different. Estimates of speed, statements of lane travel and so on can be seriously at odds with physical facts. A good investigation will document these discrepancies.

5. In the eyes of the insurance industry there are no innocent motorcyclists. Just getting on a bike and starting the engine is negligent in the eyes of an industry with no interest in fair claims settlement. For this reason it is important to consult an attorney with experience in contested liability motorcycle crash cases who understands the issues and knows how to defeat defense attempts to shift blame.

It is not cheap to properly document a motorcycle collision. If your attorney is unwilling or unable to undertake the investigation required your probability of a fair recovery will be reduced.