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Washington DC Car Accident Lawyers
Automobile Injury Attorneys in DC
When we get into our cars, none of us think about getting into an accident. In 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were nearly 6 million auto accidents in the United States alone, many of which occurring in Washington D.C. We hope never to be included in these statistics, but sometimes accidents happen. We here at Ashcraft & Gerel believe that every driver in the District of Columbia should be aware of the process, rules and legal guidelines involved in the aftermath of a car accident.
Car Insurance Requirements
The District of Columbia Department of Motor Vehicles says that every registered driver MUST not only have insurance, but must have minimum coverage in the following different areas:
- At least $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident. This money will cover any personal injury protection (PIP – commonly known as no-fault) benefits in the event of a car accident.
- At least $10,000 per accident. This covers any property damage, which is usually vehicle damage, that occurs during or as a result of a car accident.
- At least $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident. This money covers any injured uninsured/underinsured person or people involved in a car accident.
- At least $5,000 per accident. This will cover any underinsured/uninsured motorist property damage. This requirement is subject to a $200 deductible.
These numbers may seem high. However, though we all hope we will never have to use it, there is a reason the majority of people who drive have insurance: if you are involved in a car accident, you and the others involved in the accident will be protected by this coverage up to the amount in your policy. Those without insurance in the District of Columbia are personally responsible for any costs from a car accident, often having to pay out of their own pocket.
What Happens After a Car Accident in Washington, D.C.
- The most important thing to do after an accident is make sure you and any passengers in your car are physically alright and to seek immediate medical attention if necessary.
- Assuming there are no serious injuries requiring immediate medical attention, it is usually a good idea to call the police. This typically helps ensure that insurance information is exchanged between you and the other driver(s) involved in the accident. It is also helpful to have the police prepare a report to memorialize the evidence obtained at the accident scene.
After the accident, once you have received any medical attention and exchanged insurance information with the other person or people involved, the process of dealing with insurance companies begins. This can be a complicated and frustrating process. Although many people attempt to resolve their case directly with the insurance, many will hire an attorney to protect their rights and help guide them through the twists and turns of dealing with auto insurance companies. Here is some general information every person involved in a car accident in Washington D.C. should know:
1. Giving Notice.
The District of Columbia has a 3 year statute of limitations to file an auto accident claim. The time begins on the date the accident occurs. With that in mind, as soon as possible after the auto accident, call the other driver’s insurance company to “give notice,” or inform them that a claim is being filed. If you choose to hire an attorney after this point, he or she will promptly follow this verbal notice with a written letter to the insurance company. If you do not file a lawsuit before the 3 year deadline is expired, you will be legally prohibited from pursuing the case.
2. No Fault.
Washington D.C. is what is called a “no-fault” district. No matter who is at fault for the accident you can elect to use your personal injury protection (PIP), also known as “no fault” insurance with your own insurance company to receive monies for medical bills and lost wages. This is typically only done when the person filing the claim is at fault for the accident, or the damages from the accident are very minor. Because no fault insurance does not provide any money for pain and suffering, it is rarely used when the car accident is caused by the other driver. In D.C., there is a 60 day election period in which a person can choose to use their no fault option or bring a claim against the responsible driver. With very limited exceptions, if no fault is selected, then you cannot submit a claim against the other driver. The idea behind no fault insurance is to provide some insurance protection to pay your bills and wages even if you caused the accident. It also serves to try to unclog the crowded claims courts by eliminating lawsuits and injury claims for smaller auto accidents. No fault insurance is paid directly to you by your own insurance company for any injuries or damage sustained during the accident, up to however much coverage you have.
This may sound simple, but it is a complicated process with its own set of drawbacks. For example, this kind of coverage can be limited. It only covers medical bills and lost income, not pain, suffering, etc. It is also limited to what coverage you have, no more, no less. If your medical bill is $50,000 and you only have $25,000, half of that bill may have to be paid out of your own pocket.
In D.C., there are very limited circumstances in which a person can elect their no fault benefits and still bring a claim against the responsible driver. Different “no-fault” states have different criteria you as the injured person must meet in order to file a claim and receive compensation. Washington D.C. has two: a monetary threshold and an injury threshold that you must meet in order to be able to file a claim and a lawsuit. These limited circumstances include: when your medical costs exceed your insurance policy’s personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and when your injuries involve substantial permanent impairment and/or disfigurement or scarring, or substantial impairment or disability lasting at least a total of 180 days. If these two “thresholds” are met, you can file both a no fault claim, and a claim against the responsible to recover more money for the damage, both physical and property, that resulted from the auto accident. Because this action must be taken within a short time frame following the auto accident (60 days) and must involve serious injury, you must be very careful when choosing to claim these exemptions to the rule. If the claim is filed and the thresholds are not met, then the claim against the responsible driver will be disqualified.
3. Contributory Negligence.
Washington D.C. is one of the few jurisdictions that still uses what is called contributory negligence. In simplest terms, this means that if you are found to be responsible for the accident in any way, you cannot recover any money no matter how significant your damages. This law can also affect you insurance claim. For example, an adjuster, the insurance company employee who handles accident claims, will use this in settlement negotiations to try and lower the amount of money te insurance company has to pay out. If you choose to file a civil lawsuit in addition to your insurance claim, contributory negligence also applies. If the judge or jury finds the other driver 99% responsible and you only 1% responsible, that 1% will bar you from collecting any money from the insurance company. Because there is no concrete, scientific way to prove or disprove blame, the way to receive insurance money on your auto accident claim will typically come down to negotiation between your attorney and the claims adjuster. In the case of a civil lawsuit, the same idea applies.
4. Uninsured Motorists (UIM).
The District of Columbia auto accident law requires every registered vehicle to purchase Uninsured/underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage as part of their insurance coverage. The minimum UIM requirement is $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident. UIM provides insurance protection if you are involved in an auto accident with someone who either has no insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover your damages from the auto accident. You file a UIM claim against your own insurance company for the damages you sustained related to the collision.
Contact Us Today
This is just a brief introduction into the world of car accidents and insurance companies. There is a lot a red tape to cut through and the task can seem daunting. In Washington D.C., senior partner and car accident case expert Jerry Spitz has 20 years of experience and is eager to help. Allow us at Ashcraft & Gerel to help guide you through the complexities of your case. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident in the District of Columbia, please, don’t hesitate to contact us by email or call us at 800-829-7037.