Washington State Car Accident Laws

What Are Washington State's Car Accident Laws?

Most Washington residents are deeply familiar with the traffic laws we encounter daily, including speed limits and the rules of right of way, but because we do not have car accidents every day (fortunately), the state’s car accident laws are often more obscure and unfamiliar to car accident victims who may also be dealing with painful injuries.

If you’ve recently experienced a car accident, you may have a lot of questions about your rights and obligations under the law that an Everett accident lawyer can help you navigate. It helps to know what Washington’s car accident laws entail.

Washington’s Car Accident Reporting Laws

According to Washington RCW 46.52.020, those involved in car accidents in Washington must not leave the scene of the accident unless the property damage is clearly under $1,000 and the damage occurred to a parked vehicle with no driver present. In this case, the at-fault driver must leave their contact information and insurance information on the vehicle and report the accident to the state within four days.

For attended vehicles in an accident in moving traffic, drivers do not have to call the police to the scene if the damage is clearly under $1,000 and there were no injuries. Instead, they may use Washington’s online accident reporting tool to notify the state of the collision. They must also notify their insurance companies.

For accidents with significant property damage and any injuries, the following laws apply:

  • Drivers must stop, remain at the scene, exchange contact and insurance information, and call the police to the scene, requesting emergency services for serious injuries
  • Drivers must give reasonable aid to injury victims
  • If the drivers are able, and the vehicles are drivable, the state law requires accident victims to move their vehicles out of the flow of traffic as soon as possible
  • When police arrive at the scene, they will make and file an accident report so accident victims do not have to report the accident but must request a copy of the report to file an insurance claim for compensation for their damages
  • Accident victims may only leave the scene of the accident once the police release them unless they leave with the paramedics to go to the hospital

Although it’s not required by law, all accident victims should go to the hospital straight from the accident scene and undergo a thorough medical evaluation. Some injuries have delayed symptom onset, including whiplash and some head injuries.

Steps to Take At the Accident Scene

Because Washington law requires drivers to move drivable vehicles out of traffic at the accident scene, important evidence of how the accident occurred is quickly lost when accidents happen in places without traffic cameras. Unless you are too injured to move safely, using your phone camera to snap a few quick photos of the accident scene and damaged vehicles in their original positions can help prove the at-fault party’s liability later. Taking photos of any visible injuries is also a good idea. Then, add the contact information of the other driver and any eyewitnesses to the accident.

Never say anything at the accident scene that could be construed as an admission of fault. Instead, obtain a copy of your medical report and the accident report and call an experienced car accident attorney to represent you in your claim for damages.

How Does Washington’s Statute of Limitations Affect a Car Accident Claim?

Most Washington car accident victims file claims against the at-fault party’s insurance policy as soon as they have clear evidence of the damages they’re facing like medical bills, lost income, and the cost of repairing or replacing their car. When an accident victim hires an attorney, the attorney gathers evidence of liability and files a claim for the victim’s damages, typically negotiating with the insurer for the largest possible settlement. If the insurance company undervalues or wrongfully denies a valid claim, the injury victim may take them to court.

Washington has a three-year statute of limitations for car accident cases. If a case requires court litigation, the victim must file a lawsuit petition within three years from the date of the accident unless one of a few extensions apply. Make sure to speak with an Everett injury lawyer for legal guidance and support.