If you have been injured by a person who carries minimum or no automobile insurance available to sufficiently compensate you for your injuries, you may still be eligible to receive significant monetary compensation for your injuries under your own automobile insurance policy.
This type of insurance claim is commonly referred to as an Uninsured Motorist ("UM") or Underinsured Motorist ("UIM") claim.
* What is a UIM Claim?
A UM/UIM insurance claim is an endorsement contained in the injured person's automobile insurance policy company that provides monetary compensation where there is insufficient or no automobile insurance coverage maintained by the at-fault driver.
In other words, where the at-fault party either fails to maintain insurance, or where the at-fault party's insurance policy limits are insufficient to fully compensate you for your injuries, an Uninsured Motorist / Underinsured Motorist recovery may be available to you.
The UM/UIM insurance policy is a protection contained in your automobile, motorcycle or other motor vehicle policy that provides you financial protection for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle or other covered claim in the event you suffer injuries as a result of the negligent actions of an uninsured (or underinsured) drivers.
* Auto Insurance Policy Limits in WA
In the state of Washington, the mandatory insurance policy limits for drivers who cause property damage and/or medical injuries is a paltry $25,000.00.
As any injured party is too well aware, medical expenses and other compensable damages easily and quickly exceed $25,000.00 after a serious injury accident. Because this amount is hardly sufficient to compensate most injury cases, an injured victim is forced to turn to his or her own insurance policy to obtain the compensation the injured victim is entitled to.
As a result, the UM/UIM policy endorsement is required to be offered by your insurance company when you purchase any automobile or motor vehicle insurance policy. In fact, if you decline the Uninsured Motorist / Underinsured Motorist endorsement you must do so in writing.
* Fiduciary Obligations Owed by Insurance Companies to Accident Victims
Because Washington residents enter into an insurance contract and pay monthly premiums for auto insurance protections including the Uninsured Motorist / Underinsured Motorist policy, the insurance company owes you certain legal obligations when negotiating and settling your UIM injury claim.
However, despite the clear intent under Washington law for insurance companies to deal with their customers in good faith, insurance companies are regularly found liable for committing serious offenses in negotiating these UIM claims.
The good faith requirement is required in all contractual dealings, including insurance claims.
Examples of violations of the good faith standard in Washington cases include:
- The unreasonable denial of your UIM claim for compensation for your injuries
- The failure by the insurance company to settle your claim at the claim's reasonable legal value, which includes past, present and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain-and-suffering, as well as other available damages within the insurance policy limits
- Placing the insurance company's financial interests over the customer or insureds' interests
- The failure to disclose UIM policies available to its customers or insureds *
*See RCW 19.86.170; WAC 284-30-300; Anderson v. State Farm 105 Wn.App. 323 (2000)
When an insurance company does not comply with its legal obligations to treat its customers with good faith in negotiating and settling their customer's UIM claim or refuses to acknowledge and remit adequate payment for the value of the injury claim, an injured victim may have the right to first mediate the dispute then file a lawsuit against the insurance company for "bad faith".
When an insurance company commits bad faith, an injured victim may collect its actual damages based on the bad faith and additional sums under the Washington Consumer Protection Act (See RCW §19.86) not to exceed $10,000 per bad faith violation.
Damages available under the consumer protection act include your actual damages (not limited to policy limits), as well as compensation for your attorney's fees, liquidated damages and the other costs of bringing the lawsuit against the insurance companies.
In this economy where insurance companies are losing billions of dollars on their stock market and other investments, insurance companies routinely create an adversarial relationship with not only third party accident victims, but also with their own customers who have suffered injuries and are seeking the rightful compensation for their injuries.
Adversarial dealings with an insurance company's customer is not only against the law, but it allows a customer to collect additional monetary compensation for the customer's injuries.
* Insurance Fairness Legislation - RCW 48.30.015
The state of Washington ratified a law that provides attorneys and injured victims with real power to hold unscrupulous insurance companies liable for substantial economic damages when insurance companies fail to deal fairly and in good faith with policyholders.
Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Referendum 67 which forces insurance companies to deal fairly with their policyholders. R-67 created a new Washington statute, RCW 48.30.015 that prohibits insurance companies from unreasonably denying Uninsured Motorist / Underinsured Motorist, PIP and other insurance claims.
RCW 48.30.015 (see below for entire statute) creates disincentives for insurance companies who illegally deny or delay payment of a legitimate insurance claim.
Specifically, RCW 48.30.015 assesses triple damages and attorney's fees against insurance companies who fail to comply with the new law.
This provides attorneys with a wonderful tool to hold insurance companies accountable for illegal conduct.
(1) No person engaged in the business of insurance shall engage in unfair methods of competition or in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of such business as such methods, acts, or practices are defined pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.
(2) In addition to such unfair methods and unfair or deceptive acts or practices as are expressly defined and prohibited by this code, the commissioner may from time to time by regulation promulgated pursuant to chapter 34.05 RCW, define other methods of competition and other acts and practices in the conduct of such business reasonably found by the commissioner to be unfair or deceptive after a review of all comments received during the notice and comment rule-making period.
(3)(a) In defining other methods of competition and other acts and practices in the conduct of such business to be unfair or deceptive, and after reviewing all comments and documents received during the notice and comment rule-making period, the commissioner shall identify his or her reasons for defining the method of competition or other act or practice in the conduct of insurance to be unfair or deceptive and shall include a statement outlining these reasons as part of the adopted rule.
(b) The commissioner shall include a detailed description of facts upon which he or she relied and of facts upon which he or she failed to rely, in defining the method of competition or other act or practice in the conduct of insurance to be unfair or deceptive, in the concise explanatory statement prepared under RCW 34.05.325(6).
(c) Upon appeal the superior court shall review the findings of fact upon which the regulation is based de novo on the record.
(4) No such regulation shall be made effective prior to the expiration of thirty days after the date of the order by which it is promulgated.
(5) If the commissioner has cause to believe that any person is violating any such regulation, the commissioner may order such person to cease and desist therefrom. The commissioner shall deliver such order to such person direct or mail it to the person by registered mail with return receipt requested. If the person violates the order after expiration of ten days after the cease and desist order has been received by him or her, he or she may be fined by the commissioner a sum not to exceed two hundred and fifty dollars for each violation committed thereafter.
(6) If any such regulation is violated, the commissioner may take such other or additional action as is permitted under the insurance code for violation of a regulation.
(7) An insurer engaged in the business of insurance may not unreasonably deny a claim for coverage or payment of benefits to any first party claimant. "First party claimant" has the same meaning as in RCW 48.30.015.
* Foster Law Offices - Contact Information
Our lawyers at Foster Law Offices represent injured victims in Uninsured Motorist ("UM") or Underinsured Motorist ("UIM") claims against insurance companies.
If you have been injured in a UIM accident of any kind, we can assist you in receiving compensation for your injuries, lost wages and related damages. We always handle our personal injury cases on a contingent fee basis, so no matter how complex the case becomes, there is no fee unless we recover money for you.
To discuss your case with an experienced attorney at Foster Law Offices, or to inquire about your legal rights associated with your uninsured motorist claim, please contact us to schedule a free consultation.