Washington Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

Fewer than 500 people die on Washington roads most years, making the state of Washington one of the safest states in the U.S. to drive in. This statistic, however, is hardly comforting to someone injured in a Washington auto accident, or to a grieving relative of a victim of a fatal crash. Some of the basics of Washington law governing compensation for road accidents appear below:

Statute of Limitations: Washington gives you three years from the date of an accident to file a lawsuit for personal injury or property damage. You have three years from the victim’s date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: Washington is a “pure comparative fault” state – when more than one party shares the blame for an accident, the court will apportion fault on a percentage basis based on the evidence. The plaintiff’s damages will then be reduced in exact proportion to the victim’s degree of fault (even though in wrongful death cases the victim is not the plaintiff). The plaintiff can win damages even if the accident was mostly the victim’s fault.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Washington, like most states, is not a “no-fault” accident state – a plaintiff can file an insurance claim or a lawsuit against an at-fault party without looking to his own insurance first.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: The legal minimum insurance coverage for Washington drivers is $25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 per injury accident and $10,000 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Washington does not require its drivers to purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance.

Types of Damages Available: Washington courts offer full compensatory damages, including non-economic damages such as mental anguish. Punitive damages are not available.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: Although no-fault product liability is available; compliance with government or industry standards or the “state of the art” is a defense.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): Full damages are available – there is no statutory cap on recovering money damages from the state government.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders are required to wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: All occupants nine years old or older or over 57 inches tall must buckle up. The maximum fine for a first offense is $124.

Dram Shop Law: A third party injured by an intoxicated person may sue a licensed alcohol vendor or a private social host who provided the offender with alcohol, if the offender was under 21. A vendor can also be sued by a third party for selling alcohol to an obviously inebriated adult.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): In Washington, a first-offense DUI offender can be jailed for 24 hours to one year and fined between $865.50 and $5,000. A driver’s license suspension of 90 days to one year also applies. The offense might be plea-bargained down to the less serious “wet reckless” in first-offense cases where the offender had a borderline blood alcohol content (BAC).

Penalty for Refusing a Sobriety Test: A DUI suspect who refuses a blood, breath or urine sobriety test can lose his driver’s license for one year, even if he is never convicted of DUI.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Washington bans texting while driving and the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. Drivers on Learner’s or Intermediate driver’s licenses may not use cell phones even if they are “hands free” versions.