Washington State Car Accident Laws

A car accident from above representing Washington State Car Accident Laws.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be in a car accident, it’s important to know about Washington State car accident laws and how they affect your situation. Thankfully Washington State has a number of car accident laws on the books that protect you if you’ve been in an accident.

Top 3 Questions About Washington State Car Accident Laws

Top 3 Questions About Washington Car Accident Laws

This video discusses the three most common questions relating to car accident laws in WA, such as:
  • ‘How long can I wait to file a personal injury lawsuit?’
  • ‘When do you have to report a car accident in Washington State?’
  • ‘What are the minimum requirements for car insurance in Washington State?’

A Quick Disclaimer

If you have been injured in an auto accident, it's important that you know the car accident laws in Washington State and how they apply to your situation. There are many ways to deal with accident claims if you have suffered damages as a result of the accident. Your unique situation will determine your course of action. Although the information on this page isn't legal advice, after reading this information you will have a better understanding about how car accidents in Washington State work and how these cases are resolved.

If you’ve been injured by your accident, it's critical that you speak with a competent attorney about your legal rights and options. Yes, we know this bit of advice seems self-serving, but it's true. A skilled personal injury attorney will be able to tell you what your options are, based on your unique situation, and guide you toward the best potential outcome. Without a car accident attorney, your sources of information become less reliable, even if they’re well-meaning. Friends, family, internet searches, and insurance companies, they all may have something helpful to share, but none will have what you need most in this situation, a deep understanding of personal injury law.

We are here to help you know your rights and responsibilities so that you can protect yourself, your family, and possibly even your livelihood. For effective, compassionate legal counsel, please give us a call 253-572-2684.

Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury case

In Washington state, you generally have three years to file your personal injury lawsuit after the date of the accident. Your lawyer will tell you whether to file sooner than the statute of limitations’ three-year deadline, but as long as you get those papers filed before the three-year mark, you're in good shape.

While there’s no statute of limitations for filing an insurance claim after an accident, most insurance companies want you to file promptly or within a reasonable timeframe. Make sure you check with your insurance company to find out their requirements.

Take note that claims against the federal government or government agencies have shorter statutes of limitation and litigation claim filing requirements. Always see an attorney as soon after an accident as possible, to determine the appropriate claim filing requirement and claim notice requirements.

When to File an Accident Report in Washington State

It’s a common practice for people not to report minor accidents and fender benders to the police. What many people don’t know is that Washington state requires you to submit a Motor Vehicle Collision Report even for minor accidents as long as there is $1,000 or more of damage to any one unit and/or injury to any person.

In Washington, you’re required to report a car accident within four days. If law enforcement responds, they will file a report in most cases. Typically, this is the case, so you often don't need to worry about reporting it if law enforcement completes a report.

Reporting the accident to your car insurance works differently. Be aware that your policy carrier may require that you report your accident to them within 24 to 48 hours. Make sure that you're familiar with your car insurance policy and know when they require you to report any accident.

Why should you report your auto accident?

Even if you aren’t legally required to report an accident, it still might be in your best interest to do so. Why? Often the full impact of the accident isn’t known until later. Your body may start to hurt a few days after the accident. An inspection of your car may reveal more damage than you expected. Filing a claim with your insurance may go easier and be more profitable if you have an accident report to share with them as evidence. If you find yourself surprised by the negative impact an accident is having on your health, finances, or quality of life, don't hesitate to reach out to a Tacoma car accident attorney at Helland Law.

Where to Download Washington State Collision Report

Often, one of the parties to the accident or a bystander will call law enforcement to the scene of a car accident. Officers will typically fill out a collision report. This is common in Washington state. Car accident reports are then sent to the Washington Department of Transportation. In some instances, you may be directed by the officer on the scene to enter a civilian report. If you want to know where to download a Washington state collision report, you can do so online.

To check and see if law enforcement filed a Washington state collision report, see the status of your report, or file a new collision report form, you can do so by visiting the Washington Department of Transportation website.

Washington State Auto Insurance Laws

There’s a lot at stake if you choose to drive without auto insurance. Washington state auto insurance laws are strict on this matter. If you are caught without auto insurance, you might receive a fine of $550 or even worse if involved in a car accident — your license could be suspended!

If you’re driving any vehicle which requires registration in Washington state, you must possess motor vehicle insurance, self-insurance, certificate of deposit, or a liability bond. However, when you operate one of the following vehicles, you don't need to have insurance as long as they have been properly registered:

  • A Moped
  • A horseless carriage older than 40 years
  • A state or publicly-owned vehicle
  • Common or contract carrier with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

If you’re driving in Washington state in a vehicle that is registered in another state, Washington state auto insurance laws require you to have proof of some type of insurance required by the other state. If requested by law enforcement, you must show proof of that insurance.

Washington State Uninsured Motorist Law

Even though it’s not legal in Washington State, more than 17% of drivers operate a vehicle without the required insurance. That means you have a fairly high chance of getting into a collision with an uninsured motorist. It’s important to know your rights and the Washington state uninsured motorist laws.

Washington state requires every driver to have liability insurance and be able to show proof of that insurance. Unfortunately, there are some drivers who may not have insurance coverage or may not have enough to pay for damages. If you’re involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist, there are a few things you should absolutely do:

  1. Call 911, even if it doesn’t seem that anyone was injured.
  2. Remain at the scene (Don't drive away!)
  3. Make sure to document as much of the evidence as you can, including photos of the damage, injuries, license plates, drivers licenses, insurance cards, and more.
  4. Check your insurance coverage to see if it includes uninsured or underinsured motorists.

If you don’t have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you will most likely have to pay for repairs and bills out of pocket.

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How long is the statute of limitations for reporting car accidents in Washington state?▾

The statute of limitations to bring a personal injury case related to a car accident in Washington state is 3 years. That’s how much time you have to bring a lawsuit in court. RCW 4.16.080 says that “The following actions shall be commenced within three years…an action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property.” Sometimes it takes a while to understand the full extent of the damages you've suffered. A quick conversation with one of our personal injury attorneys in Tacoma,WA, can help discover whether you have a strong case even if some time has passed since your accident. 

Keep in mind that the statute of limitations on car accidents in WA doesn’t apply to reporting to your insurance carrier. Please check with your carrier to see what their reporting requirements are. Also keep in mind that if your claim involves a U.S. government claim, or happened on federal property (ie, in a park), or on tribal property, there may be a shorter statute of limitation and/or pre-litigation claim notice requirements.

Is uninsured motorist coverage required in Washington state?▾

While uninsured motorist coverage is not required in Washington state, it’s a good idea. If you are in a car accident and the at-fault party doesn’t have insurance (or you suffer a hit-and-run accident), uninsured motorist coverage can help pay for additional costs.

Is Washington a no-fault insurance state?▾

If you are wondering if Washington is a no-fault insurance state, the answer is no. The at-fault driver uses his or her liability insurance to cover injury sustained by the other party. However, Washington drivers can purchase personal injury protection (PIP) insurance to cover their own injuries following a car accident. If you don’t have PIP, you must wait for the court to determine fault before your expenses can be covered by the at-fault insurance. In the meantime, you could be racking up some serious medical bills. So it’s a good idea to carry PIP if you can.

Does Washington state auto insurance follow the car or the driver?▾

In Washington state, auto insurance follows the car and the driver. When you purchase bodily injury liability insurance, that insurance covers you driving someone else’s car as well as any family members that you list on your insurance. If someone else drives your vehicle, your insurance should cover any damage they do or injury they cause, but it may not cover their injuries without their own insurance to supplement the costs.

Do you have to file an accident report in Washington state?▾

According to the Washington State Patrol you must file a Motor Vehicle Collision Report in Washington state if anyone is injured or if any party’s damage meets or exceeds $1000. Typically, law enforcement will file this report for you when you call them to the scene. If law enforcement does not report the accident, you can submit a report online.

Is there a Washington state rear end collision law?▾

The Washington state rear end collision law assumes that the rear driver (the one in the back) causes the crash. In most cases, the driver behind the rear-ended car will be held liable for the damage and injuries caused in the accident. But, in certain situations, the rear driver might have mitigating circumstances, like when the front driver was driving in an unsafe manner, had defective equipment (broken tail lights), or did not allow for enough time to stop. Because these factors might not be immediately obvious, it’s important to check with a seasoned lawyer to see if your case has merit.

What is the penalty for driving without insurance in Washington state?▾

The penalty for driving without insurance in Washington state can be steep. You might be given a $550 fine or more. You could also be convicted of a misdemeanor, and your driver’s license might even be suspended. In short, it’s not worth it. To avoid these penalties, you must purchase liability insurance that has at least $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, $50,000 per accident, and $10,000 in property damage coverage.