Things happen. Car accidents happen, even in a city like D.C. where more residents use public transportation over personal vehicles. Financially, it can be devastating. Emotionally, it can be even more devastating. And if there are injuries involved, the financial and emotional toll often do not compare to the pain and suffering originating from the injuries. Consider that in Washington, D.C., according to the D.C. Department of Transportation (DDOT), there were 24,265 motor vehicle accidents in 2015, which included more than 46,854 vehicles. Of those accidents, there were 6,215 included personal injuries and 26 included fatalities. Though in comparison, the occurrence of fatalities is limited, but the costs still remain high. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the total costs for fatality-related crashes in D.C. for 2015 were roughly around $34 million, and of course, the emotional costs has no price tag.
These statistics fluctuate year to year, but the point is simple: the number of motor vehicle collisions in Washington, D.C. is staggering, and the potential costs even more so. The lesson learned is also clear: you need to be prepared so that in the event you are in an accident, it doesn't disrupt your life.
Auto insurance is meant for that very purpose: to make sure you are secure in times when you encounter financial, emotional, and physical hardship due to an auto collision. Unfortunately, what is meant to happen is not what actually happens, and you may find that you are in need of an attorney one day. Personal injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, LLC understand the complex and varied consequences that arise from motor vehicle collisions; they empathize and move forward thoroughly, strategically and precisely with the intent to make sure you receive just and fair compensation.
Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements in D.C.
Each state in the United States has its own set of minimum car insurance requirements, and the same holds true for the District of Columbia. If you have a motor vehicle registered in Washington, D.C. and want to drive it, you must be insured with the following minimum amounts and types of coverage:
- Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Liability Coverage: $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident;
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: $25,000 per person or $50,000 per accident;
- Property Damage Liability Coverage: $10,000 per accident; and
- Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage: $5,000 per accident, subject to a $200 deductible.
Minimum Auto Insurance Types & Amounts Explained
The types and amounts associated with the types of auto insurance can sometimes confuse insureds. Confusion can lead to a misconception that an insured is covered for something that he or she actually is not, and when this happens, disputes often follow. Below is a brief explanation of some commonly misunderstand concepts.
Personal Injury Protection Coverage
This mandatory coverage will reimburse you or your passenger for injuries stemming from the auto accident. Some insureds are often confused about when the $25,000 per person or the $50,000 per accident designations are applied. For instance, a driver who is injured in a DC auto collision and who wracks up medical expenses more than $25,000 may assume he or she is afforded the $50,000 since it is "per accident," but this is not the case. For PIP benefits, if only one person is injured in an accident, and it was either you or a passenger, then up to $25,000 is recoverable for that one person. On the other hand, if more than one person was injured in the accident, then up to a total of $50,000 is recoverable by the injured parties; the $50,000 is proportioned according to injuries, associated medical expenses, and the number of injured persons within the same insured vehicle.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is invoked when (1) an insured's PIP benefits do not cover the total costs of the personal injuries; and (2) the at-fault driver is either uninsured or his or her insurance coverage does not completely cover the remaining balance of your personal injury costs. When an insured qualifies to recover uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits, the same payout setup applies as in PIP benefits: up to $25,000 for one person if only one person (the insured or a passenger) was injured, or up to a total of $50,000 for all combined injuries if more than one person was injured in the same insured vehicle.
Property Damage Coverage
Many insureds believe that property damage insurance refers to coverage for damage to the vehicle, but again, this is not the case. Property damage coverage actually refers to damage that the insured vehicle causes to another person's real estate or personal property. For example, if you crashed into a street sign, your property damage coverage would cover the costs to replace the street sign. If you live in Washington, DC and want coverage for possible damage to your vehicle, then you should purchase collision coverage in addition to the required minimum property damage coverage.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Property Damage
Uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage coverage is required in Washington, D.C., though most states that require uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage only do so for personal injury. This coverage is invoked when the insured vehicle is struck by another driver who (1) hits and runs; (2) is uninsured; or (3) insured but property damage liability does not cove the total costs of the property damages.
D.C.'s Automobile Insurance System
There are two basic systems of auto insurance in the U.S.: (1) fault; and (2) no-fault.
- Fault-based System. When an accident happens, the at-fault driver's auto insurer generally covers the other party's expenses emanating from the accident in accordance with applicable laws and the at-fault driver's liability coverage. Recoverable damages include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages, when applicable.
- No Fault-based System. When an accident happens, the parties file claims with their own respective auto insurance provider regardless of who's actually responsible for the accident. Recoverable damages include economic damages only, with rare exceptions.
The District of Columbia is unlike most other jurisdictions in the U.S.; it generally follows a no-fault system, but it uniquely incorporates at-fault concepts. Generally, when an accident occurs, the at-fault party files a claim with his or her insurance company to cover specific costs. The other party, however, has a 60-day window to either elect (1) to file a claim with her own insurance company for PIP benefits; or (2) to bring a claim/lawsuit against the at-fault party.
This system attempts to benefit both parties at the same time, i.e., the at-fault party is still protected and can receive compensation even though responsible for the accident, and the other party can pursue a claim that will allow him or her to negotiate a more comprehensive and fair compensation package as opposed to what's available only under PIP benefits. The intent behind this unique system, however, is compromised by the creation of a more daunting and cumbersome system. There are more rules, requirements, deadlines, exceptions, and processes that must be considered. The process can leave all parties exhausted and stressed.
How Claims are Filed in DC
Filing claims after auto insurance accidents are or should be, pretty standard and formulaic, but as implied above, when you are dealing with an auto insurance claim in D.C., the probability that it will be confusing is likely, especially if an injured party decides to file a lawsuit. That said, below is a general outline of how a simple claims case would be filed in Washington, D.C.
- Contact with the insurance company to report the accident. To note, D.C. residents are no longer required to report an accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
- Once the insurance company has been notified, the case will be assigned to a claims adjuster.
- The claims adjuster will contact you for a statement and collect evidence, including but not limited to a review of the property damage/car(s), relevant medical records, and proof of lost wages.
- The claims adjuster will provide an offer or payment.
- Upon release and full payment, the claim will be closed.
In the real world, things do not always go according to a plan. In matters of an auto insurance claim, the same is true. The unexpected can happen. The claim adjuster may not agree on payment or may deny a claim altogether. Negotiations could go awry. Lawsuits can happen; both first- and third-party claimants can file lawsuits against an auto insurance provider. When it's your health and finances at stake, having a lawyer to help with the process can ease some of the pain and ensure you receive just and fair compensation.
The Role of the Claims Adjuster
Though some may think that the claims adjuster's role in the claims process is a role established to benefit you: the insured, it is not. A claims adjuster's role is just that: adjust claims, but to do so in the interest of the insurance company and not the insured or claimant. When the insurance company must provide an insured a payout, it loses money. A claims adjuster's role is to minimize as much as possible the amount of money the insured or claimant receives. An unrepresented claimant can find this process scary and intimidating and may accept any initial offer, even if it is well below what is fair and just, just so that he or she does not have to deal with the insurance company.
A claims adjuster's specific role includes collecting evidence, taking statements, reviewing evidence, making a determination of fault, crafting a settlement offer, and, if necessary, negotiating the offer until it is deemed acceptable by all parties or unacceptable and talks breakdown.
The Role of the Personal Injury Attorney
An experienced and resourceful attorney can be key to the success of a full and fair compensation package in an automobile accident and personal injury claim. An attorney can guide you through either option: filing a first-party (no-fault) claim, or a third-party claim if you choose to file a claim/lawsuit against the at-fault party.
If you stay within the no-fault system in DC, then an attorney is advisable if you feel as though the insurance company is not paying the maximum amount allowed in your circumstances and according to your policy. In some instances, an insurance company may act in bad faith, and an attorney can use his or her knowledge and resources to identify bad faith acts and counter them.
If you decided to step outside the no-fault system and file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party, an attorney is fundamental to the success of your case. As soon as an attorney is retained, the insurance company should no longer communicate with the injured party, but only with the attorney. The attorney will counsel the injured party, investigate the case, review the evidence and analyze it against relevant laws, prepare a formal complaint and offer, negotiate your case with the insurance company, and among other services, prepare for trial, if necessary.
If you have been involved in a car accident and suffered personal property and/or personal injuries and think you should retain an attorney, the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian are here to assist you in whatever capacity is needed. To learn more about your options and auto insurance claims in D.C., contact Gilman & Bedigian at 1-800-529-6162.