Washington Public Policy Encourages Broad Insurance Coverage for Injured Persons

Posted Thursday, January 04, 2018 by Ed Harper

In insurance policy disputes, the court will look to insurance policy, to determine if the policy has the proper phrases and blank which allow the insurance company and the insured to understand their rights and responsibilities

Before an accident occurs, a person should often ask themselves the question, “Will I be covered if a certain event occurs?”

In underinsured motorist claims where an at-fault driver is not insured, or not insured with enough protection, courts will review these claims based on a presumption to protect injured persons from financially irresponsible motorists. The fundamental principle underlying this case is that RCW 48.22.030 expresses a legislative purpose to broaden the protection of injured persons from financially irresponsible motorists. Supra at 289-90.

See Brown v. Snohomish County Physicians Corp, 120 Wn.2d 747 (1993):

“The underinsured motorist statute (RCW 48.22.030) is intended to allow an injured party to recover those damages which that party would have recovered had the responsible party been insured with liability limits as broad as the injured party’s statutorily mandated underinsured motorist coverage limits.”

In Liljestrand v State Farm Ins. Co., 47 Wn.App.283 (1987), the court allowed an underinsured/uninsured (UIM) claim to go forward for a phantom vehicle even though there were no independent witnesses to the accident. The RCW had certain requirements requiring independent verification. The court held that an insurance policy which was more broad than the minimum statutory requirements allowed the claimant’s UIM claim to go forward.

Therefore in the UIM setting, if an insurance policy is silent on certain exclusions or requirements, the court will typically find for the insured. In Liljestrand, David Liljestrand was driving his truck on Interstate 5 when his vehicle left the roadway and rolled over. He was seriously injured. There were no independent witnesses to the accident. Liljestrand claims he was forced off the road by an unidentified motor vehicle which had no contact with his vehicle and had the scene. Liljestrand had had an insurance policy with State Farm insurance company which provided for uninsured motorist coverage. The definition for an uninsured motor vehicle included a motor vehicle which is a hit and run a vehicle, whose operator owner cannot be identified, and which hits or causes an accident resulting in bodily injury (even without hitting you or your vehicle).

The court couched the issue “if the statutory limitations on required coverage for accidents caused by the phantom vehicles automatically apply to an insurance policy that does not contain such limitations”. Liljestrand, page 286. The basic rule for UIM recovery for injuries caused by the actions of phantom vehicles, and as stated by RCW 48.22.030, requires certain proof to be established via corroborating evidence – see previous blog post – http://edharperlaw.com/Blog/2017/12/Phantom-Vehicle-What-is-not-Corroborating-Evidence .

However, when an insurance contract/policy does not have the limiting factors of the requirement for establishing proof with corroborating evidence, then the more broadened perspective on coverage is followed. The insurance contract between the parties did not contain the corroborating evidence requirement, which is a more restrictive limitation. Without the corroborating evidence requirement, the court reasoned allows the plaintiff to bring a UIM claim.

“Under Washington law, an automobile policy must specifically contain the independent corroboration requirement set forth in RCW 48.22.030 (8) for any claim arising from an incident with a phantom vehicle in order to enforce that statutory requirement….“As the insurance policy allows for broader coverage than the statute mandates, we can conclude that, the language of the policy must control over the statute.” Liljestrand page 290.

Finally, the Liljestrand court states “we hold, therefore, that RCW 48.22.030 establishes minimum requirements for coverage of insured persons involved in auto accidents with phantom vehicles.” Supra, page 290.

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