Liability insurance is a requirement in all 50 states. There are variations on liability insurance, but the two main categories are no-fault and tort liability. Washington is a tort liability auto insurance (i.e. “fault” liability) state. It is important to understand the distinction between no-fault insurance and tort liability insurance when filing your personal injury claim. Presently, 38 states are tort liability states and the remaining 12 are no-fault. There are certainly pros and cons to both, but, given that the vast majority adheres to the tort liability system, it appears that one is superior. The following breakdown is intended to provide just the foundation of how Washington’s tort liability system works and how it can be distinguished from its counterpart.
The primary benefit of no-fault insurance is that the injured driver does not bear the burden of proving the other driver is at fault or civilly liable for his medical and other various expenses. This process can be time consuming and expensive. The liability insurance each driver carries in no-fault states pays for the insurance policyholder’s injuries regardless of who caused the accident. While this system has the benefit of compensating victims who have insurance, and simultaneously sparing them the task of proving fault, the downside is that the injured party not at fault forfeits the opportunity to bring a civil lawsuit against the responsible party for pain and suffering and emotional distress. Liability insurance may cover medical bills, lost wages and other expenses, but it also seals the end of the case. Many drivers who are injured have a valid case which is barred following recovery. The 12 states under the no-fault system are:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
On the other hand, the remaining 38 states have some form of tort liability insurance. In a “fault” liability state, establishing which party is at fault is essential to recovering damages. At the same time, there are fewer restrictions to recovering full damages for all injuries. An injured party can file a claim with her insurance company, and still later file a lawsuit against the driver for pain and suffering or emotional distress. The injured party has more choices. She can: 1) file a claim with her own insurance company for medical expenses; 2) wait to recover while attempting to recover from the other driver’s insurance company; or 3) file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver. Furthermore, in “fault” liability states, insurance companies will pay depending on what percentage a driver is at fault. Because there are less restrictions on how to recover in Washington, if you feel that you were not adequately compensated by your or the other driver’s insurance company, you still have the option of pursuing a personal injury claim in court.
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