Legislature Compelled to Protect Personal Injury Victims from Their Own Insurance Carriers
The state of Washington has a new definition of "accident"-and one that likely seems pretty intuitive to most people. In the state of Washington, an "accident" is now officially defined-for the purposes of personal injury claims, anyway-as an occurrence that was unexpected and unintended from the standpoint of the victim.
It is perhaps somewhat surprising that it took more than a year, the intervention of the state's insurance commissioner, and legislative action to reach that conclusion.
60-year-old Ethel Adams was driving along minding her own business one spring day in 2005 when a truck crossed the center line and crashed into her car. The driver of the truck wasn't negligent, though-she was a victim herself. Her truck was pushed across the center line by her boyfriend, Michael Testa, who had rammed the truck intentionally. Adams sustained serious injuries in the crash. Testa did not have automobile insurance.
Victimized Again-By Her Own Insurance Company
Since Testa didn't have insurance, it seemed fortunate that Adams herself was carrying $2 million in uninsured motorist coverage-coverage intended to compensate personal injury victims harmed by uninsured drivers. But when Adams submitted a claim to her own insurance company, she received a surprising denial. Uninsured motorist coverage, Farmers Insurance claimed, was intended to cover injuries that occurred in accidents. Since Testa had rammed his girlfriend intentionally, meaning to cause harm, Farmers insisted that there had been no accident. Thus, there would be no compensation for Adams's injuries.
The State of Washington Steps In
In October, nearly six months after the automobile accident that injured Ethel Adams, the Washington State Insurance Commissioner met with a Farmers Insurance representative. According to The Seattle Times, Commissioner Mike Kreidler gave Farmers until the close of business the following day to agree to pay Adams or face legal action, saying, "It's not a question of if you will pay Ethel Adams, but when."
Farmers did ultimately pay the claim, but state legislators remained concerned about future abuses based on the statutory language.
A New Law to Define "Accident"
The desire to protect future personal injury victims from the trials Ethel Adams faced prompted the legislature to tighten up the definition of accident, clarifying that it need be unintended and unexpected only from the standpoint of the injured party. One loophole that might have allowed insurance companies to deny coverage to legitimate personal injury victims has been closed. However, some officials are concerned that the definition, which is more specific than any has been historically in this context, may open the door to additional manipulation by insurance companies attempting to avoid covering claims.