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Know what damages you’re entitled to recover after an accident — and what you can’t
Have you read the fine print on your car insurance policy?
Most of us never do.
But what you don’t want is to misunderstand (or never have known) what’s included in your policy in the first place if you’re in an accident.
Each policy and insurance company is different, so there might be some variation in what your coverage includes. However, every insurance policy issued to a Washington, D.C. resident must meet the District’s basic auto insurance laws and requirements.
Washington, D.C. basic insurance requirements
All drivers must have a valid insurance policy
You must have valid Washington, D.C. insurance in order to register a vehicle in the District or renew your registration. Your insurance must be maintained the entire time the vehicle is registered.
You must always have proof of insurance in your vehicle. You can be fined for failure to provide proof of insurance if asked during a traffic stop or at the scene of an accident.
|Minimum requirements for District of Columbia insurance coverage|
|Bodily injury liability||$25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident|
|Property damage liability||$10,000 per accident|
|Uninsured motorist bodily injury||$25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident|
|Uninsured motorist property damage||$5,000 per accident with $200 deductible|
|Underinsured motorist bodily injury||$25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident|
Is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance required in Washington, D.C.?
PIP insurance is optional.
It’s important to carefully consider whether or not to purchase PIP insurance. Washington, D.C. is a no-fault jurisdiction. That means if you’re in an accident, you turn first to your own insurance. Your damages are not automatically paid for by the driver who caused the accident.
If you choose to carry PIP insurance, you can’t file a lawsuit for costs related to your injuries, except under certain exceptions. In some instances, a crash victim might receive significantly less compensation from the PIP system than by filing a lawsuit. PIP laws protect drivers who cause accidents, not victims.
Damages covered by PIP insurance
PIP insurance covers costs that include:
- Medical expenses, rehabilitation services, adaptive equipment, etc. (up to $50,000 per claimant)
- Percentage of lost wages for time off from work because of the injury (up to $12,000 for up to 3 years after the accident)
- Funeral expenses (up to $4,000)
The insurance company is required to pay your PIP benefits within 30 days of reasonable proof of loss.
Exceptions to PIP insurance law
You may only file a lawsuit after a car accident injury if you have PIP insurance under these conditions:
- Your injuries include permanent scarring or disfigurement.
- Your injuries resulted in permanent impairment that’s substantial and medically provable, and that affects your ability to conduct your regular work or daily activities.
- Your injuries left you unable to perform your usual daily activities for more than 180 consecutive days.
- The medical expenses or lost wages are higher than your PIP insurance policy limits.
You must decide within 60 days of your accident whether you’re going to use your PIP benefits or file a lawsuit to cover your costs.
How to handle an accident in multiple jurisdictions
Unlike most large cities, Washington, D.C. is a multi-jurisdiction metro area because many drivers who pass through D.C. each day are residents of Maryland or Virginia.
The District uses a PIP system, as does Maryland. But Virginia uses MedPay.
Generally, insurance for an accident follows the law where the accident took place. In other words, an accident that happens in D.C. would follow D.C. car insurance law. If the crash occurred in Virginia, then Virginia’s auto insurance laws would apply.
However, this can be complicated by subrogation.
Subrogation is when the insurance company has a right to be reimbursed by any other insurance company based on a determination of fault for any personal injury benefits.
For example, if Driver Danielle caused an accident and Plaintiff Penny was injured, then Penny’s insurance company would pay her costs. Then, subrogation would give Penny’s insurance company the right to be paid by Danielle’s insurance company for the costs it incurred.
If the plaintiff recovers any costs from a lawsuit, then they would need to repay their insurance company under D.C.’s insurance laws. This is not the law in Maryland or Virginia, however. In other words, an injured person could file a PIP claim through their own insurance company AND make a liability claim against the driver who caused the accident.
These issues can become complicated when accidents involve multiple jurisdictions. If you are involved in an accident with insurance companies from multiple jurisdictions, it’s best to consult a personal injury lawyer who can sort it out and understands the laws in each jurisdiction.
Can you recover PIP benefits if you’re receiving workers’ compensation?
Workers’ compensation benefits are applied if you’re injured in an accident during work, or while performing work-related duties. Therefore, if you’re driving a company vehicle, or driving your personal vehicle for work purposes, you can still claim insurance benefits if you’re injured in an accident.
You can claim PIP benefits in these situations, but the amount of workers’ compensation benefits you receive would be deducted from your PIP benefits.
Do you need a lawyer to settle an insurance claim?
If your injuries are minor and treated immediately, then you can likely take the settlement offered by your insurance company if it fully covers your expenses.
But if you’re looking at long-term medical treatment for severe injuries or if it’s hard to estimate the total costs of your injuries, then you should consult a lawyer.
The insurance company’s objective is to settle your claim by paying out the least amount of money you would accept for your loss... not to make sure your expenses are covered.
On the other hand, a lawyer’s role is to make sure that both your present and future expenses are covered in their entirety. They will consult with financial experts, medical experts, actuaries, damage investigators, and other relevant individuals in order to reach an amount that fully covers your financial costs.
If your injury is severe, requires ongoing or continued treatment, or includes costs for pain and suffering or mental anguish, your best option could be to file a lawsuit because PIP won’t cover those losses. In addition, if your losses amount to more than the maximum on your PIP policy, you would need to file a lawsuit to recover the remaining damages.
An experienced Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyer should know the details of the law, your insurance policy coverage, and what you should expect from a settlement or lawsuit following a District car accident.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.