Your complete guide to auto insurance in the Evergreen State
The federal government doesn’t require American drivers to maintain car insurance. Instead, car insurance requirements are set at the state level. Washington (along with most other states) requires drivers to maintain a certain amount of liability insurance.
Despite the requirement, roughly 17% of drivers in Washington are uninsured.
In this article, we’ll take a look at car insurance requirements in the Evergreen State, including what to do if you’re involved in an accident with an uninsured driver.
Washington liability car insurance minimum requirements
The Revised Code of Washington § 46.30 requires anyone who drives a motor vehicle or motorcycle in the state to carry liability insurance with the following minimums:
- $25,000 for injuries or death to another person
- $50,000 for injuries or death to all other people
- $10,000 for damage to another person’s property
This insurance coverage is commonly referred to as “25/50/10 coverage” and it’s the easiest way for most drivers to comply with the law. There is, however, an alternative that involves depositing a large amount of money with the state in case of an accident.
Drivers who wish to go this route can:
- Apply for a certificate of deposit with the Washington Department of Licensing, and
- Have a liability bond of at least $60,000 filed by a surety bond company authorized to do business in Washington.
Washington’s liability insurance requirements only apply to motor vehicles and motorcycles. Motor scooters, mopeds, and horseless carriage vehicles are not required to be insured.
Penalties for driving without insurance in Washington
Washington requires drivers to provide proof of insurance upon request from a law enforcement officer. Drivers who do not have insurance are subject to a fine of up to $550. What’s more, drivers may have their license suspended.
The most severe consequence of driving without insurance, however, is that uninsured drivers who cause an accident are personally liable for all of the damages that result.
Not worried about being personally liable because you don’t have any money?
Even if you don’t have any money in your bank account, the other driver can obtain a court order that allows them to garnish your future wages and sell your assets (including, in some cases, your house and vehicles).
Optional Washington insurance coverage
The minimum liability insurance required may not be enough to cover a serious car accident, leaving you personally liable for the amount of damages that exceed your policy limits. For this reason, many people choose to purchase additional liability insurance.
Along with additional liability insurance, drivers in Washington can purchase the following optional coverage:
- Comprehensive coverage provides coverage for losses other than those caused by a collision (vandalism, falling objects, fire, etc.)
- Collision coverage provides coverage for damage to your vehicle caused by an accident with another vehicle or an object (such as a fence)
- Personal injury protection (PIP) provides up to $10,000 coverage regardless of who’s at fault (what’s covered depends on the specific policy)
- MedPay provides coverage for medical expenses incurred by you and your passengers regardless of who is at fault.
- Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage sustained by you or the passengers in your vehicle as a result of an accident involving an uninsured driver.
- Underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage provides coverage for bodily injury and property damage sustained by you or the passengers in your vehicle as a result of an accident involving a driver who has insufficient insurance to cover the damages.
All policies are not created equal.
A comprehensive coverage policy from one insurance provider may exclude damages caused by hail, whereas a comprehensive coverage policy from another insurance provider may cover damages caused by hail. Be sure to review the specific language of a policy before purchasing it.
How does insurance work when a friend or family member borrows your vehicle?
Contrary to what many people believe, liability insurance generally follows the vehicle in Washington, not the person. In other words, if you let someone borrow your car and they cause an accident, your liability insurance should pay for the damages to the other driver and their passengers.
If the damages exceed your policy limits, the insurance of the person who borrowed your vehicle may act as secondary coverage (i.e., cover the difference between your policy limits and the amount of damages sustained).
Collision and comprehensive coverage also typically follow the vehicle in Washington. On the other hand, PIP and MedPay coverage follows the driver.
Your rights under the Washington Insurance Fair Conduct Act
An insurance policy is a contract between the insured (you) and the insurance company. In exchange for a monthly premium, the insurance company agrees to provide the coverage set forth in the policy.
In 2007, Washington passed the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA) to ensure that insurance companies hold up their end of the bargain.
IFCA makes it illegal for your insurance company to unreasonably deny your insurance claim or engage in any unfair practices, which include things like:
- Misrepresenting pertinent facts or insurance policy provisions
- Failing to acknowledge and act reasonably promptly after a claim is filed
- Failing to promptly investigate a claim
- Refusing a claim without conducting a reasonable investigation
- Failing to affirm or deny a claim within a reasonable time
- Forcing the insured to initiate or submit to litigation by offering substantially less than the amount ultimately recovered in litigation
If your insurance company behaves unfairly, you have the right to sue them in court and seek punitive damages.
How to pursue damages after a Washington car accident
Washington has a fault-based insurance system. This means that the person responsible for causing a car crash is also responsible for paying the damages.
If you’re involved in an accident that’s not your fault, you have 3 options for recovering damages:
- File an insurance claim with your own insurance company (in this situation, your insurance company will turn around and pursue reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s insurance company)
- File a third-party insurance claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, or
- File a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver.
Unfortunately, if the driver who caused the accident doesn’t have insurance, your only option is to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver for any amount that exceeds your uninsured motorist coverage (if you have it).
Do you still have questions about Washington insurance law? Use our free online directory to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney near you.