Following up on my recent blog about the dangers in Oregon’s system of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage an incident on Interstate-5 near Olympia, Washington is bringing similar issues into focus north of the Columbia River.
According to The Olympian an arraignment is scheduled to take place next week for a man “whose vehicle crashed into a 16-year-old Oregon girl” killing her and injuring both the driver himself and two other people. The 40-year-old man from Poulsbo, Washington faces vehicular homicide charges “as well as four counts of reckless endangerment.”
The newspaper reports that the accident took place when one car, which multiple witnesses described as driving erratically, hit two other cars that were stopped in a breakdown lane and waiting for assistance. The 16-year-old who had been driving one of those cars was killed in the accident and her mother was seriously injured. Two other people – the girl’s uncle and brother – were not injured. Also injured was the driver of the erratic car along with his 8-year-old daughter.
Washington law requires drivers to carry insurance with a coverage level of at least $25,000 for injuries to or the death of other people as well as $10,000 of property damage coverage. This would seem to be a clear case where even if the driver was properly insured his coverage would have been inadequate when set against the damage he caused. In Oregon the required minimums are slightly different: $20,000 in property damage coverage, $15,000 in personal injury protection coverage and $25/$50,000 per person/accident in uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (the basic $25,000 bodily injury requirement is the same in both states). More importantly, had the accident taken place in Oregon the victims would also have to cope with a state limit of $500,000 on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases (Washington does not cap wrongful death judgements).
Situations like this call both that limit and the required minimum levels of coverage into question. Simply put: in many serious accidents coverage at these levels is wholly inadequate. As a Portland lawyer with a practice focusing on car accidents, wrongful death claims and injuries to children cases I see cases like this all too often. We need to rethink the coverage that we require drivers to carry as well as the limits we place on damages, especially when the victims are young and have their whole lives ahead of them.
Washington State Insurance Commissioner: Washington State’s Mandatory Insurance Law
Washington State Insurance Commissioner: What to do if you’re hit by an uninsured or underinsured driver