SKCBA Annual Holiday Party at Acme Bowl


December 8, 2013 – On December 2nd, the South King County Bar Association (SKCBA) hosted its annual Holiday Party at Acme Bowl. HIP’s very own Erik Olsen is the acting President of the SKCBA for the 2013-14 term and organized the event. Both the holiday party and the concurrent Seahawks’ game were Monday night successes!


Life After A Car Accident: 99 Problems But PIP Ain’t One

October 25, 2013 – A few months into my personal injury practice, I found myself constantly wading through insurance policies; a veritable labyrinth of legal terms, definitions, and acronyms. Drudging on through these lifeless pages of text proved to be about as exhilarating as reading a dictionary in a foreign language. However, within time I began to understand the nuanced variations between UIM coverage (under-insured motorist) and UM coverage (uninsured motorist), the process of subrogation, and the stark realities of the inaptly named IME (“independent” medical evaluation). In practice, I also began to notice that my car accident clients with Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage typically were far better off in both the treatment and settlement phases of their cases. In fact, after working through a few cases with PIP coverage, I quickly got on the phone with my own insurance agent and added a PIP policy to my auto coverage. So, what made me a PIP believer?
PIP coverage is a benefit you can add to your auto policy that helps pay for medical bills, wage loss, loss of services (e.g. household maintenance), and funeral expenses arising from a car accident. In my experience, PIP policies are primarily used to help pay for the client’s medical bills. Another interesting trait of PIP coverage is that it covers the insured regardless if the insured was at fault for the accident. As for medical treatment, PIP coverage applies to medical bills incurred within three years of the date of the collision; however, the medical bills must be reasonable in amount, medically necessary, and causally related to the auto accident.  Typically, PIP coverage extends to:
(1) the person(s) named on the policy;
(2) minor family members in the household;
(3) passengers in an insured vehicle; and
(4) pedestrians that are struck by an insured vehicle.
Most PIP policies I have come across have limits between $10,000 to $35,000. So, what are the real-life, practical applications that justify jumping on the PIP bandwagon?
First, Washington is a comparative fault state; meaning, insurance adjusters, judges or jurors who evaluate your case can delineate the fault into percentages. For example, someone can be deemed 20% at fault for an accident and the other person can be deemed 80% at fault. In this scenario, the predominantly at-fault party would only have to pay for 80% of the other party’s medical bills. Since PIP coverage is “no-fault” insurance, the policy will help pay for your related medical bills, regardless of any breakdown of comparative fault.
Second, unbeknownst to most people (including myself when I started to practice law), when you are involved in a car accident, you are personally responsible/liable for your own treatment related to the accident. In other words, if a client is treating for injuries caused by the at-fault party, the client is financially on the hook for any doctors’ visits, chiropractic adjustments or sessions of physical therapy. Failure of the client to timely pay their bills or enter into an amenable payment arrangement often leads to the client being sent to collections (thus damaging their credit). Strangely, the way our system is designed, the at-fault party reimburses the injured party for injuries sustained; which, ideally is at the end of treatment. However, the treatment duration for car accident injuries can subsist for weeks, months or even years! Sure, the at-fault insurance company might try to get the client to settle early, but who wants to sign a settlement agreement before they are aware of the extent of their injuries? This is why PIP coverage is so helpful. PIP coverage helps the client stay on top of their bills so that they are able to pursue the recommended treatment, maintain financial stability, and, ultimately, maximize the value of any settlement with the at-fault insurance carrier.
Lastly, a client is typically better off in the subrogation phase of their case when they have a PIP policy and an attorney. What is subrogation you may ask? Subrogation is the process where, after you have settled a case, your own insurance carrier(s) seeks reimbursement out of your settlement for any benefits they paid related to your car accident. Subrogation usually comes as a surprise to most people, because they believe that the insurance premiums they pay would keep their own insurance company from trying to recoup money from them. Unfortunately, in virtually every insurance contract, there is a subrogation clause that permits your insurance company to recoup all, or at least some, of the benefits paid when you receive a settlement. If you have an attorney, however, there are several favorable cases in Washington that require the subrogating insurance company to bear their fair share of their insured’s attorneys’ fees and costs when seeking reimbursement. This typically equates to an appreciable reduction in the subrogation amount. For example, if a client had their PIP policy pay $10,000 in medical bills, an attorney can typically negotiate the PIP subrogation down to $6,600 (i.e. an additional $3,400 in the client’s pocket). Without an attorney, the client may be forced to pay the full $10,000 back to their insurance carrier.
In the end, I have found that a PIP policy cultivates a smoother environment for the client when they are treating their injuries and settling their auto accident claim. Now, that is not to say I have not had my difficulties with PIP policies (e.g. client’s insurance company arguing about what treatment is and is not related to the accident), but my overall experiences have been quite positive. In any event, it is certainly worth a call to your insurance agent to see what a PIP policy would cost to add to your auto policy, before you become the victim of hindsight.
 photo of Erik Olsen
Erik R. Olsen is a Personal Injury and Criminal Defense attorney with Hanis Irvine Prothero, PLLC. For a free consultation regarding personal injury, criminal, or traffic infraction matters, please call 253-520-5000.

Crash! Tips for dealing with an auto accident

The sound of metal crunching against metal is, unfortunately, a dismal sound most of us will hear at some point during our “driving careers”. There are no fast and easy solutions to the myriad of issues that can arise subsequent to the “crash”; however, this article will provide very general guidance on steps that individuals injured in accidents can take to make the inherently painful process as painless as possible.

Call 911
After any collision, no matter how small, call the police. Immediate assistance from emergency personnel is critical to assure that any injuries are appropriately handled. Furthermore, the police will investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident which enables you, the injured person, to have the best possible information available when making a claim.

When being questioned by emergency personnel, do not say that you are “fine” and do not refuse offered medical help, to do so may undermine a future claim. Provide only specific answers to questions asked by the police officers and resist the urge to go “on and on”. If you do not understand a question, DO NOT ANSWER IT.

Remain Calm
The aftermath of an accident can be unnerving. Even the smallest of collisions can feel horrific both emotionally and physically. In short, take a deep breath, relax and remain calm. Do not, for example, begin jabbering away to the other driver(s)/passengers about how the accident is “your fault”. In short, say as little as possible to everyone involved while fully cooperating, as set forth above, with emergency personnel.

Obtain Medical Treatment Immediately
If you are not transported by ambulance to a medical facility, go IMMEDIATELY to the emergency room for treatment. Ensure that you are fully checked out by medical personnel, including requesting X-rays of injured body parts. Follow up the day after the accident with your Primary Care Physician. Always tell your health care provider ALL symptoms you are experiencing; now is NOT the time to be stoic.

Cooperate with Your Insurance Company
Call your auto insurance company and make a claim under your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, if available. If your insurance company says you do not have PIP coverage, ask your insurance company to send you a letter confirming your waiver, in writing, of said coverage. You will need a PIP waiver letter to obtain coverage under a health insurance policy.

Do not talk to the adverse driver’s insurance carrier.

Consider consulting a Personal Injury Lawyer
No, this is not an advertisement for my services; instead, it is an attempt to make your life easier. There is no such thing as a “simple” auto accident, particularly when you are the person the accident has impacted. The last thing you want is to spend your valuable time navigating the bureaucracy of insurance claims and the medical industrial complex; you can hire an attorney to do that for you. Better yet, most personal injury attorneys will not charge you for their time until they recover money for you (yes, just like those ads you hear on TV).

I hope you don’t need the advice set forth above, but, if you do, take care of yourself, remain calm and feel better soon.

Vanessa Vanderbrug is a Personal Injury Attorney with the Kent Law Firm of Hanis Irvine Prothero, PLLC 253-520-5000,