Personal injury Lawyer Matt Arnold answers the question: “If I am injured in a car accident or at work what should I do?”
When a person thinks of an “automobile”, chances are they imagine nearly anything roadworthy. The term is conventionally defined broadly, and includes things like cars, vans, trucks, tractor-trailers, motorcycle and buses. Though this might be what most people think of when they imagine an automobile, most people, at least those in Washington State, would be wrong. A recent personal injury case there hinged on the definition of “automobile” and the answer about what qualifies might surprise you, it certainly surprised the plaintiff.
The case begins back in 2011 on a cold day when freezing rain was in the forecast. A woman, Svetlana Koren, put her 11-year-old son on a school bus that morning. On the way, the slick roads proved dangerous and the bus her son was traveling on collided with a second school bus. The crash resulted in injuries to the young boy that required medical intervention.
Koren then did what many people might do in the situation and filed a claim with her insurance company, State Farm. Koren had an insurance policy that included standard language covering her and her family members for personal injury protection that would pay medical bills if they were injured in an “automobile accident”. Expecting to get a speedy approval, she was surprised to hear that her claim had been rejected. State Farm denied the request, arguing that two buses crashing into one another does not a “automobile accident” make.
The issue boils down to one of defined terms. The policy depends upon understanding what qualifies as an automobile accident in Washington State. Assuming “accident” is fairly self-explanatory, the focus fell on what qualified as an automobile. According to State Farm, the issue was not ambiguous. The Washington legislature had quite clearly spelled out what qualifies: every motor vehicle registered or designed to carry 10 passengers or less. In this case, the school buses were both designed to carry more than 10 people, meaning neither vehicle was technically an “automobile”.
Koren went for help, eventually finding an attorney as outraged as she was. Her personal injury lawyer felt the issue was ridiculous given that any reasonable person would expect the insurance coverage to apply in a case like this. The two fought the denial and lost at the superior court level. The judge was clearly sympathetic and wrote that he did not like the outcome. That said, he agreed that the language of the law was unambiguous and made clear that buses, at least those carrying more than 10 people, do not count as automobiles. He said that the only way this could be changed is if the legislature asserts itself and changes the wording of the law. After all, it seemed clear that the intention was never to prevent victims of bus accidents from filing personal injury claims.
After losing, Koren brought her case to the state appeals court and, sadly, lost yet again. The appeals court reiterated the previous decision that the question is not ambiguous and that it remains up to the legislature to resolve. Koren and her attorney are now considering appealing to the state supreme court.
One of the reasons Koren is interested in continuing her fight is her fear that the language will not be changed, leaving people like her son and many others vulnerable. Not only would those involved in crashes with two buses not be covered, any pedestrians or bicyclists involved in accidents with a bus would similarly be denied insurance protection. Until the language is clarified that buses are considered automobiles, there remains a serious gap in personal injury protection.
If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
The skilled personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to maximizing the financial recovery and obtaining justice for every personal injury client injured by another party’s negligence. The issues our personal injury clients may be facing include, but are not limited to, slip and fall injuries, wrongful death, product liability, catastrophic injuries, dog bite claims, car and truck accident injuries, motorcycle injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), nursing home negligence, spinal cord injury, boating accidents, and defective medical device injury. Our personal injury attorneys understand the devastating impact such an injury can have on a person’s life, and that the effects so often go beyond physical pain and suffering. The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to helping clients determine the strength of their claims, and to aggressively pursuing the means necessary to achieve the best possible end result for each client’s particular situation.
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