The Washington Underinsured Motor Vehicle Insurance Statute: Reading the Legislature’s Mind

Dennis A. Dellwo & John S. Conniff, The Washington Underinsured Motor Vehicle Insurance Statute: Reading the Legislature’s Mind,  23 Gonz. L. Rev 235 (1988)

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Since 1980, the Washington State Legislature has amended the Underinsured Motor Vehicle Insurance (UIM) Statute three times. Nevertheless, the statute remains a patchwork of provisions that create ambiguity and confusion. Apart from its legal deficiencies, the statute contains an incomprehensible maze of modifying clauses.Where the Legislature has failed in clarifying, the judiciary has intervened to produce a body of law that interprets and reinterprets nearly every provision of the statute.’ The judiciary has often strained to divine legislative intent and in some instances has invited the Legislature to amend the statute. The judiciary’s impact upon the UIM coverage cannot be overstated. The connection between case law and the statute has created the most difficult problem in reforming the UIM statute. Any change to the UIM statute threatens to modify judicial interpretation of the statute. Such a threat necessarily creates an instant constituency comprising attorneys whose practice is favored or disadvantaged by such change. These competing interests have created a legislative impasse leaving to the judiciary the task of providing guidance in interpreting the UIM statute. This article reviews recent case law interpreting the UIM statute and considers the difficulties in reaching a legislative solution to the technical and legal problems of the existing UIM statute. . .

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