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A Guide to Washington’s Comparative Fault System

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Is Washington a No-Fault State?

For cases like car accident claims and personal injury legal matters, Washington is an at-fault state, not a no-fault state. Under the state’s fault-based system for accident cases and insurance claims, injured victims have the legal option to file a claim against the at-fault party to recover compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance company provider.

In the Washington tort system, the liable party is the one whose insurer is responsible for paying a settlement to those injured in the accident they held responsibility for. If the accident claim exceeds the insurance policy, then an accident victim may file a lawsuit against the at-fault party to recover compensation from the individual.

What is Comparative Fault?

Comparative negligence, also known as comparative fault, is a principle used under tort-based systems of law. In states that use comparative negligence understandings of the law for personal injury and accident cases, multiple parties may be held partially responsible for causing an accident.

If, for example, you were in a motor vehicle accident and the judge determined that you were partially at fault for the accident, it would then become necessary to determine how much fault you carry. If you have been deemed liable for 30% of the accident, while 70% of the accident is the responsibility of others under comparative fault understandings of the law, then you may see your maximum compensation reduced by 30%.

There are multiple different types of Negligence laws across the country, and they vary state by state. Some states use a modified comparative negligence law, other states use contributory negligence rules, and some states use a pure comparative negligence understanding of the law.

Is Washington a Pure Comparative Fault State?

Washington state is a pure comparative negligence state.

Under pure comparative fault rules, a plaintiff who is 99% responsible for Causing an accident still has the right to seek compensation for their injuries and other losses. Note, however, that they will see their settlements reduced by 99% as part of the comparative fault rules.

Along with Washington state, California, Alaska, New Mexico, Arizona, New York, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana all use pure comparative negligence laws for personal injury and accident cases.

There are different types of modified comparative negligence state laws. For example, Arkansas does not allow plaintiffs to recover compensation if they were found to be 50% or more at fault for causing an accident. In states like Hawaii, Delaware, and Connecticut, the threshold is a little higher at 51%. But in pure comparative negligence states like our own, you can be anywhere up to 99% at fault for the next event and still have the right to pursue compensation for your injuries that were the result of the accident itself. If, however, an individual was 100% at fault, they may have no recourse for recovering compensation for their losses.

What Constitutes Negligence?

We all owe a certain duty of care to others we share the roadways with, those we welcome into our homes and properties, and those we employ. When that duty of care is breached, accidents happen, and injuries are often the result of those accidents.

A personal injury victim will attempt to prove negligence on the part of the liable parties to recover maximum compensation for their injuries and losses. The victim’s personal injury attorneys will build a case that supports their claim by attempting to establish the duty of care, show that that duty was breached, prove that the breach caused injury, and establish that those injuries resulted in economic and noneconomic damages.

If a party violated a law, operated their motor vehicle recklessly, or did not provide a safe environment for their staff or customers, they may be held liable for damages under comparative negligence laws.

What Are Examples of Comparative Negligence in Personal Injury Accident Claims?

Examples of negligence and personal injury cases are fairly simple to point out. If a motorist was driving drunk, texting while driving, or speeding, these would be examples of negligence in a car accident case. Similarly, if a property owner or management staff failed to address faulty flooring, slippery floors, or threats of falling objects, they may be held liable for damages as they were negligent and breached their duty of care to their customers, workers, and visitors.

But how might a victim be partially responsible in either of these two examples?

While a drunk driver may be primarily responsible for causing an accident, if you were driving over the speed limit or weaving in and out of traffic erratically, you may also be partially responsible for causing the accident. Likewise, a worker, visitor, or customer who ignores warning signs, doesn’t watch where they’re going or runs through a property may be partially responsible for premises liability cases and slip-and-fall accidents.

What Are the Differences Between Comparative and Contributory Negligence?

In a contributory negligence state, having even 1% of the blame for causing an accident can result in you being unable to recover a settlement for your damages.

Contributory negligence is largely considered archaic and cruel to accident victims. Very few states still use contributory negligence understandings of the law. Among those districts that use contributory negligence laws is Washington DC, which should not be mistaken with Washington state in this regard.

Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation

Comparative negligence laws allow victims who were partially responsible for accidents to still recover damages from insurance companies if they were injured in the accident. This is generally considered a more forgiving accident victim protection than what is seen in contributory negligence states.

For a better understanding of Washington’s comparative fault rules, please contact our Seattle-based Law Offices for a free consultation.

In addition to offering free, no-obligation consultations, our law firm operates on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t pay unless we win.

Contact us today at 206-900-9900.

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