How Your Comparative Negligence Affects Your Washington Personal Injury Case

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

People who have suffered a personal injury due to the fault of others may have the basis for a lawsuit against the person or company that harmed them. In Washington, opposing parties may both seek compensation from one another even if they are both at fault for the accident that caused their injuries.

Comparative Negligence

With an exception for a few special types of cases, Washington is a comparative negligence state pursuant to RWC §4.22.005. In comparative negligence, a percentage of fault can be assigned to the person who is harmed and his award is reduced by the same percentage. For example, if the plaintiff had damages of $100,000, but the jury or judge found that the plaintiff was 25% responsible for the accident, the award is reduced by twenty-five percent. Consequently, plaintiff’s award is $75,000 instead of $100,000.

Person With A Greater Degree Of Fault May Still Recover Damages

Moreover, a person who may have a greater degree of fault can still receive an award under the pure comparative negligence rules. Suppose Joe crosses the centerline of the road when he is driving and collides with a car driven by Beth. Beth is on her side of the road, but she is texting. Beth does not see Joe cross the centerline and fails to take action to avoid hitting Joe, so Beth has some degree of fault.   Fortunately, Beth suffered relatively minor injuries incurring medical bills that totaled $10,000. Joe, however, suffered serious injuries and was in the hospital for a week. His medical bills totaled $150,000.

The case goes to trial and the jury finds that both Beth and Joe were at fault in the accident. Joe is found to be 75% at fault. The jury further determines Beth was texting and not paying proper attention when she was driving. The jury finds that if Beth had paid proper attention, she could have avoided the accident completely.   The jury assigns 25% of the fault to Beth. Both Beth and Joe may seek to recover their losses from each other, although their take home award is reduced by their degree of fault.

Your Fault Reduces Your Award

Although Joe was judged 75% at fault, he can still collect for his injuries. However, his award is reduced by the degree of fault that is assigned to him. In this instance, Joe’s damages were $150,000. Since Joe was found to be 75% at fault for the accident due to his negligence, he can only collect 25% of his total damages. The arithmetic for Joe’s damages is as follows: $150,000 x .25 (25%) = $37,500. Beth, who was found to be 25% at fault for the accident, is entitled to 75% of her total damages of $10,000. However, since Beth’s damages are so much less than Joe’s, she will receive less than Joe in this case. To calculate the amount Beth will receive, multiply her damages of $10,000 x .75 (75%) =$7,500.

The arithmetic example provided above is simple.  A jury has a more complex decision making process, as can be seen in the jury verdict form.

Joe and Beth’s scenario is unusual, but it can happen. The important lesson is that a person with a high degree of fault can successfully bring an action and recover damages. An experienced personal injury attorney can guide you through the complexities of a comparative negligence case.

Moreover, the scenario with Joe and Beth was based on a lawsuit being filed and then a counterclaim being filed. Frequently, only one party has damages. Suppose, a person enters a grocery store, trips and falls because some produce has fallen on the floor. In this case, the store would be liable if the store personnel were negligent when they failed to keep the floor clean. Similarly, the person’s conduct that fell would be examined to see if she was negligent. In awarding damages, the court would reduce the award given to the customer by any percentage of fault she had in causing the accident.

When Comparative Negligence Does Not Apply In Washington Personal Injury Cases

Not all personal injury cases are subjected to the comparative negligence rule. Washington’s legislature has deemed specific cases to fall under strict liability irrespective of the other party’s fault. One example is if you were injured when a dog bites you (as opposed to scratching you). The traditional rule in dog bite cases is the dog gets one free bite. That means the dog owner must have had knowledge his dog was vicious before the owner can be held liable for his dog attacking someone. The logic is an owner is not on notice that his dog is vicious until his dog bites someone. Consequently, the dog gets one free bite. Pursuant to RCW 16.08.040, dog owners are strictly liable for dog bites. Strict liability means a person is held accountable, no excuses allowed. Thus, it would not matter that you had accidentally stepped on the dog’s tail, which caused the dog to bite you. The owner will still be held 100% liable for your injuries and your award would not be decreased by your percentage of negligence. That being said, the statute specifies a dog owner is strictly liable if the dog bites someone who is in a public place or bites a person who is legally at a private residence.  However, if you intentionally provoke the dog to bite you, then the dog owner is not liable to you for any damages.

Keyword: Washington personal injury case

Title: How Your Comparative Negligence Affects Your Washington Personal Injury Case

Description: Grasp an understanding of comparative negligence in personal injury cases and how your shared fault can affect your potential compensation.


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