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What is "comparative negligence" in a Seattle car wreck?

Previous posts here have discussed the basics of negligence and the elements that are usually necessary to prove in order to recover from a liable party in a personal injury lawsuit resulting from a car accident. Our readers may remember that the final element in this list is usually that of damages. That is, the plaintiff must be able to show what injuries were caused by the defendant's negligence, and that te plaintiff has suffered some loss due to the injuries. If the remainder of the case is proved, the amount of damages just needs to be calculated and the verdict rendered.

However, there are some potential roadblocks to collecting damages in a civil negligence lawsuit. We previously discussed mitigation, and how plaintiffs are supposed to take action to ensure that their injuries or other damages do not get worse than they have to be. However, there is another, potentially more impactful, doctrine that can affect the amount of damages a plaintiff may receive in Washington.

This is the doctrine of "comparative negligence." Arising from the older common law doctrine of "contributory negligence," the idea is that a person should not benefit from an accident that was partially one's own fault. Under the old theory, anyone who was in any way negligent could not recover damages, even if the other party was much more at fault. This rule has been softened in modern times, generally by statute, and most states, including Washington, now use a comparative negligence model. In this model, once it is determined that a defendant has been negligent and the amount of allowable damages are calculated, the actual amount of liability is reduced by the percentage of fault the jury, or judge, finds lies with the plaintiff. That is, if a plaintiff is considered to be 10 percent at fault for an accident, then the defendant, assuming there is only one other person involved, is 90 percent responsible. So, if the damages to the plaintiff were found to be $1,000, the plaintiff would actually be awarded $900, a 10 percent reduction due to the plaintiff's own fault.

Of course, this kind of apportionment of fault can be quite subjective, and defendants will use comparative negligence to try to reduce the amount they have to pay. Further, it can get much more complicated if there is potential fault on the part of three or more parties, as in multi-vehicle accidents, or if the state is involved due to failure to maintain a road or other factors. Those who have been involved in car accidents may wish to consider seeking counsel from an experienced Seattle injury attorney.

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