Let’s say you were injured in a car accident, but you feel you were partly at fault for the crash: Is it possible for you to hold the other driver liable for your damages?
The short answer to this question under Washington law is yes, but there are some important limitations.
In a typical car accident case, one driver runs a stop sign or otherwise breaches the duty of care, causes the accident and the injuries, and can therefore be held liable for the injured person’s damages. However, there are many cases where two or more parties share some fault for the accident.
To address these situations, Washington law follows the principle of contributory fault. This means injured parties are not barred from recovering compensation if they were partly at fault for the accident, but their recovery is reduced in proportion to their share of the fault.
To illustrate this idea, imagine an accident in which Zack’s pickup truck collides with Yvette’s car, and Yvette is injured. Her damages total $100,000. A court finds Zack acted negligently by running a stop sign. However, Yvette also acted negligently by failing to look to her left before entering the intersection.
The court weighs the evidence and decides what percentage of fault Yvette and Zack hold for the accident. The court determines that Yvette’s negligence makes her 20% at fault for the crash. Under the contributory fault principle, Yvette can hold Zack liable for her damages, but her recovery is reduced by 20%. She can recover only $80,000.
Under Washington law, Yvette could theoretically recover even if she bore most of the fault for the accident. However, the higher her percentage of fault, the lower her recovery.
People who have been injured in an accident should know that they can recover compensation even if they were partially to blame for the accident. However, they should discuss the matter carefully with a skilled personal injury attorney.