If you’re stopped at a red light and your car is struck from behind by another car, you know you probably have the right to hold the other driver liable for your damages. But what if you weren’t entirely blameless for the accident in which you were injured? Can you recover compensation from another driver if you were partly at fault for the accident?
Under Washington law, you can. However, there are some important limitations.
To explain how this works, first let’s talk about how things used to work.
Traditionally, courts held that contributory negligence was a bar to recovery. This means that if your negligence contributed to to the accident at all, you could not recover compensation. Theoretically, at least, this mean that you could have been rear-ended at the stoplight in the example above, and if it turned out that one of your brake lights was not functioning, you would not be able to recover any compensation from the other driver, no matter how severe your injuries and associated medical expenses.
This way of dealing with contributory negligence struck many people as unnecessarily harsh. Over the years, most states have reformed their laws to give people a chance at compensation even if they are partially at fault.
Washington now follows a model known as pure comparative negligence. Under this rule, a person who contributed negligence can recover compensation from another negligent party. However, their recovery must be reduced in proportion to their share of fault.
When considering this type of case, a court will assign a percentage of fault to each party. If the plaintiff contributed 25% of the fault for the accident, then their recovery is reduced by 25%. If they contributed 50% then their recovery must be reduced by 50%.
Theoretically, a plaintiff could have been 99% responsible and still recover compensation. But in such a case, the plaintiff’s recovery would be reduced by 99%. They’d be able to collect only 1% of their damages.
Learn how the law applies to your unique set of facts
Legal principles may seem very abstract and distant when you are dealing with the long aftermath of a car accident, but they can bring results that are crucial.
Your medical expenses may be piling up at a time when you are unable to work. On top of that, you experience continued pain and other problems due to your injuries. Comparative negligence law makes it easier for more people to recover compensation for these damages.