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How Contributory Fault Affects Washington Auto Accident Claims

Posted On: September 21, 2022

In personal injury cases, such as auto accidents, the law says the at-fault party must pay. But who is the at-fault party? In some cases, it’s easy to determine whom to blame. The person who is responsible for the accident is the person who irresponsibly caused it: the motorist who ran the red light or the stop sign, who failed to yield or made an illegal U-turn. The victim is the innocent driver, passenger or pedestrian, minding their own business and following the law.

Unfortunately, accidents are not always so clear cut. What happens when two drivers make unsafe maneuvers that contribute to an accident? Suppose Driver A makes an illegal U-turn, but Driver B couldn’t react in time, because his eyes were down as he was sending a text message. In such cases both drivers contributed to the accident, so who is legally at fault?

State laws on contributory fault vary — Washington and 12 other states use a system known as pure comparative negligence. This means that the judge or jury assigns a percentage of the total fault to each party, and each can recover that percentage of their total losses from the other. In the example above, the jury might assign 70 percent of the fault to Driver A, who made the illegal U-turn and 30 percent to Driver B, who was texting while driving. If Driver B sues Driver A, he can recover 70 percent of his total losses from Driver A. Of course, Driver A can countersue, and may be able to get as much as 30 percent of his losses from Driver B.

In some states, Driver A would be unable to recover any damages because he bears more than 50 percent of the blame for the crash. But Washington does not have the bar at 50 percent or 51 percent that many other states use.

If you’ve been in a car accident, how fault gets apportioned will be a critical issue in your case. Experienced legal representation is crucial if you are to recover the compensation you truly deserve. To schedule a free consultation and case evaluation, call Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler PLLC today at 253-383-5388 or contact our office online.