Why You May Still Have A Case Even If You Were Partially At Fault

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It is a common and dangerous misconception that a driver cannot recover for injuries if partially at fault.

This is based on the common law concept of contributory negligence. Under this doctrine, a person whose negligence in any way contributed to personal injuries was completely prevented from recovering compensation. Many viewed this as a draconian and unfair rule of law, which is why today only four states still follow it. Washington State is not one of them.

In Washington and most other states, the more forgiving rule of comparative negligence is the standard. Under this rule, you can recover for injuries you sustained in an accident that was partially your fault as long as, but for the negligence of another party, the accident would not have occurred. Juries are asked to apportion comparative fault between the plaintiff and defendants, with the injured victim’s compensation being reduced by whatever percentage of fault is assigned to that person.

Here’s how it works:

  • Driver A is driving down the road while exceeding the speed limit.
  • Driver B runs a red light and pulls into the road in front of Driver A, causing a collision.
  • Driver A is seriously injured.
  • Driver B suffers no injury.
  • A jury determines that if Driver A had been traveling at the speed limit, Driver A would have been able to avoid the collision with Driver B.
  • However, had Driver B not run the stop light, the accident would not have occurred.
  • The jury determines that Driver A was 20 percent responsible and Driver B was 80 percent responsible and finds that Driver A’s injuries are worth $200,000.
  • Driver A’s recovery would be reduced by 20 percent to $160,000 under Washington State personal injury law.