Contributory Negligence: What it is and how it affects Washington state negligence lawsuits

As an attorney, about half of my casework consists of personal injury law. Personally, I enjoy helping clients faced with terrible and unexpected situations to get their lives back on track.

This casework isn’t cut-and-dry. In addition to the ordinary issues—causation, evidence, damages, etc.—fault is also relevant, since Washington state applies the rule of contributory negligence.

In essence, contributory negligence is when the plaintiff—the person initiating the lawsuit—may be partially (or in some cases, mostly) at fault.

A great example of this is if you were crossing the street and a vehicle struck you. Now, this situation is immediately unfavorable for all parties involved. The driver has just hit a pedestrian, and you’ve just gotten hit by a car! To make matters worse, though, you happened to be jaywalking.

If you are hurt and sue for damages, you—the pedestrian and victim—of the accident can be found partially at fault. For example, a jury may decide that the driver should be held liable for 70% of the injury and associated damages. However, that means that you are responsible for the other 30%. Any jury award you get would thereby be reduced by this percentage.

Some states deny any damages to plaintiffs who are just partially—even minimally—at fault. In these states, a plaintiff who is just 1% at fault for the situation—be it a motor vehicle accident, a slip-and-fall case, a dog bite, even a wrongful death—cannot recover anything.

Other states reward damages in proportion to the fault. This means that even if a jury finds the plaintiff 99% at fault, he can still recover the remaining 1%. This is called “Pure Comparative Negligence,” and Washington is one of only twelve states in the U.S. that applies it.

What You Can Do

Though it may seem like your case is reduced if you are at fault, you should not just give up. Your best option in every instance is to consult an attorney to find out more about your state’s laws and how to proceed with a personal injury suit.

Using Washington’s Pure Comparative Negligence rule, I work to provide clients what they need to get their lives back on track. Injured people shouldn’t be the ones paying the price. Regardless of who was at fault, you are still entitled to your percentage.