Understanding Washington’s Contributory Fault Standard

Posted by Russell West | Jan 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

If you are injured in Washington, due to another's negligence, you should immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney. You would be surprised how many people with absolutely valid claims fail to pursue justice because they are simply misinformed of how the law works. Remember, even if you do not think you have a right to compensation for your injuries, contact a skilled Spokane injury attorney who can review the facts and offer accurate and informed advice.

The Challenge of Contributory Negligence

One common mistake is believing you cannot pursue a case if you played a role in your own injuries. This concept is known as contributory negligence, and states treat it differently. It may seem intuitive that a person cannot recover for injuries if he is partly responsible. On the other hand, if someone else does something equally dangerous or even more dangerous to cause serious injuries, it seems reasonable that he should shoulder some of the blame as well.

Many automatically think that they will not have a case in these situations. But this is simply untrue in most states, including Washington. Here is how the law approaches this problem.

How Does Contributory Negligence Work?

Every state decides how to handle the dilemma of compensating a person who shares responsibility for his injuries. There are three basic ways to treat it. Let's consider Joe.

Joe is driving home from work talking on his cell phone and almost blows through a stop sign. He looks up just in time to stop about five feet over the line but still not in the line of oncoming traffic. While stopped, a tree cutter negligently cuts a limb, dropping a large branch on Joe's car, causing him serious injuries. Clearly, Joe was negligent by driving distracted and not stopping before the line, and he probably would not have been hit if he was behind the line, but the tree cutter's actions were very dangerous and actually caused the injuries.

  1. Pure Contributory Negligence

In these states, you are indeed barred from recovering for your injuries, if you caused them. At the moment, there are only a small handful of states that use this approach. In these states, Joe would probably have a hard time being paid. However, in South Dakota, this theory is applied unless the plaintiff's negligence is “slight.” There, Joe might have a shot, depending on how the court construes “slight.”

  1. Pure Comparative Fault

In these states, the law apportions fault between the parties. Even if you are almost entirely to blame, you can recover from defendants who are less at fault than you. In other words, everyone pays his or her share of your injuries. This favors plaintiffs. Washington follows this theory. In Washington, Joe would be able to recover the proportion of the damages a jury attributes to the defendant, less his own fault.

  1. Modified Comparative Fault

In these states, the law allows a plaintiff to recover even if partly to blame; however, once the plaintiff's negligence reaches a predetermined percent, the plaintiff is completely barred. Depending on the state, it may be 50% or 51%. In these states, Joe's ability to recover would simply depend on how much fault the jury assigns him.

What to Do if You Think You Were Negligent


The law is rarely black and white. There are always exceptions and complex theories to analyze when trying to determine whether a person can bring an action and how much that person may be able to recover. No attorney can give you a precise estimate on these figures, but your best chance of success depends on finding competent and aggressive counsel. If you or someone you care about is hurt in Spokane or the surrounding areas, call the West Law Office today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Russell West

Russell West from West Law Office, located in Spokane, Washington represents clients in areas of criminal traffic, misdemeanors, and personal injury. DUI’s, Reckless Driving, Negligent driving, Hit and Run, and Driving with Suspended license are the majority of criminal traffic violations. Drug Charges, Theft, and Domestic Violence account for most of the other criminal cases Russell handles.

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Spokane Attorney Russell West practice areas include: Auto Accidents, Personal Injury, Motorcycle Accidents, Slip and Falls, DUIs, DOL Hearings, Criminal Traffic, Expungement/Vacating Records, and Insurance Bad Faith,

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