Yes, both parties can be found at fault in a car accident. In the state of Washington, this is called a contributory fault. Under RCW 4.22.005, both parties may be found at fault for the incident, and one may still collect compensation for those injuries.
When both are found at-fault, however, it is essential to understand how the law works and whether or not you could receive compensation. In some instances, you may be barred from compensation if you are also at fault for the incident.
How Comparative/Contributory Fault Works in the State of Washington
Every state has laws regarding contributory fault and negligence. Washington uses the contributory fault laws, which means that each party in the accident can share a portion of the blame. When this occurs, a percentage of fault is assigned to each party.
For example, you were injured in an accident with a drunk driver. You were speeding at the time of the accident. And while you did not cause it initially, your speed made the accident worse than it would have been if you were driving the posted speed limit. In this instance, you are both at fault, and now the court must decide what percentage you contributed versus the other driver.
It is crucial to understand how contributory fault works because it can dramatically impact your case and compensation value.
How Your Partial Fault Affects Your Compensation Value
During your trial, or even during private negotiations, the goal is to determine what percentage of fault is assigned to each party. The portions then apply to the value of compensation paid by the defendant to the plaintiff.
When the plaintiff is assigned a portion of fault, their compensation award is reduced by the percentage they contributed. This prevents plaintiffs from receiving full compensation when they are still partially at fault for their injuries and prevents a defendant from paying for a plaintiff’s negligence.
For example, you were speeding when the drunk driver caused your accident. The court assigns you 20% of the fault for the incident. The jury then awards you $100,000 in compensation. Since you were 20% at fault, the court will reduce your compensation by 20%, which is $20,000. Therefore, you would receive only $80,000 from the defendant.
How Much at Fault Can You be Assigned and Still Recover Damages?
You can still be partially at fault and recover damages, but the defendant must be more at fault than you. If you are more at fault, then you cannot seek compensation, and the defendant could turn around and become the plaintiff – suing you for damages.
The Importance of Hiring an Attorney and Establishing Negligence
Even if you were not partially at fault or you do not think you were, it is the job of every insurer to try and reduce how much compensation they pay out on these injury claims. Therefore, the insurance company may try to put a portion of the fault on you to reduce the settlement amount.
Having an experienced personal injury attorney is crucial. Your attorney’s sole job is to make sure the amount of fault assigned to you is as low as possible – and zero if you were not at fault for the incident. An attorney does so by reviewing evidence, collecting witness statements, and showing the court how the defendant was at fault or more at fault for the accident and, therefore, financially responsible for your injuries.
Some evidence your attorney will review and use to prove you were not as negligent as the defendant includes:
Likewise, the defendant will try to do the same – only this time pushing the fault more on you than them. Whether you are fighting against another attorney or the insurance company, the defense’s side will always work hard to lessen how much they have to pay. Also, insurance companies will use whatever they can to place part of the blame on the victim. For example, you apologized at the accident scene. That could be used as an admission that you were partially at fault – even if you were just apologizing out of human nature.
Should You Hire an Attorney Even If You Are Not at Fault?
You may assume that, if you were not at fault for the accident, there is no reason to hire an attorney. Even when the evidence looks clear-cut and you think you have a strong case, you must realize that you are going up against insurance companies who have a team of attorneys that handle claims like this weekly. When you try to represent yourself in a personal injury case, you are unlikely to get the compensation you deserve for your accident and injuries.
An attorney who handles personal injury claims has experience dealing with insurance companies and their lawyers. They know the tactics these companies will use to lessen your compensation. Most importantly, they advocate for your right to fair compensation for your injuries. An attorney knows how much your claim is worth, and they fight aggressively to get maximum compensation. They also handle all of the tasks involved in filing a personal injury claim. When you have someone handling the claims and negotiations for you, you can focus on recovering from your injuries.
If you or a loved one was recently injured in an accident, whether you were partially at fault or not, you should always consult with an injury attorney. There is no risk or obligation to meet with an attorney, and your consultation is confidential. Talking with a local injury attorney can help you decide not only if you have a valid injury claim, but also explore your options for receiving compensation.
To get started, schedule your free case evaluation with the team at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC. You can call our office directly to schedule your appointment or connect with us online via our contact form