Comparative Negligence in Washington

You can collect damages up to the percentage you were not responsible for an accident in Washington State.
Written by Cassandra Hamilton
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
background
Washington is one of 12 pure comparative negligence states in the US. You can get damages paid to you after a car accident according to your percentage of fault. If you were 100% at fault, though, you’ll be responsible for both parties’ damages.
 When a car accident happens, you can’t believe it’s happening to you. Time slows down, but after you step away from the wreckage, reality sets in. Someone is at fault. 
Your state’s comparative negligence laws decide who’s responsible for paying what after an accident, so it’s important that you be knowledgeable in case it happens to you.
 
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What is comparative negligence?

After an accident, you can collect damages in proportion to your amount of fault thanks to comparative negligence.
 This legal term means that if you’re in an accident with another driver and it’s 25% your fault, you’re only responsible for 25% of the cost. The other driver will have to pay 75% of the damages for both of you.
 Comparative negligence applies to personal injury lawsuits and third-party insurance claims (i.e. a claim filed with another driver’s insurance). Judges and juries assign responsibility in personal injury lawsuits. Insurance companies use comparative negligence to assign damage percentages for insurance claims filed after an accident.

Comparative negligence vs. contributory negligence

Comparative negligence falls into one of three categories: pure comparative negligence, partial or modified comparative negligence, and contributory negligence. Each state has a law that falls under one of these categories.
  • Pure comparative negligence: injured parties collect damages according to their percentage of fault
  • Partial or modified comparative negligence: injured parties collect damages according to their percentage of fault unless it is higher than 50% or 51%, depending on the state
  • Contributory negligence: injured parties cannot collect any damages unless they are 100% not at fault
Only 5 states have pure contributory negligence laws and 12 states have pure contributory negligence laws. The rest have partial or modified comparative negligence laws.

What is Washington’s comparative negligence law? 

Luckily for you, Washington is one of the 12 pure comparative negligence states in the U.S. Thanks to this law, you can get damages paid to you based on your percentage of fault.
 Even if you are 99% at fault, you can still get 1% of those damages back from the other driver. Your insurance will have to cover up to 99% of the other party’s damages, though.

What happens if there are more than two responsible parties? 

Sometimes accidents happen where more than one driver is at fault. When this happens, the damages are split between the responsible parties. You can file a claim with either one of the insurance companies or with both companies. You’ll get damages based on the fault percentage of each driver.
 MORE: How to negotiate with automobile insurance adjusters

How is fault decided in a comparative negligence case?

For car accidents, the fault is assigned by the insurance companies. They look at submitted evidence along with police reports.
After an accident, take note of the evidence around you like:
  • The
    makes and models
    of the cars involved
  • The time of day
  • The weather conditions at the time of the accident
  • Witness accounts
  • Photograph the damage
  • Call the police if needed
 All of this will assist your insurance company in assigning blame correctly.

How does car insurance work with comparative negligence? 

You can file a claim with another driver’s insurance company even if you were partially at fault in an accident thanks to Washington’s pure comparative negligence law. You can claim a percentage of the damages based on the degree of the other driver’s responsibility.
Here’s an example
Another car winds up
running a red light
, and you hit them because you didn’t have enough time to stop. You saw the car, but you were going 10 mph over the speed limit, which affected your reaction time.
 You can still cover your damages by filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. When the insurance company investigates the accident, they will learn that the other driver ran the red light because they were distracted by a phone call. Due to their distraction, the insurance company assigns 65% of the blame to them, but you get the other 35% of the blame because you were speeding and failed to stop in time.
Because of Washington’s comparative negligence law, you would be allowed to collect 65% of the damages from the other driver’s insurance. If it costs $2,500 to repair your car, the other driver’s insurance would pay for $1,625 of the repair. The other $875 is up to you and your insurance company, depending on what your policy will cover.
The reverse applies as well—your insurance company will have to pay out 35% of the other driver’s damages if they file a claim

How to find affordable car insurance

Washington is one of the few states that makes it easy for all drivers to cover the costs of a car accident, but you shouldn’t rely on the state alone to save you money. The
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FAQ

Yes. The increase to your premium varies from company to company, but any insurance carrier will take your demographics, driving history, amount of fault, and other factors into account. The average increase is 20% after an at-fault accident.
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