A Seattle personal injury attorney’s guide to comparative negligence

If you have been injured in an auto accident in Seattle, determining who exactly is at fault can be complicated. It is not always clear who the at-fault party is or the cause behind the victim’s injuries. While there could be a primary at-fault party that caused the accident, the accident could also be partially the fault of the victim was distracted, negligent or unsafe.

If both parties share responsibility for the auto accident or injuries sustained in it, comparative negligence or comparative fault may apply.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Comparative negligence limits the amount of damages an accident victim can recover due to their own contribution to their injuries or damages. For example, if you have the right of way and are struck by another vehicle running a red light- the other vehicle is clearly at fault. If you, however, suffer severe injuries because you failed to wear a seatbelt you would be held partially responsible for your injuries.

These cases are decided differently depending on state, but in the majority of states, the level of responsibility is determined by a percentage which corresponds with the level of compensation. There are four systems in the United States for determining the level of compensation: pure contributory negligence, pure comparative negligence, modified comparative negligence 50% bar rule, and modified comparative negligence 51% bar rule.

Pure Comparative Negligence

States Applicable: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Washington State

Pure comparative negligence systems rely on a judge or jury to determine the level of responsibility the victim had in the accident based on a percentage and then will allow compensation based on that percentage.

Example: In Susan and John’s auto accident John was found to be 99% responsible for his injuries. The total in damages was $10,000. In a pure comparative negligence system Susan will only have to pay for 1% of John’s damages- $100.00

Pure Contributory Negligence:

States Applicable: Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia

A pure contributory negligence system maintains that if the victims contributed in any way to their own harm the at-fault party cannot be held accountable.

Example: Susan crashes her car into John, but John is found 5% responsible for the damages. In a pure contributory negligence system John will receive no compensation since he was found to be 5% responsible for the damages. This system was based off laws in England and only continues to be used in 5 U.S. states: Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia

Modified Comparative Negligence-50% bar rule

States Applicable: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia

In this system, the injured person can only be compensated if they are deemed less than 50% responsible for the damages. If they are found to be responsible for 50% or more of the damages they receive no compensation.

Modified Comparative Negligence- 51% bar rule

States Applicable: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming

In a comparative negligence system with a 51% bar rule, if the accident victim is found to be less than 51% responsible for the damages they can be compensated. So if the victim contributes to 50% of the damages they will be compensated for 50% of the cost associated with these damages. If, however, the victim is found responsible for 51% of the damages, they will receive nothing.

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Navigating the courts, the insurance companies, and your health care provider can be stressful and complicated. Experienced personal injury attorney Jason Epstein has represented hundreds of auto accident injury victims in Seattle and Bellevue, and knows how confusing the process can be, Learn how to choose the best attorney for your injury case — and that you may not even need a lawyer at all. Before you sign any document from the insurance adjuster, order The Truth About Washington Auto Accidents, absolutely free, from our website.

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