How is fault determined in a car accident case?

Car accident cases can be very frustrating. Suffering an injury in a crash is bad enough, but determining who is at fault often turns into a complicated and confusing ordeal. The driver who hit you may not admit they were at fault. On top of that, the insurance company that represents the at-fault driver may try to shift the blame onto you.

If you were involved in a car accident in Washington, it’s important that you understand how fault is determined, so you can pursue compensation for your losses.

What is negligence in a car accident case?

Negligence is defined in Washington as the failure to exercise ordinary care. It can be either: (1) the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would have done under the same or similar circumstances; or (2) doing something that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances. (WPI 10.01 Negligence—Adult—Definition; see also, System Tank Lines v. Dixon, 47 Wn.2d 147, 286 P.2d 704 (1955)).

In a car accident case, negligence can occur in a variety of settings. For example, when one driver acts carelessly or drives in a reckless manner, that is negligence. Failing to take proper safety measures that are necessary to avoid a crash is also negligence. Specific examples of negligence in auto accident cases include:

  • Distracted or inattentive driving
  • Speeding
  • Following too closely
  • Texting while driving
  • Running a red light
  • Failing to stop at a stop sign
  • Driving impaired
  • Drowsy driving
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way

How is fault determined?

Each state has a negligence rule involving collisions and determining who was at fault. When more than one party shares blame for causing an accident, Washington follows the comparative negligence rule. There are two types of comparative negligence – pure comparative fault and modified comparative fault. Washington has a pure comparative fault system. That means if a driver is 10 percent at fault, their settlement or verdict amount would be reduced by 10 percent.

As a result, in a case that involves two or more drivers, comparative negligence looks at the total percentage of fault shared by each driver, then apportions fault between all drivers accordingly. Together, all percentages must equal 100. Below are two basic examples:

  • A driver who is lawfully stopped at an intersection and is rear-ended by a distracted driver would be 0 percent at fault. The driver who drove into the car in front and caused the crash would be 100 percent at fault. (0% + 100% = 100%)
  • Imagine there are two drivers in a parking lot who are parked in opposite rows facing away from each other. As each vehicle backs out of their parking space, they collide mid-way in the center aisle, striking rear bumpers. In this scenario, both drivers would likely be found to be 50 percent at fault (50% + 50% = 100%).

How is fault proven?

Proving fault in a car accident depends on the facts in each case. Sometimes proving fault is relatively straight-forward. Other times it can be difficult. All cases require a thorough investigation to determine how the crash occurred and who was responsible. An experienced Seattle car accident attorney can obtain critical evidence needed to support your case by:

  • Hiring a crash reconstruction expert to examine the crash scene and take photos.
  • Obtaining cellphone records to determine if the other driver was distracted at the time of the crash.
  • Speaking to and interviewing witnesses if possible.
  • Obtaining police reports, photographs, 911 calls, and dash camera footage.
  • Obtaining and reviewing a copy of your accident report.
  • Examining surveillance camera footage when available.

Pursuing damages after a crash won’t be easy. Without an attorney, the insurance companies will likely do everything in their power to pay you as little as possible. If you speak to the other driver’s insurance company, you could unknowingly admit fault and hurt your chance of being fairly compensated. If you settle prematurely or accept a lowball offer from the insurance company, you may not be able to recover every dollar you may be eligible to receive in compensation.

Let an experienced attorney at Aaron Engle Law handle your car accident case for you. We will gather the facts, negotiate with the insurance companies and fight for just compensation on your behalf. To schedule your free and confidential case consultation, contact us online or call us today.