Washington’s Comparative Negligence Laws

Washington follows the concept of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence allows claimants or plaintiffs in personal injury cases to recover compensation even if they are partially at fault for the accident. “The burden of pleading and proving the plaintiff's negligence is on the defendant, since the defendant seeks to reduce his/her damage payment,” according to the ruling in Godfrey v. State, 84 Wash.2d 959, 965, 530 P.2d 630 (1975).

But any settlement or award is reduced by the claimant’s or plaintiff’s proportion of fault in the accident. If an individual is 25 percent at fault in a case and suffered $10,000 in damages, he or she can only collect $7,500 rather than the full amount.

The "pure" aspect of the law in Washington means that there is no threshold of fault that a claimant or plaintiff has to be under to bring a claim. For example, a plaintiff can be 99 percent at fault for an accident and still recover one percent of his or her damages.

Other states use modified comparative fault systems where claimants or plaintiffs must be less than 51 percent or 50 percent at fault in order to collect any damages whatsoever.

What constitutes negligence?

Negligence generally means failing to provide reasonable care to prevent harm to others. Violating a duty of care owed to another party – for instance, all drivers have a duty of care to others who share the road – can be negligence.

So if a driver is speeding and weaving in and out of traffic, he or she is violating that duty and the actions are negligent. The concept is used along with other elements in a personal injury case to prove the defendant was responsible for the plaintiff's injuries.

The general elements of a personal injury lawsuit are:

  • a duty of care;
  • defendant breached that duty of care (negligence);
  • the breach was a proximate cause of injury; and
  • plaintiff suffered substantial damages.


Negligence per se means that a defendant is automatically negligent if he or she violated a law, rule or ordinance during the accident. But this generally does not apply in Washington.

Washington amends how the courts use the concept of negligence per se. The statute holds that "a breach of duty imposed by statute, ordinance or administrative rule shall not be considered negligence per se, but may be considered by the tier of fact as evidence of negligence." (Revised Code of Washington §5.40.050)

This revision of negligence per se is in effect except in cases of:

  • electrical fire safety;
  • smoke alarms;
  • needle sterilization; and
  • driving under the influence.

Get Help Proving Negligence in Seattle

If you’re in an accident that was deemed completely the other driver’s fault then their insurance company will have to pay both parties’ damages. However, in Washington State, if liability is disputed then your insurance company may have to pay, of which cost increase will invariably be passed on to you. Max Meyers Law is committed to helping victims recoup damages from negligent parties, like other drivers who violate their duty of care. Contact us at 425-399-7000 or fill out our contact page to set up your 

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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.