If you haven’t been involved in a personal injury lawsuit, it may come as a surprise that even if someone else is at fault for your injuries, you may not be awarded the full value of your compensation. That’s because some states (including Washington and Oregon) are comparative negligence states.
What is Comparative Negligence?
In jurisdictions that observe comparative negligence (or comparative fault), determining who is liable is not a simple cut and dry decision. With comparative negligence, a plaintiff may be held partially liable for their injuries or personal property damages. That’s not to say they can’t be awarded financial compensation, it’s just that a judge or jury may find them partially to blame for what caused the damages, and then deduct that amount from the amount that is awarded.
There are four ways that courts determine responsibility in the U.S. legal system:
Pure comparative negligence – In comparative negligence, a judge or jury may decide that the plaintiff is 10 percent responsible for the damages. That means if the claim was for $20,000, they would be awarded $18,000.
Pure contributory negligence – In a handful of states, if the victim bears any level of responsibility for the injuries or damages, the defendant cannot be held liable at all.
Modified comparative negligence (50% rule) – A plaintiff can only win compensation if they are found 50 percent responsible or less for their injuries or damages. Oregon observes the 50 percent rule.
Modified comparative negligence (51% rule) – A plaintiff can be held up to 51 percent responsible for their injuries or damages and still win a claim from the defendant.
If you’ve been involved in an incident where you incurred injuries and/or damages to your personal property, a judge or jury may consider you partially responsible for the results (even if you strongly feel you haven’t done anything wrong). This underscores the importance that, if your incident occurred in Washington or Oregon, you need an attorney who can state your case as effectively as possible to ensure you are awarded the amount you deserve.