What happens when there’s more than one person responsible for an accident?
I can answer that question by looking at a chart. Let’s assume that total damages in this case are $100,000.00. Now the jury has to allocate fault among all of the people involved in the accident.
Let’s assume that your fault is zero and that the entire accident was caused by somebody we’ll call Smith; we give him 100% of the fault. In that case Mr. Smith is 100% responsible for the $100,000.00 award.
It gets more complicated if part of the fault is your own. If you are 10% at fault and Mr. Smith is 90% at fault, than the total award is $90,000.00 because get any award for the percentage of fault that is attributable to you. Just to make sure you understand; if the fault is 25% to you, Mr. Smith is 75% at fault, then Mr. Smith pays a total award of $75,000.00.
It gets a little bit more complicated when there’s three or more people involved in the accident. If your fault is 10%, Mr. Smith’s fault is 80%: He pays $80,000.00, Mr. Jones’ fault is 10%: he pays $10,000.00 for a total award of $90,000.00; again, you recover nothing for the 10% that was your own fault.
So that’s the situation where you have multiple people involved in an accident.
What gets complicated is when there is more than one person involved in an accident and there’s not enough insurance to cover everybody. So in this situation, again with damages of $100,000.00 and your fault is 10% and Mr. Smith’s fault is 80%, he has an award of $80,000.00, but he only has awards and assets of $25,000.00, so he can only pay $25,000.00. Mr. Jones fault is 10% at fault, the award against him is $10,000.00 he has a million dollars in insurance, but he still only has to pay a recovery of $10,000.00 for a total recovery of $35,000.00.
Now, Washington has a special rule called joint and several liability and this is how it works. If your fault is zero then the law says it is better to give the losses to people who actually had some fault then to have you, the claimant, not be able to recover at all, and so if Mr. Smith is 90% at fault, against him is $90,000.00, but he still only has insurance of $25,000.00 and your recovery from him is $25,000.00. On the other hand, Mr. Jones who is 10% at fault with the award against him is $10,000.00, but he has a million dollars in insurance, plenty of insurance to cover it, so he has to pick up the entire $75,000.00 because of joint and several liability, and so your recover y is $100,000.00.
That’s why it’s very important to have a lawyer who can establish at trial that your fault is zero because that makes the difference between the $35,000.00 and the $100,000.00.
So that’s how the law works in Washington; you have to remember everybody’s fault is taken into account and you have to look for joint and several liability.
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