What is comparative negligence in Washington slip and fall cases?

What is comparative negligence in Washington slip and fall cases?

Though it may be jarring to hear “Cleanup on Aisle 7!” while grocery shopping, take comfort in knowing that store management is fulfilling its duty to take care of its premises so that no one slips on their floors and hurts themselves.

While most slips and falls just result in a sore bum, some cases involve sprained ankles, broken hips, skull fractures, and contusions that lead to brain aneurysms. Beyond bodily injuries that incur medical costs and missed days at work, falling can also mean damage to expensive items you were wearing (e.g., a watch) or something that you were handling (e.g., a flat-screen TV) at the time.

Because of these risks, property owners are legally obligated to take reasonable and proper care of their floors, ramps, and stairs. Reasonable care consists of practices such as the prompt cordoning off of areas with spillages, while an example of proper care is the use of non-slippery floor wax (as opposed to a slippery one) on walking surfaces. Those who fail to do these things may be obligated to fulfill insurance claims or held liable in personal injury lawsuits.

However, it’s rarely 100% the property owner’s fault

In Washington and in many other states, property owners are not the only ones who are required to exercise reasonable and proper care — their visitors share in this burden as well. When defending themselves against slip and fall claims, property owners can argue that:

  • Visitors weren’t looking at where they were going (e.g., they were walking while staring at their smartphones)
  • Visitors shouldn’t have tried to cross the area in the first place because the adverse conditions therein were obvious or hard to miss
  • The dangerous area was already cordoned off, but visitors still went there anyway
  • Visitors weren’t wearing the proper or required footwear at the time

Here’s where comparative negligence comes in

A judge, jury, or insurance company must look at the evidence and decide how much of the accident was the property owner’s fault and how much of it was yours. These are stated as percentages — e.g., the plaintiff or injured party could be 20% at fault and the defendant 80% at fault. These figures are then applied to settlement or verdict amounts. For instance, if the defendant settles for $100,000 or if the court awards the plaintiff that amount, the plaintiff will get 80% of $100,000, which is $80,000.

That’s the general idea behind comparative negligence, but there’s a couple of other things you need to know about it:

Primary requirement

First the defendant must be found negligent in the slip and fall case. Otherwise, the case would be closed, and there would be no need to determine the injured party’s comparative negligence.

Burden of proof

If the defendant is indeed established as negligent, then that defendant must bring up comparative negligence as part of their defense if they don’t want to be blamed entirely for the slip and fall. Just as how the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was negligent, the burden of proof for the victim’s comparative negligence falls upon the defendant.

That is, the defendant must prove that the plaintiff was not exercising reasonable care or was doing something wrong or unsafe, and that any of those things helped contribute to the plaintiff’s injury. The plaintiff does not have to prove that they were not negligent.

In Washington, there are no thresholds for comparative negligence that would disqualify plaintiffs from being awarded damages

In some states, the plaintiff’s share of the blame in the slip-and-fall case must be less than 51%, whereas in other states, it must be less than 50%. In states with such thresholds, plaintiffs who exceed those limits get no damages.

However, in Washington, no such thresholds exist. This means that a jury may find a plaintiff’s comparative negligence at 99% This means that the plaintiff will still receive 1% of either the agreed settlement amount or award granted by the courts,

Whether you’re the plaintiff or defendant in a slip and fall case, it pays to have legal experts in your corner. For the best outcome in and out of court, turn to Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams today.