Can I still recover damages if I was partially at fault for a car accident in Washington, DC?

Front End of a Car After a CollisionFacing medical bills after a car accident is undoubtedly stressful, especially if your income has also been reduced because you’ve been unable to work during your recovery. Worse yet, if your accident occurred in Washington, DC, you are not eligible to recover damages if you are found to have any responsibility at all for the accident. Here is what you need to know about contributory negligence and how affects your accident recovery in the District of Columbia.

Defining Negligence

Negligence is a legal principle used to determine who is at fault in a particular case. In the simplest terms, negligence refers to acting in a way that creates an unreasonable risk of harm. Some examples of negligent behavior while driving include:

  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road
  • Continuing to drive a car that you knew had a serious mechanical problem, such as faulty brakes
  • Failing to stop at a red light
  • Following too closely
  • Speeding
  • Failing to remain vigilant in a school crossing zone or construction site

Some examples of negligent behavior for pedestrians might include:

  • Darting into traffic
  • Crossing outside of designated crosswalks
  • Failing to look both ways before crossing the street

Understanding Comparative vs. Contributory Negligence

Most states use a comparative negligence approach to determine who is responsible for the damages resulting from a car accident. Comparative negligence recognizes that some behaviors are more serious than others. For example, a drunk driver would likely be found more at fault for causing an accident than a driver who was simply going a few miles over the speed limit. Under the comparative negligence rule, the driver who is found to have a higher percentage of fault pays the other driver’s expenses.

States that use the comparative negligence approach to assessing financial responsibility for a car accident have two methods of awarding damages. Modified comparative negligence, the most commonly used method, awards damages only if the plaintiff is found to be less than 50 percent at fault for the resulting injuries. Pure comparative negligence reduces the plaintiff’s damages by his percent of responsibility for the accident.

The key principle behind pure contributory negligence is that drivers have a duty to prevent exposing themselves to unreasonable risks. They are generally barred from recovering for their injuries and property damage if they contributed to the accident in any way.

Harsh Contributory Negligence Rule Applies to DC Car Accident Victims

Unfortunately, Washington, DC is one of only a few places in the nation that still uses the pure contributory negligence rule when awarding damages. This means that if you are in a serious car accident and are found to be 1 percent at fault for the crash, you won’t be able to recover damages from the other driver who is 99 percent at fault.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Even if you believe you may have played a role in causing your car accident in Washington, DC, it is definitely worth consulting an attorney to explore your options. While the pure contributory negligence rule makes it harder to win a case, keep in mind that the other driver’s legal team must prove that your negligent behavior actually played a role in the injuries you sustained in the accident. Additionally, you may still be eligible for compensation if you can prove that the other driver had the last clear chance to avoid the accident and failed to take action.

To see if you may be eligible for compensation for current and future medical expenses, lost wages and potential earning losses, or pain and suffering, reach out to Kennedy Hodges, LLP by starting a live chat or completing our online contact form.


David Hodges
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David Hodges is a founding partner of Kennedy Hodges. He focuses his practice on personal injury claims.