What Is Contribution?
Posted Mar 3, 2020
By Washington State Business and Real Estate Law Lawyer Andrew M. McKenzie
When you hear the word “contribution,” you probably think about someone helping others monetarily to accomplish some shared goal. In the context of litigation, contribution refers to the right of co-defendants to force each other to share in paying damages owed or paid to a plaintiff.
In the simplest example, plaintiff (“A”) is harmed by the negligence of defendant (“B”), and liability rests solely with B. But in the real world, the actions of multiple defendants combine to create one “indivisible claim” of the plaintiff. If A was severely injured in a car crash because, as A was approaching an intersection, pedestrian B suddenly jaywalked, causing A to swerve and then be struck in the wrong lane due to C making an illegal turn, A’s harm (i.e., an “indivisible claim”) would have been caused by the combined wrongful acts of B and C. In such a hypothetical, B and C would each have a right of “contribution” against each other based upon their comparative fault vis-à-vis one another under RCW 4.22.040.
Sometimes a plaintiff will sue only one of several liable parties for any number of reasons- the plaintiff may not know everyone’s identity, or the plaintiff may perceive one party to be primarily liable, or the plaintiff may believe that only one of several defendants is solvent. In such a case, the defendant sued should consider exercising its statutory right of contribution to sue any other potentially liable defendants. If the matter proceeds to trial, the fact finder will make a determination of each defendant’s comparative fault. Keep in mind, however, that with some exceptions, it is generally not a defense to the plaintiff’s claims to merely point out that another defendant’s actions were also the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
The lawyers at Beresford Booth have extensive civil litigation experience and would be happy to assist you with your litigation needs.