Washington civil litigation overview

A Spokane trial lawyer can argue both civil and criminal law in front of all Washington state courts. Most attorneys, however, either practice civil law or criminal law but not both. Our firm practices both. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss a general over view of civil litigation and tort law.

Tort law is the body of civil law that addresses personal injury resulting from a “wrong.” Tort law provides the legal analysis for determining when a wrong has occurred and for determining the appropriate remedy.

Note: The term “wrong” is narrower than the term “harm.” Wrongs are the subset of harms that are actionable. You will learn that not all harms are actionable.

Example: While driving, Elizabeth suddenly and unexpectedly faints. As a result, Elizabeth crashes her car into Gen, causing Gen to suffer a broken arm. Although Elizabeth has clearly caused harm to Gen, Elizabeth has not committed a wrong (i.e., she was not negligent), and she will not be held liable for Gen’s injury. (Note: if facts are added, such as Elizabeth did not take her prescribed medication to control fainting, then the fainting may not be unexpected and the outcome may be different.)

Wrongs include personal injury resulting from harm to an individual (e.g., negligence, libel) and harm to property (e.g., nuisance and trespass).
For a Spokane trial lawyer to have case in a court of law, someone must be liable for your damages. The attorney must also be able to show that liability to a jury (or a judge in case of a bench trial).

Liability is a concept of tort law which states that an individual or organization (e.g., a corporation, a lodge, a hospital, etc.) is financially responsible for wrongs that they commit.

However, under some circumstances, liability may result from wrongs committed by others. In Washington tort law, two types of liability exist (and they would have to be shown in trial). They are: primary liability and vicarious liability.

Primary liability refers to instances where an individual or organization is held financially responsible for damage resulting from wrongs that they have committed (directly).

  • Example 1: Bobby negligently runs over Boris, a pedestrian, who was walking in a crosswalk in front of Gonzaga University. Bobby is liable for Boris’s injuries.
  • Example 2: XYZ Corporation produces a defective product that injures Jack. XYZ is liable for Jack’s injuries.

Vicarious liability refers to instances where an individual or organization is held liable for damage resulting from the wrongs of another.

Respondeat Superior– (re-spond-ee-ot)- is a form of vicarious liability that results in employer liability for wrongs committed by an employee. It is the legal theory that states: let the superior respond.

Respondeat Superior is the legal doctrine that allow a Spokane trial lawyer to attach liability to corporations or employers for wrongs (negligence) caused by their employees.

  • Example: Acme delivery driver drinks while on the job and negligently hits you in Division Street. The driver will be liable for your damages; however, employees are usually judgment-proof and have no real assets to collect for your injuries. The Respondeat Superior doctrine can be used on this case to collect damages directly against Acme, even though Acme did not directly injure you.

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Read more about:

Overview of this area of law
Washington negligence law
Negligence: Duty and Breach
Negligence: Causation
Negligence: Remedies and Damages
Defenses to Negligence
Spokane car accidents
Washington products liability
Bodily injury, fault, and other issues
Personal injury claims
Types of Liability Claims
Dealing with insurance companies
Intentional Injuries
Going to trial – overview