Everyone knows that driving too fast increases the risk of an auto injury collision. In Washington, claiming and proving a negligent driver drove excessively involves a mix of statutory and case law.
Statutes tend to be specific about what constitutes a violation of the law, and if an injured driver can prove violation of the statute, he has gone a long way toward proving responsibility. Statutes in Washington set maximum speed limits for travel and cities and towns at 25 miles per hour, county roads at 50 miles per hour, and state highways at 60 miles per hour. There may be situations where special circumstances require a different speed limit altogether
Just because a driver was within the speed limit at the time of the collision, he or she still may be negligent. Washington statutes specifically provide that every driver has a "duty" not to "drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing." This only makes sense, because somebody driving the posted speed limit during a heavy snowstorm is not necessarily exercising appropriate caution to avoid a collision. Oregon and other states have a similar law. In Oregon, it is called "The Basic Rule."
Proving that somebody was driving too fast for the conditions does alone make the claim. An injured Washington motorist must also show that the other driver's excessive speed was a "proximate cause" of the collision and resulting injury. In other words, the speed has to have contributed to the resulting collision and injuries. This is where case law comes into the picture.
Washington Courts have recognized a doctrine that prevents a claim that excessive speed caused a collision if the vehicle exceeding the speed limit is a "favored driver." Generally, a "favored driver" is a driver that has the right to be where he or she is at the time of the collision. The general rule is that excessive speed cannot be the cause of a collision if the favored driver is where he or she is entitled to be, and would have been unable to avoid the collision even if driving at a lawful speed. A common example is a favored driver is a driver approaching an uncontrolled intersection at an excessive rate of speed, and another driver failing to yield the right-of-way, and causing a collision.
How do we prove excessive speed? Washington Courts have ruled that a lay witness can provide estimates of speed based on observation. In some cases, actual physical evidence can be introduced to establish excessive speed. Even the sound of a vehicle may be evidence of excessive speed.
A more complex cases, an accident reconstructionist or other expert may look at the facts leading up to the collision, and make an estimate on whether the negligent driver was traveling too fast under the conditions.
Our experience is that excessive speed is seldom the sole cause of a collision. This claim is almost always accompanied with allegations that the negligent driver failed to keep a proper lookout, and to control his or her car.
If you have been involved in a Washington or Oregon collision, and have questions about proving the negligent driver's responsibility, call us at 503-325-8600. We have investigated dozens of collisions over the years, and can share our experience.