Washington law matches the laws of most states in their general definition of what negligence is. The Washington pattern jury instruction indicates that negligence is the failure to exercise ordinary care:
Negligence is the failure to exercise ordinary care. It is the doing of some act that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do some act that a reasonably careful person would have done under the same or similar circumstances.
The keyword in this definition is “reasonable.” Attorneys make their livings arguing about whether or not an act or omission was “reasonable.” What is reasonable can change depending upon the circumstances surrounding the action. Accordingly, all personal injury cases are ones that are fact-dependent and unique. Whether an action was reasonable is dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the making of the decision.
Negligence can be inferred when someone breaks a statute. So if a driver runs a red light it can be inferred that they were negligent, but the conclusion is not absolute. For example, perhaps the driver had a seizure and had no knowledge or reason to believe that the seizure was going to happen, under those circumstances, they did not break the law in a negligent manner because they had no control over their vehicle due to an unforeseen medical condition.
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