Road Trip to California

The last time you went on a road trip to another state you probably had a lot of things going through your mind. Did you pack everything? Where are you going to stop for gas? How long can I take fast food? I hope the kids sleep. And on and on. But you probably aren’t thinking about the difference in laws. It may surprise you, but not all states protect motorists as well as Washington does. Edwardo Morfin, a Kennewick attorney at Anderson Law, recently had the opportunity to sit down with a California attorney to discuss some of those differences. Here is what he found out.


I had the pleasure of meeting with California attorney, Rolland Papendick, while in California this past December.  Mr. Papendick now spends his time on high profile criminal defense cases, including complex death penalty cases, but he used to practice family law and personal injury law. With over 41 years of experience, he has a wealth of knowledge, and is a pleasant person to boot! He graciously allowed me to “pick his brain” about some of the marked differences and similarities in Washington and California personal injury laws.

One similarity that Washington and California share is the concept of “pure comparative negligence.” This means that if you are partially at fault in causing a car accident in which you are injured, your award may be reduced by whatever percentage you are found to be at fault. For example, if a person runs a stop sign and hits you, but you were going above the speed limit, and you are attributed 10% of the fault, then your award would be reduced by that 10%; so if your damages are $10,000, it would be reduced by 10% or $1,000, so you would only recover $9,000.

There are many differences between California and Washington law. For starters, in California you have less time to bring a personal injury suit before you are time barred. In California, the statute of limitations is only two years, compared to Washington’s three year statute. Additionally, if you have to sue a city, county, or government entity in California, you have to do it within six months!

Dog bite cases are different, too. Washington, like most states, holds the owner strictly liable if the owner knew of the dangerous propensities of the animal, and even if the owner did not know of its dangerous propensities the owner may be negligent if he fails to prevent the harm by keeping the dog away from the public (such as keeping the dog within a fenced yard). In a somewhat different fashion, California law provides that an owner is strictly liable whenever a person is bitten in a public place.

The biggest differences between Washington and California law are the “no pay, no play” rule and the cap on medical malpractice damages. Under the “no pay, no play” rule, California law provides that uninsured drivers cannot recover pain and suffering damages from another driver, even if the other driver is completely at fault, because of their lack of insurance. They can recover their medical costs, but no pain and suffering. However, as with most rules, there is an exception: when the at-fault driver drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and is convicted of a DUI, the uninsured driver can recover pain and suffering.

Finally, California has a very anti-plaintiff stance on medical malpractice cases, despite that some of the most devastating injuries come at the hands of negligent doctors. In California, recovery for noneconomic damages in these catastrophic injuries is capped at $250,000. In Washington, there was an effort quite a few years back, with Initiative 330, to cap noneconomic damages at $350,000 in medical malpractice cases. Luckily, however, this law did not pass in Washington, and unlike California, there is no cap on noneconomic damages in Washington.

Mr. Papendick enlightened me as to some of the similarities in personal injury law between Washington and California law, and some of the pitfalls of having a personal injury case in California. Injured plaintiffs may not have the best laws here in Washington, but it could be worse…if you’re injured in California.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.