Can the Defendant Be Excused from Negligence Liability for Mental Illness?

If you’ve suffered an injury in an accident that was caused by someone who has a cognitive disability, or who is otherwise mentally incompetent, then you’re likely wondering about the likelihood of recovery should you choose to pursue litigation against the defendant.  In the state of Arizona, much like the rest of the country, personal injury lawsuits brought on the basis of negligence (i.e., that the defendant acted in such a way that they violated the standard of care for the situation) are rather complicated when it comes to those who have cognitive impairments.

Negligence Liability is Based on the Objective, Reasonable Person Standard

Negligence claims — in the injury context — are fundamentally based on the concept of a standard of care.  Simply put, the difference between a mistake and negligence (for which the defendant will be held liable) turns on the standard of care.  If the defendant acts in such a way that it violates the standard of care, they will be found negligent, and may therefore be sued by the injury victim for damages.  If the defendant makes a mistake, but their actions do not violate the standard of care, then you cannot hold them liable for your injuries.

The standard of care in any given situation is meant to be based on an objective, “reasonable person” standard.  Essentially, the court will determine how a reasonably prudent person would have acted in the same situation as the defendant.  If the defendant’s actions fall out-of-step with this expectation, then they have violated the standard of care.

For example, in a car accident, if the defendant ran a red light at high-speed, the court is likely to find that the defendant violated the standard of care.  A reasonably prudent person under such circumstances would not have run the red light (absent some other life-threatening circumstance).

Historically, in Arizona and throughout the country, mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities have not changed this objective standard of care.  This is important.  In many other situations, the defendant’s condition may influence their liability under a theory of negligence.  For example, if a defendant is deaf, then they may be held to a different standard of care when operating a vehicle.

For the most part, then, if you are involved in an accident due to the negligence of a person who is suffering from a cognitive disability or a mental illness, they cannot use their mental condition to avoid liability.  Assuming that you can show that they violated the standard of care and that you suffered injuries as a result, you can recover damages.

Defendants May Only Escape Liability When Mental Illness Absolves All Responsibility

It is worth noting that Arizona carves out a limited exception where a defendant can avoid liability if their mental illness/cognitive disability is so severe that it absolves them of all responsibility for their actions — this is extremely rare, however.  For example, even a schizophrenic might be capable of modulating their speed effectively in a pedestrian-dense area.  On the other hand, someone with a cognitive defect so severe that they are incapable of processing the presence of pedestrians, or that they must avoid a collision in the first place, could argue that they should not be held liable.

Speak With an Experienced Phoenix Car Accident Attorney for Further Guidance

If you have been injured in a car accident, or some other accident that came about as a result of the defendant’s negligent actions, then you may have the right to recover damages in accordance with Arizona law.  Litigating a claim against the defendant can appear misleadingly simple, at first, but can become rather complicated as further investigation of the facts reveal a multi-layered case.

Here at Hirsch & Lyon, our attorneys are no stranger to complex personal injury litigation.  We have decades of experience advocating on behalf of injury victims, assisting them throughout the litigation process, and helping to secure substantial damages to compensate them for their injuries.  We are a client-oriented firm, and as such, we are available at all times to discuss their questions and concerns.  We work on a lower contingency fee than most other firms, so you only pay if you successfully obtain compensation, and most importantly, you get to keep more of it!

Call (602) 535-1900 today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Phoenix car accident attorney here at Hirsch & Lyon.  In these initial stages of the attorney-client relationship, we will begin with a careful evaluation of your claims and will help you take the next steps towards recovery.