Understanding the Comparative Fault Doctrine

In Arizona, those who suffer injuries due to the negligent acts of another are entitled to recover damages as compensation for their injuries, even when they have contributed in some way to their own injuries.  Unfortunately, many potential claimants in Arizona are not aware that they may recover in situations where they were negligent — an injury claimant might avoid consulting with an attorney despite having a legitimate claim for damages.  It’s important that accident victims in Arizona understand that their claims may be legitimate even if they were partially at-fault in the circumstances.

For example, if you were injured in a car accident, but you were also speeding at the time (and the speeding contributed to your injuries), you would not be barred from litigating your claims and obtaining compensation.

Arizona allocates fault to different parties in an injury lawsuit based on their proportional contribution of fault.  To better understand how this system works, let’s go through some of the basics of the comparative fault doctrine.

Comparative Fault Basics

Arizona implements the doctrine of pure comparative fault, also known as pure comparative negligence.  The pure comparative fault doctrine is particularly beneficial for personal injury claimants, such as those who have been injured in a car accident, truck accident, or motorcycle accident.

How does comparative fault work?

The principle of comparative fault is actually rather straightforward.  Essentially, in a comparative fault system such as the one that Arizona adheres to, each party involved in an accident is assigned a percentage of the total fault (i.e., plaintiff is deemed 20% at-fault, defendant #1 is deemed 40% at-fault, and defendant #2 is deemed 40% at-fault).  Comparative fault operates as a defense, but it is not an absolute defense that bars the plaintiff’s recovery.  Instead, comparative fault will reduce the plaintiff’s total damage recovery in proportion with their fault contribution.

This can be a bit confusing without adequate real-world context.  Consider the following example.

Suppose that you are injured in a car accident while making a left turn onto a local road.  You are a bit distracted, and are not paying full attention when you turn out into the road.  You do not realize that the defendant-driver is speeding towards your position.  As the defendant is driving at such an excessive speed, they cannot slow down and avoid you.  A collision occurs and you suffer serious injuries as a result.  The court finds that you are 40% at-fault, and the defendant is 60% at-fault.

Your total recoverable damages will be reduced accordingly.  As such, given the fault percentages, for a claim where you assert $200,000 damages in total, you would be entitled to recover just $120,000.  Though you are significantly at-fault for your injuries, you are not barred from recovery altogether.  In fact, you could be 99% at-fault and still recover damages in Arizona, thanks to the pure comparative fault doctrine.

Willful or Wanton Conduct

Arizona does not apply comparative fault in favor of any party in a situation where they have intentionally, wilfully, or wantonly caused or contributed to the injuries at-issue.  If you are injured in an accident that the defendant caused due to their road rage, for example, then they would likely not be allowed to raise the comparative fault defense and have their liability reduced (in proportion with the fault percentages).

Hirsch & Lyon is a Phoenix-based personal injury firm with a focus on helping clients who have been injured in car, truck, and motorcycle accidents.  Unlike other firms who have a range of disparate legal experiences, our attorneys are well-equipped to litigate motor vehicle accident claims and secure favorable results for our injured clients — whether through trial or settlement negotiation.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, Arizona law may entitle you to compensation, even if you contributed to your injuries through some negligence of your own.  To ensure that your claim is litigated effectively, call (602) 535-1900 today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Phoenix accident lawyer here at Hirsch & Lyon.

We look forward to helping you.