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What if I’m Partially at Fault for My Car Accident in Arizona?

Courts use comparative fault rules to deal with car accidents with more than one at-fault party. Read on to learn more.

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Triumph Curiel

August 22, 2023 11:00 AM

We’re used to thinking in terms of “my fault” or “your fault.” When it comes to car accident claims, the odds are good that both parties share blame for the accident, although perhaps in different proportions.

How should a court distribute compensation when more than one party is at fault? Arizona, like many other states, has established a system called comparative negligence.

The Elements of Negligence

Almost all car accidents are the consequence of negligence, at least if they are anyone’s fault at all.

Negligence liability breaks down into the following four elements that the plaintiff must prove to win their claim:

  • The defendant (the alleged at-fault party) owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff (the accident victim). This could be a duty of ordinary care, like every driver owes every other driver on the road.
  • The defendant failed to comply with the demands of their duty of care. A careless driver may have been following too closely, for example. A commercial trucker might have been carrying an oversized load.
  • The plaintiff suffered a physical injury. As long as the plaintiff suffers a physical injury, they can collect compensation for both physical and non-physical injuries (emotional distress, for example).
  • The defendant’s breach of their duty of care was a substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The injuries must have been a foreseeable result of the defendant’s breach of duty, not a freak accident.

These elements do not apply if the accident was nobody’s fault (a sudden hailstorm, for example), or if one driver intentionally caused the accident (in a fit of “road rage”, for example).

Arizona’s “Pure” Comparative Negligence System

When a car accident claim goes to trial in Arizona, the court will apply a “pure” comparative negligence system to distribute compensation. It will assign both plaintiff and defendant a percentage of fault. The next step is to reduce each party’s liability by the other party’s percentage of fault.

This process is also likely to happen at the settlement table if you try to settle out of court. In both cases you may need to hire a car accident lawyer to help and guide you through the claim process.

Systems That Apply in Other States

Different states apply different rules to apportion damages when two or more parties share fault for a car accident. Currently, there are five systems in place—”pure” comparative negligence (described above), two forms of modified comparative negligence, slight/gross negligence, and contributory negligence. A majority of states apply modified comparative negligence.

Modified Comparative Negligence

Modified comparative negligence works like pure comparative negligence with one important difference—there is a threshold percentage of fault beyond which a party loses 100% of its right to compensation. In some states, a party at least 50% at fault loses all of their compensation. In other states, a party at least 51% at fault loses all of their compensation.

A party whose percentage of fault fails to meet the threshold loses part, but not all, of their right to compensation. For example, a party 20% at fault would lose 20% of their compensation.

Slight/Gross Negligence (South Dakota)

To recover compensation in South Dakota, your degree of negligence must be no more than “slight” and the defendant’s behavior must have exhibited “gross” (extreme) negligence. A classic example of such a case might be a DUI accident.

Contributory Negligence

Contributory negligence is a particularly harsh system of apportioning liability that has been abandoned in all but a small minority of states. Under contributory negligence, the defendant wins, and evades all liability, if the plaintiff is even 1% at fault for the accident.

The only US jurisdictions that still apply contributory negligence are the District of Columbia, Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. The District of Columbia applies exceptions to the contributory negligence rule in cases involving pedestrians and bicycles.

Comparative Negligence Applies to All Kinds of Personal Injury Claims, Not Only Car Accidents

The various states, including Arizona, apply comparative negligence to all kinds of personal injury claims, not only car accident claims. Comparative negligence might apply, for example, to an intoxicated guest who slips and falls down a malfunctioning department store escalator.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for Help After a Car Accident

You could be entitled to compensation even if you are partially at fault for a car accident. Moreover, it’s possible you share less fault than you think, or that another driver or insurance company is blaming you for the accident prematurely.

An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you protect your right to fair compensation after a car accident. Contact a lawyer today to learn more about your legal options.

Triumph Curiel is a Phoenix personal injury lawyer at Curiel & Runion Personal Injury Lawyers, a top-rated personal injury law firm serving throughout New Mexico and Arizona with offices in Phoenix, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, and Tucson, AZ. Their team of attorneys have over 55 years of combined experience and have recovered over 30 million in compensation for their injury clients.

Headline Image: Adobe Stock/Hyejin Kang

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