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How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

Determining Fault in the State of Arizona

After being involved in a car accident, the injured party may have questions as to how he or she can receive compensation for injuries sustained in the car accident.

In the State of Arizona, the question of fault or who caused the car accident is important when it comes to damages. Arizona is a “fault” insurance state, which means that if a driver is involved in a car accident where someone else is found to have caused the accident, the injured driver has several options available to him or her.

These options include:

  • Filing a claim with their own insurance company;
  • Failing a claim with the “at-fault” driver’s insurance company; or
  • Pursuing a personal injury claim in court, seeking damages from the driver who caused the accident.

Approximately 12 states have “no fault” laws on the books, which mandate that a person who is injured in a car accident must file a claim with his or her own insurance policy for damages sustained, regardless of fault.

However, the great majority of the country still focuses on fault when it comes to personal injury cases, including Arizona.

Determining Fault in a Car Accident

Proving fault in a car accident is the first step in receiving any compensation for damages sustained in a car accident. But like many things, fault is not always a straightforward issue.

To prove fault, the injured individual must first prove that a legal duty was owed to him or her by the party who is claimed to be at fault. All drivers owe a legal duty of care to everyone on the road, including other drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians, to operate their vehicle in a reasonable and prudent manner.

Second, the injured party needs to show that the at-fault driver then breached this duty of care, meaning the driver’s behavior was such that it would not have been what a reasonable driver would have done in the same or similar circumstances.

If the injured person can show that the at-fault driver had a duty of care that he or she breached, the plaintiff will also need to show that an injury or damages resulted from this behavior.

The other driver’s negligence or carelessness needs to be a cause for the accident. The injured party will not be successful in a negligence claim if it can be shown that an unrelated cause led to the person’s injury or damages. The injury must be connected to the behavior that is found to be a breach of duty of care.

Comparative Negligence

The problem with most car accidents, however, is that fault is not always so black and white. Many times, at least more than one circumstance can be shown to be the reason for the car accident.

In fact, the injured party who was not the main reason for the accident can still be found to be somewhat culpable for his or her injuries. In these situations, the question of comparative fault comes into play. Comparative fault takes the amount of blame that can be placed on the party claiming the injury. The total damages awarded is then reduced by that percentage. For example, if a person is found to be 50% at fault for causing the collision, he or she is only entitled to 50% of the total value of the personal injury claim.

Arizona is a “pure comparative fault” state, which means that the plaintiff’s damage award will be reduced by whatever percentage of blame can be attributed to the plaintiff.

Even if the plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent to blame for the accident, he or she will still recover some level of damage, albeit a significantly reduced portion. If the plaintiff is found to be 90 percent to blame for the accident, he or she can still recover 10 percent of the total damages award.

Some states follow what is known as a “modified” comparative fault formula. In these states, if the plaintiff is found to be at least 50 percent to blame for the accident, he or she will not be able to receive any damages at all because of the amount of blame he or she played in the cause of the accident.

Many insurance companies use the comparative negligence rule when preparing a settlement offer to an injured party. A personal injury attorney will be able to review any settlement offer provided by an insurance company to see if the offer is fair or whether the claim should proceed to trial.

Contact Us Today

If you have been in a car accident and have questions about pursuing compensation for your injuries, contact Yearin Law Office today at (480) 502-0708 to schedule your free consultation.