Contributory negligence represents a controversial doctrine of common law. Fundamentally, it means that if you were injured in a car accident due, in part, to your failure to use reasonable care, you would not be able to recover any damages from your injury–even if another person’s actions or behavior caused the car accident.
Example of Contributory Negligence in a Car Accident Claim
If Mary is exceeding the speed limit as she drives her kid to school. Dan, who is leaving the school drop-off, fails to judge how fast Mary is driving accurately, thinks he can beat her onto the road, so he taps his brakes at the stop sign and proceeds. Dan hits Mary’s car. Mary wants to recover damages for the injuries like the whiplash she has sustained in the car accident, so she files a claim against Dan. Because Mary’s negligent actions contributed to her injuries, she cannot recover damages under the theory of contributory negligence.
Juries often ignore contributory negligence rules in cases where the jury members feel that applying this law would lead to grossly unfair results. In response to this controversy, many states, including Arizona, have implemented a “comparative negligence” test to supplement the court’s decisions in these matters.
This test considers the relative percentages of negligence for which each party is accountable. The court uses these percentages to arrive at a fair amount of damage recovery to be paid to each person injured in the car accident.
Arizona’s negligence laws dictate that an injured person can recover damages if he or she is not 100 percent at fault for the injury. A jury could find you to be 99 percent at fault for the injuries you sustain in a car accident and still award you damages.
In this case, the jury will reduce the amount of damages you are awarded by the amount in which you are deemed to be at fault.
In the earlier example of the car accident experienced by Mary and Dan, a jury will consider the fact that Dan hit Mary’s car and find that he is 80% at fault for Mary’s injuries. Because Mary was speeding, she is found to be 20% at fault for her injuries. Let’s say the available compensation is $100,000. In Arizona, Mary would not receive the total amount, but rather that amount minus the $20,000 (20% of $100,000) for which she was found to be responsible. In other words, she would receive $80,000 for her injury claim.
However, if you have intentionally caused or contributed to your injuries, Arizona’s negligence laws block you from receiving any recovery.
So, let’s revisit Dan and Mary in the hospital. We discover that Mary deliberately unfastened her seatbelt the moment she saw the inevitable collision (perhaps in a misguided attempt to collect big bucks in an injury lawsuit), and the majority of her injuries would not have happened had her seatbelt been fastened. In this case, Mary would not be eligible to receive any recovery for her injury.
Arizona’s negligence laws also provide for “right to contribution,” which is applied when two or more people are both found to be at fault for another person’s injury. In such situations, everyone responsible for the plaintiff’s injury shares the responsibility for paying damages.
Four elements comprise a personal injury case, such as what a plaintiff files to recover damages from a car accident in Arizona.
Arizona’s negligence laws make sense, but the logic can get downright confusing when you are frazzled by the trauma of being in a car accident and preoccupied with your injuries and your bills.