Understanding How Comparative Negligence Affects an Auto Accident Injury Claim

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All personal injury claims following an auto accident are not necessarily equal when it finally comes down to the amount of damages an injured plaintiff may receive. While passengers in vehicles involved in collisions typically can receive whole damages when enough funds are available, injured plaintiffs who were driving a vehicle will also be assessed for personal contribution to causing the accident that in turn caused their injuries. This legal stipulation is termed “comparative negligence’ and is used in some form in every state. However, states vary between applications of the rule, as some states use modified comparative negligence or contributory negligence which sets a more stringent bar to compensation recovery than pure comparative negligence that is used in Arizona auto accident cases.

Pure Comparative Negligence

While modified comparative negligence doctrine can bar an injured driver plaintiff if their personal comparative negligence percentage is above 50%, pure comparative negligence doctrine holds that anyone who is even 99% at fault for their own accidents can still receive some amount of damage reimbursement. Three states and the District of Columbia actually allow for claim denial if the plaintiff contributes in any form, including as low as 1%. The pure comparative negligence model has been applied to stop this Draconian practice that was once the standard across the nation.

Total Fault Exception

The only exception for pure comparative negligence damage allowance is when the injury was caused by an intentional act of the plaintiff. This scenario could result in a 100% fault assignment, leaving the claimant with a zero damage allowance when the percentage is applied. This main exception is why it is still an important legal issue even in states like Arizona that use pure comparative negligence based on the fact it is not a “no-fault” state where the injured drivers turn to their own insurance policy first for damage recovery. Fault still matters in Arizona auto accident cases.

No Punitive Damage Discount

Typical damages from an accident injury claim are considered as compensatory damages only when a case is settled based on standard pure comparative negligence rules. However, some cases that involve gross negligence by one of the parties can still result in punitive damages when an experienced Arizona auto accident attorney can prove to a sympathetic jury that the injured plaintiff’s injury is catastrophic or serious enough to request a punitive damage award in addition to compensatory damages. Potential for punitive damages can impact a settlement negotiation significantly and often leads to a higher settlement amount. Punitive damages are not subject to any comparative negligence percentage discounts for the injured plaintiff when they are awarded by a jury. However, the state of Arizona court system does reserve the right to limit these damages.