Mesa AZ | Determining fault in personal injury cases
To win a personal injury claim, you must prove that the defendant was at fault for your injuries. Fault is what lawyers refer to as a “term of art;” it carries a very specific, unique definition when used in the context of a personal injury case. In Arizona, the definition of fault is a matter of state statute. Arizona Revised Statutes 12 § 2506(F)(2) defines fault as follows:
“Fault” means an actionable breach of legal duty, act or omission proximately causing or contributing to injury or damages sustained by a person seeking recovery, including negligence in all of its degrees, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, strict liability, breach of express or implied warranty of a product, products liability and misuse, modification or abuse of a product.
For purposes of a typical personal injury case, the Arizona Revised Jury Instructions (the instructions a judge will give a jury before they decide a case) shrinks the statutory definition of fault you see above down to the following:
Fault is negligence that was a cause of [name of plaintiff]’s injury.
You can think of it as a math equation: negligence + causation = fault. To prove fault, you need to prove that the defendant was negligent, and that the defendant’s negligence caused your injury. Of course, negligence and causation are also terms of art. Let’s go back to the Arizona Revised Jury Instructions to define them:
Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care. Negligence may consist of action or inaction. Negligence is the failure to act as a reasonably careful person would act under the circumstances.
Negligence causes an injury if it helps produce the injury and if the injury would not have happened without the negligence.
Now that we have all the definitions, let’s look at an imaginary case and see how the equation works:
Max is walking towards his car in a shopping mall parking lot. Tom starts the engine of his parked car and immediately backs out of his spot without checking to see if anybody is behind him. Unfortunately, Max is walking right behind Tom’s car when he backs out, and Tom hits Max. Max suffers a serious knee injury from the impact of the car.
If Max brings a personal injury claim against Tom, what will he have to do to prove fault? First, he will have to prove that Tom was negligent. Remember that negligence is the failure to act as a reasonably careful person would act under the circumstances. Here, Tom was backing out of his parking spot in a mall parking lot. Max could probably offer sufficient evidence that a reasonable person in such a situation would check behind them before backing out. He could then offer evidence that Tom failed to check behind him before backing out.
Second, Max will have to prove that Tom’s negligence caused his injuries. Remember that negligence causes an injury if it helps produce the injury and if the injury would not have happened without the negligence. Max should be able to satisfy both aspects here: Tom backed out without looking, which led to his hitting Max. That act clearly helped to produce Max’s knee injury, and the injury would not have happened without the act.
On paper, at least, it looks like Max could prove that Tom was at fault for his injuries. Keep in mind that fault is only one aspect of a successful injury claim, but it is a tremendously important one. You cannot win without proving fault.
I hope this brief overview has been helpful. There is a lot more to know about this subject before you bring a personal injury claim. If you have questions or you want to discuss fault as it applies to your case, please call.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding Negligence + Causation = Fault or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.