Personal Injury Lawyers
Attorney Van O'Steen

Shared-Fault Law Can Be Unfair

Van O'Steen

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A young woman named Ann operates a small business in Arizona. She owns several delivery vehicles, which are used in the business.

Recently Ann told me about an incident that followed an accident involving one of her delivery cars. After the accident, the driver of the other car readily admitted being at fault and gave Ann his insurance information. Ann contacted the man's insurance company, and a representative inspected the damage to her car.

Following some delays, a claims adjuster contacted Ann and explained that he had thoroughly investigated the accident and had determined that the other driver was 60 percent at fault and Ann's driver was 40 percent at fault. He reasoned that since Arizona law provides that the expense of an accident must be shared in proportion to the fault of the various parties, Ann was entitled to recover only 60 percent of her loss from his company. He told her she would have to look to her own auto insurance company (under her collision coverage) for the remaining 40 percent.

Ann indignantly pointed out that when the accident occurred, the delivery car was properly parked in a shopping center parking space. Her driver was not even in the car when the collision happened.

The obviously startled insurance adjuster said he would look into the matter again and call Ann later. Shortly thereafter, he telephoned Ann to tell her he was sending her a check for 100 percent of the cost of repairing the damage to her car.

Ann is not the only Arizonan who, in recent years, has been told unjustifiably that she must accept a compromise settlement of a damage claim due to some fault on her part. This approach to claims adjustment is on the rise.

Unfortunately, some insurance companies arbitrarily use the state's shared-fault law as authority to insist that many of those with whom they deal accept a compromise, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the accident or collision.

If you have been involved in an accident where someone else was at fault, you should be aware of this potential problem. There are no objective guidelines for dividing fault between parties to an accident. Fairness must be your guide.

Be cautious about an insurance company's determination of comparative fault. Keep in mind that the party's insurance company has a financial stake in attempting to shift fault away from its insured. Remember the lesson of Ann's parked car.