Complex Nature of the Allocation of Fault in Negligence Cases

When an unexpected personal injury occurs, the injured party may find the situation requires legal action. An injured person deserves to know where the money to pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and incidental expenses stemming from an injury will come from, and in many cases a legal claim can serve as a means to provide that knowledge. What many people thinking about initiating a claim for personal injury overlook is that the standards of the court in allocating fault for an injury may dictate the amount of recovery possible for an injured claimant.

Fault allocation can alter the amount of a damage award an injured party receives. The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal re-allocated percentages of fault that had been awarded by the lower court in the case of Matlock v. City of Shreveport . Matlock, a teacher and assistant softball coach, sued the City of Shreveport after she tripped and fell in a hole in the side walk on her way to softball practice at Cargill Park. Matlock twisted her ankle and suffered an avulsion fracture. After being cared for at a local hospital, she was instructed to follow up with an orthopedic specialist and to receive physical therapy.

Matlock sued the City of Shreveport for negligence in maintaining the sidewalk on which she was injured. The trial court awarded her damages and allocated 100% of the fault for the accident to the City. The City appealed the judgment arguing that the lower court’s fault allocation was inappropriate and that it should not be held 100% responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Once a trial court has decided that there should be an award of damages in a negligence case, they must make determinations of allocation of fault. This means that the judge or jury in a case will decide what percentage of fault each party to the suit is responsible for. In the case of Matlock, the trial court found the plaintiff to be without fault in causing the accident so they allocated 100% of the fault to the defendant. This allocation determines how much of the final award each party is responsible for paying. For example, Matlock’s damage award was for $75,000, and the fault allocation of 100% means that the City of Shreveport is responsible for the entire amount.

In determinations of fault allocation, the trial court is given great discretion by the appellate court. This is because the trial court is able to hear all the evidence where the appellate court is confined to examining the record. The fault allocation of the trial court may be difficult to overcome because an appellant must prove that the trial court abused its discretion in making its determinations of apportionment of fault. In Matlock, the City of Shreveport argued that Matlock should have been given some percentage of fault because her accident could have been avoided if she had been watching the ground ahead of her as she made her way to softball practice. The appellate court agreed with the City and re-allocated the percentages of fault at 75% for the City and 25% for Matlock.

The appellate court cannot simply make its own determination of percentages of fault, it must keep the numbers within the discretion of the lower court. In this case, the majority of fault was given to the City and so the majority of the fault remained. The appellate court reduced the amount of Matlock’s damage award to $50,000, so with the new allocation of fault that award would be reduced by the 25% she was held at fault leaving the plaintiff with an award of $37,500.

Fault allocation can have an effect on the amount of damages you may receive when awarded damages for a personal injury claim. If you have sustained a personal injury caused by the negligence of another you need the services of an effective legal team to help you understand these important issues.