Arizona Supreme Court Discusses “Original Tortfeasor Rule” In Medical Malpractice Appeal

162017_132140396847214_292624_nIn its opinion filed on July 18, 2016, the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona (“Arizona Supreme Court”) discussed, and limited, the application of the “original tortfeasor rule” (“OTR”) in a medical malpractice case. The Arizona Supreme Court held that the OTR does not preclude a defendant from alleging and proving, or the trier of fact from considering and finding, fault of a nonparty physician who treated the plaintiff for injuries allegedly sustained from the defendant’s tort (in this case, the personal injuries suffered by the plaintiff as a result of a motor vehicle collision).

The Arizona Supreme Court further held that under the OTR, an actor who negligently causes an injury that reasonably necessitates medical treatment may also be liable for any enhanced harm proximately resulting from the actor’s negligence, including subsequent injury and related damages negligently but foreseeably caused by a medical provider; however, any such liability results not from automatically imputing the medical negligence to the original tortfeasor, but instead depends on the trier of fact’s assessment and allocation of fault between the parties and nonparties, in accordance with Arizona’s statutes.

The Original Tortfeasor Rule

The OTR states that if the negligent actor is liable for another’s bodily injury, he is also subject to liability for any additional bodily harm resulting from normal efforts of third persons in rendering aid which the other’s injury reasonably requires, irrespective of whether such acts are done in a proper or a negligent manner. When a negligent actor causes an injury that may require medical services, it is reasonably foreseeable that such services could be performed negligently, thereby adding to the original injury. In such cases, the original tortfeasor is responsible for any additional injury resulting from the other’s exposure to the risk of negligently performed medical services.

Arizona’s Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act

Arizona’s Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (“UCATA”), A.R.S. §§ 12-2501 through -2509, which was first enacted in 1984, allows a tortfeasor who paid more than the percentage of damages attributed to it by the factfinder to seek contribution from co-tortfeasors. Three years later, the Arizona Legislature amended the UCATA by generally eliminating plaintiffs’ ability to recover jointly from any or all liable defendants, thereby eliminating joint and several liability and establishing that the liability of each defendant for damages is several only (with certain exceptions).

The Interplay Between The OTR And The UCATA

The Arizona Supreme Court stated that the UCATA contemplates and permits the naming of nonparties whose alleged fault the trier of fact may consider in apportioning liability. Under the UCATA, the trier of fact must consider the fault of all parties and properly named nonparties in assessing and allocating percentages of fault. Although the UCATA left intact the rule of indivisible injury, relieving the plaintiff of apportioning damage according to causal contribution, the UCATA requires that the factfinder in an indivisible injury case is to compute the total amount of damage sustained by the plaintiff and the percentage of fault of each tortfeasor. Under the UCATA, each tortfeasor is responsible for paying for his or her percentage of fault, and no more.

In the case it was deciding, the Arizona Supreme Court stated that there are no exceptions to the UCATA’s several-liability rule when (1) a medical provider’s post-accident services, even if medically necessary and foreseeable, are allegedly negligent and cause the claimant to sustain new or enhanced injury, or, more broadly, (2) when a non-party at fault is a medical practitioner.

The Arizona Supreme Court held: “UCATA displaced our prior common law under which multiple tortfeasors whose negligence proximately caused a particular injury would be jointly and severally liable. The OTR is a doctrine of causation and does not preclude applying UCATA … [w]hen the state’s law generally provides for several-only liability, as does UCATA, the OTR provides guidelines only regarding when a defendant may be subject to liability for future, enhanced harm that stems from the original negligent conduct—e.g., when the original tortfeasor’s conduct created a reasonably foreseeable risk that future medical services may be necessary and that those services may be performed negligently … [however] the OTR yields to a state’s law governing the apportionment of fault (and consequently, damages) based on the factfinder’s determination of each potential tortfeasor’s comparative share of responsibility … we harmonize the common law doctrine with Arizona’s statutory scheme by adopting the OTR set forth in the Third Restatement § 35, but only to the extent it does not conflict with UCATA.”

The Arizona Supreme court held: “the [OTR] rule cannot be used to automatically impute to the original tortfeasor the subsequent negligence of a medical provider or other person who renders aid reasonably required by the original tortfeasor’s act. But because UCATA defines fault as an actionable breach of duty that proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury, § 12- 2506(F)(2), plaintiffs remain free to argue under Third Restatement § 35 that an original tortfeasor proximately caused subsequent, enhanced injury and shares all or at least some responsibility for that injury.”

Source Cramer v. Starr (Munguia/Bejarano), CV-15-0317-PR.

If you or a loved one suffered injury as a result of medical malpractice in Arizona or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Arizona medical malpractice lawyer or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

Visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, August 6th, 2016 at 5:15 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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