Cramer v. Starr

375 P.3d 69 (2016)

Quick Summary

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Courtney Cramer (defendant) and Tammy Munguia (plaintiff) were involved in a car accident, after which Munguia suffered worsened conditions potentially due to medical treatment. Cramer sought to attribute some responsibility to Munguia’s doctor, Dr. Ehteshami.

The primary dispute revolved around whether Cramer could include Dr. Ehteshami as a nonparty at fault under Arizona’s comparative fault regime.

The Arizona Supreme Court concluded that UCATA allows consideration of all contributing parties’ fault and remanded the case, enabling Cramer to argue Dr. Ehteshami’s potential fault.

Facts of the Case

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Courtney Cramer (defendant) was involved in a car accident with Tammy Munguia (plaintiff), which resulted in Munguia sustaining injuries. To address her injuries, Munguia underwent surgery recommended by her doctor, Dr. Ehteshami. However, the surgery may have worsened her condition. Subsequently, Munguia brought forth a personal injury lawsuit against Cramer.

During the legal proceedings, Cramer sought to include Dr. Ehteshami as a nonparty at fault, suggesting his medical treatment could have contributed to Munguia’s worsened condition.

The trial court, however, sided with Munguia, preventing Cramer from attributing any fault to Dr. Ehteshami based on the original tortfeasor rule (OTR), which essentially holds the initial wrongdoer responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions, including any subsequent medical negligence.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Munguia filed a personal injury action against Cramer.
  2. Cramer responded by naming Dr. Ehteshami as a nonparty at fault.
  3. The trial court granted Munguia’s motion to strike the notice of nonparty at fault.
  4. Cramer petitioned for review by the Arizona Supreme Court, which was granted.

I.R.A.C. Format


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Whether the original tortfeasor rule precludes a defendant from alleging and proving fault of a nonparty physician who treated the plaintiff for injuries allegedly sustained from the defendant’s tort.

Rule of Law

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Under Arizona’s comparative fault regime, all persons who contributed to an injury must be considered by the trier of fact when assessing percentages of fault, regardless of whether they are named as parties to the suit.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Supreme Court of Arizona found that the trial court erred in striking Cramer’s notice of nonparty at fault based on the original tortfeasor rule (OTR). The Court emphasized that Arizona’s Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act (UCATA) requires that fault be apportioned among all parties and nonparties who contributed to the alleged injury, not just the initial tortfeasor.

This approach is consistent with the state’s adoption of a pure comparative fault scheme that seeks to allocate liability in proportion to each party’s degree of fault.

The Court clarified that the OTR could still apply under the updated Restatement (Third) of Torts, but only insofar as it does not conflict with UCATA.

This means that while an original tortfeasor can still be considered to have proximately caused subsequent harm, such as enhanced injuries from medical treatment, they are only liable for their proportionate share of fault as determined by the factfinder.


Conclusion Icon

The Arizona Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion, allowing Cramer to name Dr. Ehteshami as a nonparty at fault.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Arizona’s comparative fault regime requires that all contributors to an injury be considered when assessing fault.
  2. The original tortfeasor rule does not preclude defendants from naming nonparty medical providers as partially at fault.
  3. Under UCATA, each party is only liable for their proportional share of fault as determined by a jury.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What determines the apportionment of fault in a comparative fault system?

In a comparative fault system, the apportionment of fault is determined by evaluating each party’s contribution to the injury or loss. The finder of fact, usually a jury, assesses the evidence and assigns a percentage of responsibility to each involved party, which then forms the basis for dividing the liability for damages.

  • For example: If a bicyclist is hit by a car but was also not using proper lighting at night, the responsibility may be split between the driver’s negligence for not paying attention and the bicyclist’s negligence for inadequate safety measures.

How does the original tortfeasor rule interact with subsequent medical malpractice within comparative fault jurisdictions?

The original tortfeasor rule, when applied within comparative fault jurisdictions, still holds the initial wrongdoer responsible for consequences flowing from their negligence. However, if a subsequent medical malpractice exacerbates the injury, both the original tortfeasor and the healthcare provider may be apportioned separate percentages of fault.

  • For example: If an individual suffers an injury in a slip and fall accident due to another’s negligence and later receives improper treatment from a doctor that aggravates the injury, both the property owner and doctor can be found at fault with specific percentages allocated to each.

Under what circumstances can an initial tortfeasor be held liable for enhanced injuries caused by medical treatment?

An initial tortfeasor can be held liable for enhanced injuries caused by medical treatment if it is established that such treatment and its outcomes were foreseeable and a direct result of the initial harm caused. However, this liability may be shared with the medical provider if their independent negligence contributed to the enhanced injuries.

  • For example: After a car accident caused by a distracted driver, the victim undergoes surgery that leads to complications due to surgical mistakes. Both the distracted driver and the surgeon could potentially share liability for the victim’s heightened injuries.


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