Negligence

To successfully bring a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must prove all of the following elements: 1) defendant owed a duty to commit an act or refrain from committing an act; 2) defendant breached their duty; 3) defendant’s breach of duty caused injury to the plaintiff; 4) defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the injury; and 5) plaintiff suffered actual damages.

Pure Comparative Negligence

Alaska Stat. § 09.17.060 & .080 codifies Alaska’s adoption of “pure” comparative negligence.Under this model, the plaintiff’s contributory fault does not bar recovery but instead diminishes proportionately the amount of compensatory damages awarded.

The fundamental purpose of pure comparative negligence is to assign responsibility and liability for damages in direct proportion to the amount of negligence of each of the parties.

In general, comparative negligence permits a plaintiff to recover damages based on the percentage of the defendant’s fault. For example, if plaintiff suffered damages in the amount of $1,000,000 and the court or jury finds the defendant to be 10% at fault, the plaintiff would be entitled to recover 10%, or $100,000 of their damages from the defendant.

Several Liability

Alaska is a pure several liability state. This system holds multiple tortfeasors individually responsible only for their proportional fault.

Alaska was once a joint and several liability state which held each tortfeasor fully responsible for the plaintiff’s damages. However, as seen in Asher v. Alkan Shelter, 212 P.3d 772, 783 (Alaska 2009), Alaska has since adopted a system of pure several liability which means that a plaintiff can only recover from each tortfeasor in the proportion that his or her fault contributed to the injury.

There is not a statutory right to contribution between severally liable tortfeasors in Alaska but is available against non-parties.

Damages

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of the defendant(s). The award is meant to restore the plaintiff – as much as possible – to the condition they were in prior to the injury occurring.

Special damages fall under the category of compensatory damages in that they are meant to cover medical expenses, property damage expenses, loss of earnings, nursing care and other expenses that can be documented.

General damages, also under the compensatory damages umbrella, are related to the intangible losses associated with the injury – items that cannot be documented. These include pain and suffering, emotional distress, interference with family relationships, etc.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are meant to punish a defendant rather than to compensate the plaintiff. In Alaska, the trier of fact will consider whether the defendant’s conduct was outrageous, including acts done with malice as well as whether the defendant’s actions evidenced reckless indifference to the interest of another person. If that analysis is found to be affirmative, a separate proceeding will take place to determine an appropriate amount of punitive damages. Such a determination is based on AS § 09.17.020 which considers:

  • The likelihood at the time of the conduct that serious harm would arise from the defendant’s conduct;
  • The degree of the defendant’s awareness of the likelihood;
  • The amount of financial gain the defendant gained or expected to gain as a result of the defendant’s conduct;
  • The duration of the conduct and any intentional concealment of the conduct;
  • The attitude and conduct of the defendant upon discovery of the conduct;
  • The financial condition of the defendant; and
  • The total deterrence of other damages and punishment imposed on the defendant as a result of the conduct, including compensatory and punitive damages awards to persons in situations similar to those of the plaintiff and the severity of the criminal penalties to which the defendant has been or may be subjected.

Generally, a punitive damage award will not exceed $500,000 or three times the compensatory damages (whichever is greater). AS § 09.17.020(f).

DISCLAIMER:

The law firm of Walker Morgan is located at 135 E Main St., Lexington, SC 29072. All lawyers at Walker Morgan are licensed to practice law in the State of South Carolina. Should you wish to retain our firm for legal representation regarding a potential case in any other jurisdiction we are required to associate local counsel in that foreign jurisdiction and seek permission from a court of the foreign jurisdiction to temporarily engage in the practice of law therein for purposes of pursuing your potential claim only.

By offering the following information the lawyers at Walker Morgan are not offering legal advice or legal guidance. The lawyers at Walker Morgan are not licensed to practice law in Alaska. Should you have a question/concern specific to Alaska law, please contact an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Alaska.