Hall v. A.N.R. Freight Sys., Inc

Hall v. A.N.R. Freight Sys., Inc., 149 Ariz. 130, 717 P.2d 434 (1986) the plain tiff, Dallas Hall, alleged that he was injured by the negligence of defendant A.N.R. Freight System, Inc. Id. at 131, 717 P.2d at 435. In its answer, A.N.R. denied negligence and alleged contributory negligence. Id. Although the accident occurred prior to the effective date of the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, Hall filed his suit after the Act became effective. Id. at 132, 717 P.2d at 436. The Act significantly impaired the effectiveness of contributory negligence as a defense. "Prior to the Act the plaintiff's contributory negligence, even if slight, could operate as an absolute bar to the plaintiff's right of recovery in a negligence action. 'After the Act, however, slight negligence by plaintiff will not bar his damage action . . . .'" Id. at 132, 717 P.2d at 436. The relevant question thus posed in Hall was whether A.N.R. could assert the defense of contributory negligence as it existed at the time the accident occurred but before the suit was filed, or whether it was obliged to assert the defense as defined in the UCATA. Id. at 137, 717 P.2d at 441. In deciding when a right vests, the Hall court drew an explicit distinction between when a right accrues and when it vests. A right, even though accrued, does not vest until "the right to enjoyment, present or prospective, has become the property of some particular person or persons as a present interest." Id. at 140, 717 P.2d at 444. Thus, until the holder of the accrued right chooses to assert it, the right is subject to an "event that may prevent its vesting," such as the running of the statute of limitations or a change in the law by the legislature. Steinfeld v. Nielsen, 15 Ariz. 424, 465, 139 P. 879, 896 (1913) (rights "are contingent, when they are only to come into existence on an event or condition which may not happen or be performed until some other event may prevent their vesting"). "The filing of an action is clearly not synonymous with its accrual, since lawsuits may be filed months or even years after the litigated events occur." Hall at 137, 717 P.2d at 441.