Our Phoenix-based law firm exclusively handles automobile accidents (including accidents involving motorcycles and trucks). With our 60+ years of experience, we have drafted the following guide to help you understand your rights and breakdown the legalese associated with your case.
Your Life Changed Suddenly
A car accident can change your life in the blink of an eye. Regardless of who was to blame and what they did wrong, if you have been seriously injured, you are facing a long and difficult road to recovery.
From finding quality medical care to dealing with the insurance companies, nearly everything involved in the recovery process is more challenging than it should be. Our highly-experienced legal team can handle the difficult aspects of your situation for you. When it comes to dealing with the insurance companies, we can make sure you do not settle for less than you deserve.
Car Accident Law in Arizona
As a crash victim, Arizona’s car accident laws determine your legal rights. However, if you are like most people, you don’t know the law and you don’t have time to learn all of the ins and outs associated with standing up to the insurance companies. Also, if you are like most people, you desperately want someone to handle your case for you and you want to feel confident that you will have the financial resources you need now and in the future.
This is where hiring an experienced car accident lawyer comes into play. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about hiring a personal injury attorney. It is too expensive. It will make the process too adversarial. It will mean I have to go to court. My attorney will run up a huge legal bill and I will end up with nothing. These are all common concerns and they are all completely untrue.
The reality is that hiring an experienced car accident lawyer is the best insurance that you will be treated fairly. It is also the only way to accurately calculate your losses and it is the only way to know when it makes sense to settle your case. A lawyer with a proven history of successful representation will handle your case with your best interests in mind and he or she will not collect a penny unless you decide to accept a settlement or win a verdict at trial.
What is the Law?
What Law Applies?
The vast majority of car accident claims fall into the category of personal injury law. In personal injury law, liability is determined based on the concept of “negligence.” If you were injured in a car accident that resulted from another driver’s negligence, you are entitled to recover financial compensation for all of your injury-related losses.
In the context of a car accident, negligence can take many different forms. Talking or texting behind the wheel, speeding and merging without looking are just a few examples. Issues such as inadequate road maintenance and negligent vehicle repairs can support personal injury claims as well, and your attorney will need to conduct a thorough investigation to determine who was at fault in your collision.
State Law? Federal?
Personal injury claims are governed by state law. Each state has its own personal injury laws (Arizona included) and, while most of these laws are similar, there are various unique aspects that require experienced and local legal representation.
Is there such a thing as city law (example: Phoenix metro area)?
Municipalities such as Phoenix typically have local “regulations” or “ordinances.” However, Phoenix also has a City Code, which is in some ways more similar to a state code of statutes. However, these types of local laws typically address things like building standards and zoning requirements and, if you search the City Code for “personal injury,” you will not find any provisions that are relevant to car accident claims.
In Arizona, two of the key statutes that apply to personal injury claims are Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) Sections 12-542 and 12-2505:
- ARS Section 12-542 – ARS Section 12-542 establishes the statute of limitations for car accident claims in Arizona. Under this law, car accident victims have two years to file a claim for damages. In cases involving fatal car accidents, families have two years from the date of death to seek financial compensation. Please note that there are numerous exceptions to the two-year statute of limitations.
- ARS Section 12-2505 – ARS Section 12-2505 establishes Arizona’s law of comparative negligence. This law states that car accident victims can seek partial compensation for their injuries even if they are deemed to be partially at fault in the collision.
Over the years, there have been numerous court decisions establishing car accident victims’ rights in Arizona. Some examples of noteworthy cases concerning negligence and liability in vehicle collisions include:
- Law v. Superior Court of the State of Arizona – In this case from 1988, the Supreme Court of Arizona ruled that, “nonuse of seat belts is inadmissible at the trial of [a victim’s] action to prove the cause or aggravation of their injuries.” However, this decision was based in part on the unique procedural posture of the case, and the Court also stated that, “under the comparative fault statute, each person is under an obligation to act reasonably to minimize foreseeable injuries and damages. Thus, if a person chooses not to use an available, simple safety device, that person may be at ‘fault.’” If you were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of your accident, it will be important to discuss the implications, if any, with your attorney.
- Morrison v. Acton – Dating back to 1948, this case confirmed that an accident victim does not need to establish the cause of the collision with “absolute certainty” in order to successfully pursue a claim for damages. According to the Court, “It is sufficient if there is substantial evidence upon which to reasonably support the judgment.”
- Layne v. Hartung – In Layne v. Hartung, the Supreme Court of Arizona addressed the issue of whether a driver with the right of way has a duty to check for oncoming traffic. As the Court wrote in 1960, “[A]n operator of a motor vehicle must maintain such a lookout as a reasonably prudent person would maintain in the same or similar circumstances . . . and the mere fact that the driver may have the right of way does not relieve him of the duty to keep a lookout.”
As you can see, these cases are highly fact-specific and they represent just a small sampling of the numerous court decisions that can come into play in deciding victims’ rights in car accident insurance claims and litigation. With decades of experience handling car accident claims in Arizona, we can determine which case(s) are most relevant to your situation and provide you with the strongest argument for maximum compensation.
Who is at Fault?
How is Fault Determined?
In Arizona, fault is determined based on the law of negligence and determining who was negligent requires a detailed investigation. Typically, a car accident investigation involves visiting and reviewing photos of the accident scene, examining the damage to each of the vehicles, assessing the nature and extent of the victims’ injuries, and reviewing documentation such as maintenance records and phone records. By piecing together information from each of these various sources, it will be possible to reconstruct the accident and determine who was at fault.
What About Witnesses?
Witnesses can play a key role in establishing fault in a collision as well. If you collected contact information from anyone who witnessed the accident, your attorney will be able to contact the witness (and seek a subpoena if necessary) to determine whether he or she is able to provide testimony that is helpful to your case.
What is a Police Report?
If you (or anyone else) called 911 and a police officer responded to the scene of the accident, there should be a police report detailing the evidence the officer gathered and the conclusions he or she reached while at the scene. While you do not need a police report in order to pursue a successful claim, a police report can be very useful and your attorney will want to obtain a copy, if one exists. Information detailed in a police report may include:
- The other driver’s contact and insurance information
- Contact information for any witnesses
- The presence and location of skid marks and the damage to each vehicle
- The responding officer’s determination of fault
What is an Accident Statement?
When you contact your insurance company, the person you talk to will ask you to provide a statement about the accident. Although the insurance companies make these statements sound very official and will often imply that they are required, the truth is that you do not have to give – and you should not give – a recorded accident statement to your insurance company. When you report the accident, simply state the basic facts, and then let the person on the phone know that you need to speak with your attorney before providing any additional information.
What Type of Accident Information Do I Need to Give?
While most drivers are required to report accidents under the terms of their auto insurance policies, “reporting” an accident does not mean discussing the facts in detail, making assumptions about your medical needs or guessing who may have been at fault. You can provide your policy number and the time and location of the crash, but you should not go into detail unless advised to do so by your attorney.
Who Should You Contact After a Crash?
Whenever you are involved in a car accident, it is always important to call 911 from the scene of the collision. Let the dispatcher know that you were involved in a collision and need emergency assistance, and try to remain calm while answering his or her questions as clearly and accurately as possible.
When an officer arrives on-scene, be courteous and polite. The officer’s job is to help, and it will simply take some time for him or her to work through all of the steps involved in responding to a collision. Be prepared to provide your license, vehicle registration and insurance card, and be sure to ask for a copy of the police report before you leave.
After an accident, you also need to contact your insurance company. Even if you are certain that the other driver (or a third party) was at fault, you are still likely required to report the accident under the terms of your policy.
However, as we mentioned above, reporting the accident does not mean giving a detailed explanation of what happened or stating who you think was at fault in the crash. Your insurance company is trying to gather information for one reason and one reason only: to determine whether it can justifiably avoid paying you compensation. As a result, you do not want to share any more information than is necessary, and to avoid costly mistakes, you should leave it up to your attorney to deal with the insurance companies on your behalf.
Speaking of your attorney, if you don’t have one, now is the time to schedule a free initial consultation. You do not want to wait until the insurance companies are attempting to deny payment before seeking legal representation. Hiring an attorney at the outset of your claim will give you the best chance to secure maximum compensation as quickly as possible and if the insurance companies refuse to settle on fair terms, your attorney will be fully prepared to take your case to trial.
What About Car Insurance in Arizona?
What if the Other Driver Doesn’t Have Insurance?
Unfortunately, this is a common issue in Arizona. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), more than 1 in 10 drivers in Arizona are uninsured. If the driver who hit you told you that he or she does not have auto insurance, your options include:
- Confirm that the driver is uninsured. The driver may not have realized that he or she had coverage (i.e. if you were hit by a teen driver), or he or she may have lied in the hopes that you would not contact his or her insurance company. If you have the driver’s license plate number, your insurance company should be able to find out if he or she is insured.
- File an uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) claim. If you purchased UIM insurance, now is the time to use it. Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage provides fault-based compensation similar to an at-fault driver’s collision or bodily injury liability (BIL) policy.
- Sue a third party. Are you sure that the other driver was at fault? If an investigation reveals that a brake failure, pothole, low shoulder or other non-driver-related factor caused or contributed to your crash, you may be entitled to compensation from a third party.
What if the Other Driver is Underinsured?
If the other driver is underinsured (meaning that his or her coverage is insufficient to cover all of your accident-related losses), then your primary options are to (i) file a UIM claim (if you have coverage), and/or (ii) determine if you have grounds to file a third-party claim for liability.
How is Fault Attributed?
In car accident cases under Arizona law, fault is attributed based on each party’s negligence. This is where the comparative negligence law we discussed comes into play. Let’s look at two common scenarios:
- A drunk driver runs a red light. Let’s say you were driving cautiously in an intersection, and you were t-boned by a drunk driver who ran a red light. In this scenario, it is highly likely that the drunk driver would be deemed 100 percent at fault in the accident.
- Two cars collide while speeding. Now, let’s say you were speeding on the highway. You were keeping up with traffic, but everyone was driving above the speed limit. Another driver merged in front of you and braked suddenly, and you could not stop in time to avoid a collision. This is a scenario in which fault could potentially be attributed to both drivers.
The only way to determine who was at fault and each party’s comparative negligence is to conduct a thorough investigation. It is important not to make assumptions in this regard. If you assume that the other driver will be found 100 percent at fault, then you may not gather the evidence you need to prove your claim. Likewise, if you falsely assume that you caused or contributed to the accident, then you will almost certainly end up with less than you deserve.
What is an Insurance Company and What Does it Mean to Be “Covered”?
An insurance company is a private or public corporation that sells auto insurance to drivers. Under Arizona law, all drivers are required to carry minimum auto insurance of $10,000 in property damage liability coverage, as well as bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage with limits of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident.
What is an Adjuster?
An adjuster is an insurance company employee who is responsible for investigating car accidents and determining the insurance company’s liability. The key thing to know about adjusters is that they work for the insurance companies, not for you. You can (and should) dispute your adjuster’s findings and if the adjuster refuses to offer just compensation, you can take the insurance company to court.
How Are Attorneys Involved?
It depends on the law firm you choose. At Hirsch & Lyon, we handle all aspects of our clients’ car accident claims. From the investigation through trial, we work diligently for our clients while helping them make informed decisions every step of the way. Our attorneys will work with your doctors to calculate your losses; negotiate with your adjuster to secure just compensation; and, if a fair settlement is not on the table, we will take your case to court.
How Do I Know What is Fair Value (or “Just Compensation”)?
Calculating fair value for your car accident injuries requires a comprehensive assessment of all of the various ways your injuries impact your life. From medical expenses and loss of income to pain and suffering, you are entitled to just compensation for all of your current and future losses (or “damages”) under Arizona law.
What Damages Can Be Claimed?
Medical expenses are most accident victims’ most-immediate concern after a vehicle collision. Health insurance often will not cover accident-related injuries (because health insurers expect injured drivers and passengers to pursue fault-based auto insurance claims) and the costs of traumatic injuries can far exceed what most people can afford to pay on their own.
In many cases, car accident victims’ future medical expenses will be far greater than the cost of emergency care. From follow-up visits to physical therapy, accident victims will often need to continue seeking medical treatment for years down the line. To make sure you do not settle for too little too soon, you will need to obtain a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan which allows you to accurately calculate the total cost of your long-term medical care.
If you missed work because you had to go to the doctor, you are entitled to compensation for your lost wages. If you are in too much pain to work, you are entitled to compensation for your paid and unpaid sick time, too. If you are unable to work in the future, or if you are forced to take a lower paying job as a result of your injuries, you are also entitled to compensation for your “lost future earning capacity.”
Similar to your future medical expenses, determining your lost future earning capacity requires a clear understanding of the long-term effects of the accident. The insurance companies won’t pay unless they are convinced that you are unable to work, so you will need an expert medical opinion that testifies to the disabling effects of your injuries.
Pain & Suffering
In addition to medical bills, lost wages, and other financial losses, Arizona law grants car accident victims the right to seek just compensation for their non-financial losses as well. In most cases, one of the most-significant categories of non-financial losses is “pain and suffering.”
The phrase “pain and suffering” refers to the physical and emotional strain a person experiences as the result of an accident-related injury. This includes things like:
- Physical aches and pains
- Chronic pain
- Physical limitations
- Depression and anxiety
- Loss of enjoyment of life
There are two primary ways to calculate pain and suffering damages in a car accident case under Arizona law. These are: (i) the per diem method and (ii) the multiplier method.
With the per diem method, damages are awarded for each day that the accident victim experiences (and is expected to experience) pain and suffering. Determining an appropriate per diem rate requires consideration of the unique consequences of your injuries; and, in most cases, is a matter of negotiation between the victim’s attorney and the insurance companies.
With the multiplier method, pain and suffering damages are calculated as a multiple of the victim’s compensation for his or her financial losses. For example, if your medical expenses, lost wages and other out-of-pocket losses add up to $100,000, your pain and suffering damages might be somewhere in the range of $100,000 to $500,000.
A Typical Car Accident Case
While each case is different, the following is a guideline for how a typical car accident case proceeds. The attorneys at Hirsch and Lyon have helped thousands of clients recover hundreds of millions of dollars using this process.
1. Free Initial Consultation
We encourage anyone who has been involved in a car accident in the Phoenix area to contact us as soon as possible for a free initial consultation. There are steps you need to take and mistakes you need to avoid. By guiding you through the early stages of your case, we can help ensure that you do not unknowingly jeopardize your financial recovery.
2. Medical Evaluation
We want to make sure that you receive a diagnosis and treatment plan from a reputable specialist who is an expert in traumatic injuries. While we may work directly with your physician, we may also refer you to a doctor whom we work with on a regular basis to prove our clients’ claims for financial compensation.
3. On-Scene Investigation
While you are receiving medical treatment, we will conduct an on-scene investigation to collect as much evidence as possible in support of your claim. Skid marks, traffic patterns, traffic controls (i.e. traffic lights and stop signs), safety railings, lane markings, and road conditions are just some of the factors that could be relevant to proving liability for your injuries.
4. Further Investigation
In addition to conducting an investigation at the scene of the accident, we will seek to obtain evidence from a number of other sources as well. These could include the other driver’s phone or employment records (if he or she was on the clock at the time of the accident), the police report, and the location and extent of the damage to each vehicle.
5. Evidence Assembly
Once we have the evidence we need to prove your claim, we will assemble this evidence to present to the insurance companies. We want to present an indisputable case for liability and a fact-based calculation of your damages so that we can secure a favorable settlement as quickly as possible.
6. Insurance Negotiations
Armed with the evidence we have obtained, we will initiate settlement negotiations with the insurance companies. In addition to presenting the evidence in your favor, we will also be prepared to rebut any allegations the insurance companies may try to use to mitigate their liability.
7. Attorney-Client Consultations
Throughout this process, we will remain in close contact with you so that you are up to date on the status of your case. If we receive a settlement offer, we will discuss the offer with you in detail so that you can decide whether to accept and move on or keep fighting for more.
8. Personal Injury Lawsuit
If necessary, we will initiate formal legal proceedings by filing a personal injury lawsuit. However, your trial will not be scheduled for some time, so there will still be numerous opportunities to settle.
9. Continued Settlement Negotiations
Even once we have a trial date, we will continue pushing the insurance companies for a fair settlement. While we will take your case to trial if necessary (and we have a long record of courtroom success), we want to save you the time and cost of litigation, if at all possible.
Finally, if it comes down to it, we will take your case to trial. At trial, we will present your case to the judge or jury and vigorously dispute the insurance companies’ allegations in order to win a verdict in your favor.
Did You Know?
Car Accident Statistics in Phoenix, Arizona
Car accidents in Arizona are on the rise. According to data from the Arizona Department of Transportation (AZDOT), the number of collisions in the state has risen each year since 2012. Of the approximately 127,000 crashes in Arizona in 2017, more than 93,500 – or 73 percent – occurred in Phoenix and the surrounding areas of Maricopa County.
AZDOT’s data also indicate that:
- Close to half of all car accidents in Arizona in 2017 resulted in personal injuries or death.
- Speeding is the most-common driver-related factor in fatal accidents in Arizona.
- The number of alcohol-related crashes in Arizona has declined in recent years; however, the number of drug-involved crashes has increased significantly.
Frequently Asked Questions About Car Accident Law
The following are some frequently asked questions about car accident law in Phoenix and the state of Arizona.
Why do you need a car accident lawyer?
Hiring a car accident lawyer is the only way to make sure you receive just compensation for your accident-related injuries. Despite what they say, the insurance companies are not on your side and they will not help you recover the financial compensation you deserve.
How can a car accident lawyer help?
There are many ways that a car accident lawyer can help with your case. From collecting evidence of liability and calculating your losses to negotiating with adjusters and representing you in court, every aspect of your case requires skilled legal representation.
When should you contact a car accident lawyer?
Now. If you have been injured in an accident, it is strongly in your best interest to contact an attorney immediately. Remember, your initial consultation should be completely free and confidential, and you should not be asked to pay any fees or costs unless your case is successful.
What is the typical process for a case?
Most car accident cases follow the 10 steps we outlined above. However, the vast majority of cases settle well before trial and at Hirsch & Lyon, our goal is to settle every case for maximum compensation as quickly as possible.
Can I change lawyers during my case?
Yes, but it is important not to rush into this decision. The insurance companies can be extraordinarily difficult to deal with and it may be that your attorney simply needs more time to resolve your case. If you have concerns about the quality of your legal representation, we will be happy to provide you with a second opinion.
Do we go to trial? When? How?
Maybe, but probably not. Only a very small percentage of car accident claims end up in court. If it appears that going to trial is going to be your best option, your attorney will obtain a court date and begin preparing for trial while continuing to negotiate for a fair settlement.
What is a settlement?
A settlement is a binding agreement between you and the insurance company to resolve your case out of court. When you settle, the insurance company will write you a check for the agreed-upon settlement amount and you will waive your right to seek any additional compensation. For this reason, it is critically important that you do not settle unless you are confident that the settlement amount reflects the fair value for your claim.
How often do cases settle?
Often. If you are entitled to compensation for your injuries, your case will most likely settle. Of course, we cannot guarantee this outcome – nor can any other attorney. But, what we can do is give you a realistic assessment of your chances of settling once we learn the facts of your case.
What is the typical settlement amount?
Every case is unique and for this reason, there is no “typical” settlement amount. We have negotiated settlements ranging from thousands to millions of dollars.
What happens if I choose a bad lawyer?
If you choose a bad lawyer, the outcome of your case will be far less certain than if you choose a lawyer who has a long history of securing favorable results. While no result is ever 100 percent certain, if you hire a bad lawyer, this will put you at a significant disadvantage.
If you have been injured in a car accident in the Phoenix area, we encourage you to contact us for a free case evaluation. Our attorneys are available 24/7 to help you secure the financial compensation you deserve. To discuss your case in confidence, call us at (602) 535-1900 or tell us how to reach you online now.
Sources and Related Websites
- Data & Analysis – https://www.azdot.gov/planning/DataandAnalysis
- Crash Information – https://www.azdot.gov/motor-vehicles/Statistics/arizona-motor-vehicle-crash-facts
- 2017 Crashes – https://www.azdot.gov/docs/default-source/mvd-services/2017-crash-facts.pdf?sfvrsn=2
- Maps – https://www.azdot.gov/maps
- State Law – https://www.azleg.gov/arstitle/
- Accident Reports – https://www.azleg.gov/viewDocument/?docName=http://www.azleg.gov/ars/28/00667.htm
- Implied Consent – https://www.azleg.gov/viewDocument/?docName=http://www.azleg.gov/ars/28/00673.htm
- Accident – Financial Responsibility – https://www.azleg.gov/viewDocument/?docName=http://www.azleg.gov/ars/28/04143.htm
- Library of Congress – https://www.loc.gov/law/help/guide/states/us-az.php