Car accidents can be devastating. If you are involved in an accident, you might suffer a personal injury or lose a loved one.
When another individual or entity causes an accident, you may have the right to recover compensation for your losses. However, many people are confused by the claims process and have questions about what they might expect. Here are some frequently asked questions about car accidents, personal injury, and wrongful death.
What to do After a Car Accident: First Steps
No one plans on being in a serious car accident; however, statistics from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis show that a person living in Arizona has a 1 in 3,327 chance of being involved in a fatal car crash. All car accidents are unique; nevertheless, this list incorporates important steps to take in common scenarios.
Stay at the Scene
If you are in Phoenix, or anywhere in The Valley, it is important that after an accident you stay at the scene and give your name, address, vehicle registration number and drivers license information to any person that was injured or had their property damaged. However, you should not admit liability or apologize at the scene. Immediately after an accident people may be disoriented and fault may not be determinable without further investigation.
If anyone involved in the accident has been injured call for medical assistance immediately. If you are able, give “reasonable assistance.” This may mean calling for an ambulance. However, do not move an injured person after the collision unless there is a fire and they are in danger.
Call the Police
In Phoenix, if you are involved in an accident in which there is injury or death, state law requires you to notify the Phoenix Police Department, Maricopa Sheriff’s Department or the highway Patrol immediately.
Talk to Witnesses
Ask every witness what he or she witnessed. Get their names, phone numbers and addresses. Ask if they would be willing to have you record their answers on your cell phone. Witness recollection can be lost very quickly; therefore, it is important to get witness statements as promptly as possible.
Take photographs of the accident scene with your phone. Take photographs of the vehicles, the people involved, your injuries and the area surrounding your accident. Photographs could prove invaluable is court or in settling your claim.
Keep Track of Medical Treatment
If you believe that you have been injured in an auto accident it is imperative that you see a medical professional for your own health and to document your injuries. Keep all bills and records from your medical visits. Note any doctors, therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors and other medical professionals that you receive treatment from, and all referrals to other caregivers.
Additionally, keep a written record of how your injuries have impacted your daily life in order to prove pain and suffering. Include items such as: difficulty with sleep, difficulty performing daily household activities, inability to drive a car, inability to exercise, missed work, how the injuries have affected your relationships, mood and any other important change caused by the accident.
Should You Hire an Attorney for Your Car Accident Case?
If you have been injured in the auto accident, it may be in your best interest to contact a Phoenix car accident lawyer. Studies from the Insurance Research Council and the All-Industry Research Advisory Council suggest that auto accident victims that hire a personal injury attorney receive 40 percent higher settlements than those who chose not to hire an attorney. Additionally, the study found that insurance payouts are 3.5 times higher for clients who have hired an attorney than for those without one.
An experienced Phoenix personal injury attorney will be able to walk you through your unique situation and assist you in getting the damages you deserve. The Lamber-Goodnow Injury Law Team works quickly to preserve evidence, record witness information, investigate the scene of the accident and collaborate with expert accident reconstructionists. We are industry leaders, and we are determined to hold responsible parties accountable in any type of auto accident involving negligence of another party. The sooner you speak with us, the sooner our team can go to work for you
Common Phoenix Car Accident Laws
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
Section 28-644: A driver must obey traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Section 28-693: A driver who drives in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Reasonable and Prudent Speed
Section 28-701(a): A driver shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.
Driving on Right Side of Roadway/Shoulder
Section 28-721: Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
- Upon a roadway with three marked lanes for traffic
Passing On the Left
Section 28-723: Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Passing On the Right
Section 28-724: Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
Following Too Closely
Section 28-730: A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent,” having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.
Negligence in Arizona
Most auto accidents in which there are injuries hinge on the legal theory of negligence. Negligence refers to when a person fails to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would under the same circumstances. Under Arizona law, negligence is broken down into four elements:
- Duty: the at-fault party owed some type of duty to you. For example, in an auto accident they owed a duty to pay proper attention and drive prudently.
- Breach: the at-fault party breached their duty owed to you by failing to exercise reasonable care. For example, in the auto accident they did not pay proper attention or drive prudently.
- Causation: the at-fault party’s actions were the cause of your injury. For example, because the driver did not pay proper attention or drive prudently they rear-ended you as you were lawfully stopped at a red light, causing you to break three ribs.
- Damages: there is some way in which you may be compensated for your injury. For example, you may get your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering for your broken ribs.
At-fault drivers in Phoenix may also be found liable under the legal theory “negligence per se.” In tort law the rule of negligence per se states that if a defendant’s actions violated a safety statute, for example traffic laws, then the court will consider the actions negligent without asking whether a reasonable person would have done the same thing.
In Arizona negligence laws follow the doctrine of comparative negligence. Under Arizona Revised Statute Section 12-2505, an injured party is allowed to recover even if they are found to be up to 99 percent at fault. The victim’s damages will be reduced by the amount in which they are found to be at fault. However, if a plaintiff intentionally caused or contributed to an injury then they are barred from recovery.
Arizona Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum period, which one can wait before filing a lawsuit, depending on the type of case or claim.
Arizona Revised Statute Section 12-542 establishes a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage claims. If the victim fails to settle their claim or file a lawsuit within this prescribed time period they will be barred from pursuing the negligent driver for their damages.
Arizona Accident Reports
Just as an accident victim in Phoenix has a legal duty to report an accident to police if there has been injury or property damage, police officers have laws and duties to follow as well.
Arizona Revised Statute Section 28-667 states that a law enforcement officer who investigates a motor vehicle accident resulting in bodily injury, death, damage to the property that totals more than $1,000, or a citation, must complete a written report of the accident within 24 hours after completing the investigation.
Additionally, Arizona Revised Statute Section 28-669 requires officers to create written reports that provide sufficiently detailed information about the cause of the accident as well as the conditions and the persons and vehicles involved.
An Arizona Crash Report is very important in a personal injury case. It will help in establishing liability for settlement purposes. Section 9 of the Crash Report is for Citation Charges. This is where the officers record any citations given and may be used to argue negligence per se. Additionally, a diagram of the accident, as well as a narrative of what happened, will be found on the report. Each section is important in determining where the responding officer’s initial determination of liability rests.
Q: Who will be responsible for paying my medical bills? What do I do with the bills that I receive?
A: It is common for people to incur substantial medical expenses following accidents. You might be left facing mounting medical bills combined with income losses, causing your financial circumstances to be impacted. Who will be responsible for paying your medical bills when you have been injured in an accident will depend on whether you were at fault or if another driver or party was at fault for your accident. If you were at fault, your own medical insurance will pay for your medical bills. In that case, you will be responsible for paying your deductibles and copays. If another party was at fault, his or her insurance company will be responsible for paying your medical expenses out of the bodily injury coverage on the policy.
If you have an accident with an uninsured motorist, you can submit your medical expenses to your own uninsured motorists/uninsured motorists coverage through your own policy as long as you have it. Since the at-fault motorist’s insurance policy will not pay damages for your medical expenses until your claim is resolved, you will not need to do anything about your medical bills when you receive them. Your attorney can talk to your doctors about your claim. In most cases, doctors will agree to wait for payment until your claim is resolved. You can also submit the medical expenses to your own health insurance company for payment. Your company can then go after the at-fault party’s insurance company for recovery of its expenditures once your claim is resolved.
Q: What happens when my accident was caused by a defective part instead of a driver?
A: Some accidents are caused by defective components instead of through the fault of either driver. If you have been injured in an accident that was caused by a defective part on your car or on the car of another driver, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the designer or manufacturer of the defective component under a legal theory called products liability. Designers, manufacturers, distributors, and others who are responsible for bringing defective products to the market may be liable under a products liability theory as long as you were using the product as it was intended and were injured as a result of its defect. Some common examples of defective parts that have resulted in injuries and fatalities include defective airbags, defective tires, defective steering, defective brakes, and others.
Q: I was hit by a commercial truck. Who is responsible?
A: In a trucking accident that is caused by a commercial truck, multiple parties may hold liability. In addition to the truck driver, the driver’s employer may also be liable. Trucking carriers are vicariously liable for the negligence of their drivers, meaning that the carrier will likely be responsible for paying damages since it will have a liability policy with much higher limits. Truck drivers and trucking carriers are not the only potentially liable parties, however. Depending on what happened, multiple parties could have contributed to the accident. These parties might include the parties who were responsible for maintaining and repairing the truck, the distribution companies that loaded and secured the truck, municipalities, and contractors that are responsible for maintaining the roads, truck leasing companies, and others. Your attorney at Lamber Goodnow will conduct an in-depth investigation so that he or she can identify all of the parties that might hold liability for your accident. Identifying and naming all of the potentially liable parties can provide you with more sources of recovery so that you might recover enough compensation to cover your losses.
Q: Can anyone be sued if they are responsible for causing an accident that killed someone?
A: Historically, the ability to recover compensation for injuries ended when someone was killed. This meant that families could not recover damages from the parties who were responsible for causing their loved ones’ deaths. The Arizona Legislature recognized this as inherently unfair and unconscionable. As a result, they enacted a statutory right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death. Under A.R.S. § 12-611, people who would have held liability under a theory of tort law if the person had remained alive can still be sued for wrongful death. Wrongful death cases may be filed when a person’s death was caused by the negligent, reckless, or intentional actions of other people or entities.
Q: Who can sue if someone was killed in an accident?
A: The law limits the parties who can file lawsuits for wrongful death. Under A.R.S. § 12-612, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by the surviving spouse of the decedent, the children of the decedent if there is no surviving spouse, the decedent’s parents if the decedent was unmarried and had no children, the siblings, the grandparents, or the personal representative or executor of the decedent’s estate. When they are filed by the personal representative or executive of the estate, the proceeds from any settlement or award will be for the benefit of the estate’s beneficiaries or the decedent’s heirs.
Q: What damages are available in a wrongful death lawsuit?
A: The particular amounts that might be recoverable in a wrongful death lawsuit will depend on the facts and circumstances of what occurred. Similar to injury claims, the potential damages can be divided into categories of damages called general damages and special damages. Special damages are monetary amounts to compensate the family members for their actual economic losses from the loss of their loved one. These might include the following types of damages:
- Medical expenses incurred for caring for your loved one until he or she succumbed to his or her injuries
- Your loved one’s past lost income and future income losses based on a life expectancy chart, your loved one’s education and career, and his or her future earnings potential
- Loss of the value of the contributions through services that a non-working spouse made to the home and family
- Your loved one’s lost rights to an inheritance
- Property losses
General damages are damages that are more intangible. In a wrongful death case, these might include the following:
- Pain and suffering that your loved one experienced after his or her injury up until he or she died
- Your emotional trauma experienced from seeing your loved one die
- Your grief
- Loss of consortium for spouses
- Loss of guidance for children
Punitive damages are generally not recoverable in wrongful death cases.
Q: Will the damages that I receive in a wrongful death lawsuit be subject to the debts of my loved one?
A: Whether the proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit may be reached by the creditors of your loved one will depend on the party who brings it. Under A.R.S. § 12-613, proceeds from wrongful death claims cannot be used to pay the debts of a decedent when the lawsuits are brought by and for the immediate family members of the decedent. However, when the claim is brought by the personal representative for the estate, the proceeds will go to the estate. The creditors are then allowed to file claims against the estate to recover the money that they are owed.
Q: My child was injured. Can he or she sue?
A: Under Arizona law, minors do not have the legal capacity to file lawsuits on their own. However, a parent or legal guardian of an injured minor can file a lawsuit on behalf of him or her under A.R.S. § 12-541. If a parent or guardian does not file a lawsuit on the minor’s behalf within the normal statute of limitations, the statute of limitations will be tolled until the minor reaches the age of majority. He or she will then be able to file a lawsuit within the prescribed statutory time period after he or she turns 18 years old. If the parents or guardians fail to file a lawsuit on behalf of the minor, and the minor fails to file a lawsuit on his or her own behalf after he or she turns 18, the potential claim will be time-barred. This means that the child will lose the ability to recover compensation for his or her injuries and losses that resulted from the accident.
Q: How are settlements for minors handled?
A: Because of the unique position that minors have, the courts of Arizona treat proposed settlements differently for minors. The courts want to make certain that the settlements are fair to the minors and that the money that is received will not be wasted by the minor’s parents, guardian, or by the minor himself or herself. Under 17B A.R.S. Rules Prob. Proc. Rule 37, when a settlement offer is proposed for a minor that the minor and his or her parents or guardian think is fair, the proposed settlement must be submitted to the probate court for a review. The probate judge will review the settlement and the evidence in the case to make a determination of whether or not the settlement should be approved. If the court does not approve of the proposed settlement, the parties will need to continue negotiating in an effort to reach a better settlement agreement that will be approved.
After a minor’s settlement offer is approved or after a verdict is awarded in favor of a minor by a jury, the money is not paid directly to the parents. Instead, a guardian will be appointed by the probate court to manage the money for the minor. The money will be held in a trust account, and each expenditure that is paid from the account will have to be requested and will have to be used to pay for approved expenses. Once the minor reaches the age of majority, he or she will receive access to the money in the account.
Q: What are punitive damages? Can I get them?
A: Punitive damages are not compensatory damages. This means that they are not damages that are meant to compensate you for your economic and noneconomic losses. Instead, punitive damages are monetary amounts that the defendant must pay in addition to your compensatory damages. These types of damages are meant to punish defendants for their wrongful actions in order to deter both them and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future.
Because of the unique nature of punitive damages, they are rarely awarded. These types of damages are reserved for cases in which the defendants’ actions were very egregious or outrageous. Types of accidents in which they might be available might include drunk driving accidents that result in severe and catastrophic injuries or cases involving homicide by vehicle with a DUI, for example. Unless the defendant’s conduct was very outrageous, intentional, or reckless, it is unlikely that punitive damages will be available in your case. Your personal injury lawyer at Lamber Goodnow can review your potential claim and advise you about whether they might be an option for you.