After any kind of traffic accident in Arizona, if you've been injured and/or incurred damage to your vehicle, you probably want to understand your legal options. In this article, we'll discuss a few Arizona laws that could have a big impact on any personal injury case you decide to file, including lawsuit-filing deadlines and the state's rules when more than one party might be at fault for an accident.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on the right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered.
(Note: the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a few days. Learn more about contacting your car insurance company after an accident.)
In Arizona, the statute of limitations that affects car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases. Specifically, Arizona Revised Statutes section 12-542 sets a two-year deadline for the filing of any civil case seeking a remedy for "injuries done to the person of another," for "trespass for injury done to the estate or the property of another," and for "injuries done to the person of another when death ensues from such injuries."
So, after a car accident, the same two-year time limit would apply regardless of whether the legal remedy being sought is for injury, vehicle damage, or wrongful death, and whether the case is being filed by a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian. The two-year "clock" usually starts running on the date of the accident.
If you try to file your lawsuit after the two-year time window has closed, the court will almost certainly refuse to consider it, so it’s important to understand how the statute of limitations applies to your situation.
Even if you’re confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you’ll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than added leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the two-year deadline, it may be time to contact an experienced Arizona car accident attorney.
If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault?
Arizona follows a "pure comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the pure comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.
For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and pain and suffering). Sounds good, right? But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under Arizona’s comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant sum, but far below the grand total of your damages.
The comparative fault rule in Arizona applies even if you are found to be more responsible for the accident than the other driver. For instance, if the jury decides you are 90 percent at fault, you are still technically entitled to 10 percent of your total damages, but of course the other side of the coin is that you'll be on the hook for 90 percent of the other driver's damages.
(Not all states treat comparative fault this way. Most follow a "modified" comparative fault rule that only allows the plaintiff to receive damages if his or her fault was 50 percent or less. Once the plaintiff’s fault exceeds 50 percent, the damages award drops to zero in most of these states.)
Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Arizona judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit.
Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Arizona, like most states, requires the owner of a motor vehicle to maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage in order to operate the vehicle legally on the state's roads and highways. So, understanding the Arizona auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.
If you're looking for legal advice that's tailored to your situation, talk to a car accident attorney in your area.