Arizona Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Learn how to file an Arizona personal injury lawsuit, what happens if you’re partly to blame for your injuries, whether Arizona has damage caps, and more.

By , Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

You've been hurt in Arizona—maybe by a careless driver, in a slip and fall accident, or by a dangerous product—and you think you might have a personal injury claim. But like most people, you don't know much about Arizona's personal injury (PI) laws or the court procedures that will control your case.

We'll walk you through the basics of Arizona personal injury law, starting with where and how you file an Arizona PI lawsuit. We also cover the time limits for filing your case in court, what happens to your case if you're partly to blame for your injuries, and whether Arizona has limits—called "caps"—on personal injury damages.

Where and How to File an Arizona Personal Injury Lawsuit

Because it's a type of civil (non-criminal) case, your Arizona personal injury lawsuit will be governed by state law and by the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be difficult to understand and apply, and the time to learn them isn't while you're trying to handle your own case. You'll want an experienced Arizona personal injury lawyer on your side to handle the preparation and filing of your lawsuit.

Where to File Your Lawsuit

Most personal injury lawsuits are filed in the state's main trial court, called the Arizona Superior Court. Each county has at least one superior court, and larger counties have more than one. In a typical PI case, you'll file your lawsuit in the superior court for the county where the accident happened or where the defendant lives.

When you're only asking for a limited amount of damages—$10,000 or less—you can file your case in the Arizona Justice Court. If your damages aren't more than $3,500, you can bring a small claims suit. Cases in small claims court are much simpler, quicker, and less expensive than in the superior court.

How to File Your Lawsuit

You start a personal injury lawsuit by filing a document called a "complaint" with the clerk of the court. (Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 3 (2024).) The contents of your complaint will depend, in part, on the kind of PI case you have. Generally speaking, though, the complaint will describe, in separately numbered paragraphs:

  • the parties who are involved in the case
  • when, where, and how the accident or event that caused your injuries happened
  • your injuries
  • what you claim the defendant (the party you're suing) did wrong to cause your injuries, and
  • the relief (usually damages) that you want the court to grant.

Special Rules—Personal Injury Cases Generally

Note that Arizona has some special rules about what your complaint must (and must not) include. Specifically, in most personal injury cases, you're not allowed to specify in your complaint the exact amount of damages you want to recover. (Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 8(b)(1) (2024).)

Instead, you must state the "damage tier" to which your case belongs. (Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 8(b)(2) (2024).) There are three damage tiers:

  • Tier 1—damages of $50,000 or less
  • Tier 2—damages of more than $50,000 but less than $300,000, and
  • Tier 3—damages of $300,000 or more.

(Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 26.2(c)(3) (2024).)

You'll want the advice of experienced legal counsel when assigning your case to a damage tier. The tier to which your case is assigned will also impact your ability to do "discovery," meaning to find out facts and information about the case known by the defendant.

Be sure to check for other special rules applicable to the type of case you're filing. (See, for example, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-566 (2024) (no pleading specific damage amount in a medical malpractice case); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-685 (2024) (special rules for cases involving dangerous products). Better yet, let your lawyer handle all these details.

Time Limits on Arizona Personal Injury Lawsuits

Arizona, like all states, has deadlines on how long you have to file a lawsuit in court. These laws, called "statutes of limitations," are claim killers. They exist for one reason: To kill your personal injury claim forever if you don't file your lawsuit in time.

Arizona's General Rule: Two Years From the Date of Your Injury

For most personal injury cases, including those caused by medical malpractice, you have two years to file your lawsuit. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-542 (2024).) The two-year clock usually begins to run on the date you're injured. When personal injuries cause death, this two-year deadline applies to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the victim's survivors or estate, and the limitation clock typically begins running on the date of death.

Statutes of Limitations in Specific Cases

Some kinds of personal injury lawsuits have different limitation periods and other special rules that apply. Here are a few examples.

Dog-bite cases. When you sue to recover for dog bite injuries, the filing deadline depends on the legal basis for your claim. Suits under Arizona's strict liability dog bite statute, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 11-1025 (2024), must be filed within one year from the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-541(5) (2024).) If you're claiming the dog owner was negligent (careless), Arizona's two-year general rule (discussed above) controls.

In most dog-bite cases, you'll bring both strict liability and negligence claims, so you'll need to file your lawsuit within one year.

(Learn more about Arizona dog bite laws.)

Suits against the government or its employees. A lawsuit against any Arizona government—city, county, or state—or a government employee must, as a general rule, be brought within one year after the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821 (2024).)

In addition, if you have a claim against the government, a government employee, or a public school, you must give written notice of your claim, usually within 180 days after the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821.01 (2024).) Importantly, this written notice isn't the same as filing a lawsuit. You must provide this notice before you file in court. If you don't, you're not allowed to sue.

(Learn more about personal injury claims against the government in Arizona.)

Certain intentional injuries. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-541(1) (2024) puts a one-year deadline on lawsuits for:

Extending the Statute of Limitations Deadline

Sometimes, Arizona law allows the lawsuit filing deadline to be extended. Here are some examples.

Legal disabilities. When an injured person is legally disabled—unable to manage their affairs without help or supervision from a parent, guardian, or court—the applicable statute of limitations doesn't start running right away. Instead, it begins running on the date the disability is removed. For purposes of this rule, "legally disabled" means a person who is:

  • a minor (younger than 18 years old) or
  • of "unsound mind."

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-502 (2024).)

Absence from Arizona. When the defendant leaves Arizona, before or after you're injured, the statute of limitations doesn't run during the period they're absent from the state. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-501 (2024).)

The "discovery rule." In most cases, the statute of limitations starts running on the date you're injured. But what if you don't know right away that you're hurt? In that case, Arizona's "discovery rule" says the limitation clock doesn't start to run until the earlier of the date that you:

  • discover your injury, or
  • should have discovered your injury, had you been reasonably diligent.

If you're thinking about relying on the discovery rule, expect to be challenged by the defendant. You'll need an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle the legal arguments on your behalf.

What Happens If You're Partly to Blame for the Accident?

To collect damages for most personal injury claims, you have to prove that the defendant was negligent. The defendant will usually answer that you were negligent too, and that your negligence should reduce or eliminate your damages. This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence," and it's available in Arizona. Here's how it works.

Arizona Is a Pure Comparative Negligence State

Under Arizona's pure comparative negligence law, if your negligence contributes to cause your injuries, the damages you can collect are reduced by your percentage share of the total negligence. But as long as you're not 100% to blame, you can collect some damages. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-2505 (2024).) Here's a quick example to illustrate.

Suppose you're in an auto accident. You sue the other driver for damages. The other driver claims that you were also negligent and asks to be awarded damages against you. After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $50,000 and assigns you 30% of the total negligence for the wreck. The jury assigns 70% of the blame to the other driver and finds that their damages total $40,000. How much in damages will each of you collect?

Because the jury found you 30% at fault, you can collect 70% of your $50,000 in damages: $50,000 x 70% = $35,000. You'll collect that amount from the defendant's insurance company.

The defendant, by comparison, was found to be 70% at fault, meaning they'll collect 30% of their $40,000 total damages: $40,000 x 30% = $12,000. Your insurance company will write them a $12,000 check.

Comparative Negligence Exception

When the defendant causes an injury intentionally, or through willful or wanton misconduct, the defendant can't raise your comparative negligence as a defense.

Does Arizona Have Limits on Personal Injury Damages?

Most states put limits, or "caps," on the damages an injured person can collect in a personal injury lawsuit. Damages for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disability and disfigurement are frequent targets. Some states limit these damages in all personal injury cases. Others cap damages only in specific kinds of cases, especially medical malpractice suits.

Damage caps are prohibited by the Arizona Constitution. (Ariz. Const. art. 2, § 31 (2024).) Arizona has no caps on damages in personal injury cases.

Get Help With Your Arizona Personal Injury Lawsuit

Can't settle your Arizona personal injury insurance claim and need to file a lawsuit? Your first call should be to an experienced Arizona lawyer. The laws and court rules involved in a lawsuit are among the most complicated and difficult of all laws to understand. And the price of a mistake can be devastating. Miss the applicable statute of limitations, for example, and chances are you've lost your right to sue, forever.

If you're ready to move forward with a personal injury lawsuit, here's how to find an Arizona attorney near you.

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