Arizona is one of 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, that applies a fault-based system to auto accidents. Therefore, Arizona is not a no fault state. If you suffered an injury due to another driver’s negligence, you have the right to file a claim with the careless driver’s insurance company in Arizona. A Phoenix personal injury attorney with experience in Maricopa County can answer any questions about the details of your case and your right to damages.
What Is a No Fault State?
A handful of states require licensed drivers with a registered vehicle to carry no-fault auto insurance, also known as personal injury protection insurance. With PIP coverage, each driver involved in an accident can file a claim with their own policy, eliminating the question of fault and allowing them fast access to compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
However, there are limitations to the no-fault policy. For example, victims cannot access non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress, and must file separate claims to receive compensation for property damage. To accommodate for the limitations of PIP coverage, most states have a serious injury threshold that allows victims to bypass the no-fault policy and file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance.
How At-Fault-Based Law Works
In Arizona, if another party is responsible for your auto accident, you file a claim through their insurance. Unlike a no fault state, states that follow at-fault policies require the liable party to pay for damages. For that reason, the minimum auto insurance requirements are:
- $15,000 in property damage liability coverage
- $25,000 per person in bodily injury liability coverage
- $50,000 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage
Unfortunately, not everyone abides by the law and carries the required insurance. For example, suppose the at-fault party in your accident is uninsured. In that case, you have the option to file a claim with your uninsured motorist coverage, or you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver through Maricopa County’s civil court and make your claim that the other driver is at fault.
How Do You Prove Fault for an Auto Accident in Arizona?
In a no fault state, you would file your claim without the burden of proving negligence. However, in an at-fault state like Arizona, you, the claimant or plaintiff, are responsible for providing sufficient evidence to prove the other driver’s liability for the accident. A negligence claim has four key components:
- Duty of care. Duty of care refers to the responsibility every driver has to abide by traffic laws and act reasonably to protect the safety of other drivers. Proving this element of negligence is straightforward.
- Breached duty of care. For negligence to occur, the other driver must breach their duty of care by committing a traffic violation or acting in a manner that is unsafe for other people on or near the road.
- Causation. That breach of duty must then directly cause your accident and injuries.
- Damages. Finally, you must have proof of damages to file a claim or lawsuit. Damages refer to the losses you sustained from the accident and your injuries.
A vital point to remember is that you cannot file a personal injury claim without damages. For example, if you are in a minor accident with no injuries or property damage, you may be frustrated with the other driver’s behavior. Still, you cannot request compensation without losses.
How Does Arizona Law Handle Shared Fault in an Auto Accident?
In a no fault state, you do not have to make a negligence claim to receive compensation. However, in Arizona, the first step in the process is to make a claim against the other driver and provide supporting evidence. As a result, you can typically expect the other driver to respond with their own negligence claims. If you are at least partially responsible, the law still allows you to claim a portion of your losses using a legal concept called comparative negligence.
Comparative Negligence Rule
When applied, the comparative negligence rule deducts a portion of the total damages from the plaintiff’s award. In practice, the court will calculate each party’s fault percentage and the total monetary value of all damages. The final award the plaintiff receives equals total damages minus an amount equaling their percentage of fault.
In a state that follows the modified comparative negligence rule, you cannot be more than 50% at fault to receive compensation. However, Arizona follows the pure comparative negligence rule, which states that you can receive a percentage of the damages even if you are more responsible than the other party.
For example, suppose you filed a lawsuit against the other driver, and the court determined you were 75% at fault and valued your damages at $20,000. In that case, you would still receive 25% percent of $20,000, which amounts to $5,000. If you live in Arizona and not a no fault state, there are steps you can take to protect your right to compensation.
What Should You Do After an Auto Accident?
All auto accidents have unique conditions that may affect what happens in the immediate aftermath. For example, if you have a severe injury, you generally would not be able to do more than wait for emergency medical services to arrive. However, if you are capable, there are a few steps you could take to protect your rights and your health:
- Contact the police. It is advisable to file a police report even if the accident resulted in minimal damage. In some jurisdictions, particularly those more heavily populated, the police department may not discharge an officer for a minor accident resulting in no injuries. However, you can still report the crash to your local station online or in person.
- Document the accident. Take photographs or record a video of the scene, ideally while all vehicles are still in the position they landed in after impact. Include imagery of the surrounding area, such as road signs and traffic lights, and take photos of any visible injuries. If a location nearby has security cameras, you can ask to see the footage.
- Collect contact information. Ask the other driver for their driver’s license and insurance information. If anyone witnesses the collision, you can also request their contact information.
- Seek medical attention. Unfortunately, people often avoid going to the doctor for minor injuries, either because it is expensive or because they assume they do not need care. However, you should see a doctor for a complete evaluation as soon as possible to search for potential internal injuries, which can cause lasting damage if left untreated. Additionally, you will benefit from an official medical record of your injuries created immediately following the accident.
- Talk to a personal injury attorney. In a no fault state, you would likely just file a claim with your insurance company and wait for compensation. However, speaking with an attorney in Arizona before filing a claim with the other driver’s insurance allows you to explore all the legal options available.
Be mindful of the bad faith tactics insurance companies commonly use to avoid paying a valid claim. If they refuse to return your calls, delay the investigation into your claim, deny your claim without providing a reason, or use harsh, accusatory language when you communicate, speak with an experienced attorney in Maricopa County. They will handle all conversations with the insurance adjustor and protect your right to compensation.
What Damages Can You Recover From a Car Accident?
The damages available in any auto accident case can vary drastically depending on severe factors, including the number of vehicles, point of impact, and severity of injuries. In a no fault state, you have limited access to the types of damages you can receive. However, all personal injury cases have some variation of economic and non-economic compensatory damages. In rare cases, you may also access punitive damages.
The financial consequences of your accident are your economic damages. They are relatively easy to calculate but may require extensive documentation depending on the extent of the damages. Some examples of economic losses include:
- The cost of medical care: Medical treatments can add up quickly, especially if you suffer severe injuries. You can recover emergency care costs, hospital stays, surgeries, post-discharge visits, prescription medications, necessary medical devices, and ongoing treatments, such as rehabilitative therapy.
- The loss of income: You may not be able to work during recovery. Because this is a direct consequence of the accident, you can seek compensation for the wages you lost. If your injuries caused a disability that hindered you from ever performing your job again, you could request payment for the loss of earning capacity.
- Property repair or replacement: The at-fault party from your accident is liable for any damaged property, including your vehicle and any external property destroyed at the collision site.
- Other related expenses: Any necessary expenditures acquired because of the accident are potentially recoverable. For example, if you were the primary childcare provider in your household and needed to pay for childcare services during recovery, you could include that cost in your claim. The same is true for any household help, transportation expenses, or structural changes to your home needed to accommodate your medical condition.
As the plaintiff, you are also responsible for proving your losses. For economic losses, you may need medical bills, pay stubs, recent tax returns, auto repair estimates, and receipts for other related expenses. On the other hand, your non-economic losses are more complex to calculate and prove.
Non-economic losses refer to damages without an inherent financial value. These are the psychological losses caused by the accident, and they are not available under PIP insurance in a no fault state. Examples may include:
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering caused by your injuries
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
- Loss of the ability to enjoy your life as you previously did
- Loss of consortium if your injuries affected your intimate relationship with your spouse
- Temporary or permanent disability, including disfigurement or dismemberment
Evidence for non-economic losses may include your written statement about how your injuries affected your life, testimonies from people you know discussing the negative changes they see, and expert testimony from doctors and mental health professionals. Unfortunately, calculating psychological losses is even more complex than proving them.
Calculating Non-Economic Damages
A crucial service provided by personal injury attorneys is their experience in valuing the non-economic losses of your claim. The most common strategy is to use the multiplier method. In the simplest terms, your attorney will calculate your economic losses and multiply them by a number between 1.5 and 5. A higher multiplier would indicate more severe injuries.
For example, suppose your total economic losses amounted to $10,000, and your injuries were substantial, requiring an extended recovery period. In that case, your attorney may use four as the multiplier, totaling your non-economic losses at $40,000. In Arizona, there is no cap on non-economic damages, unlike in a no fault state, where it is common practice to limit the amount you can receive. However, your argument and calculations must be reasonable.
Punitive damages do not compensate for any loss associated with your accident or injuries. Instead, the court uses an order for punitive damages to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior. While punitive damages are rare in auto accident cases, the court may award you if the defendant knew their actions were unsafe and would harm others or if they intentionally caused the accident.
For example, driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding could constitute gross negligence and warrant an order of punitive damages. Additionally, Arizona does not place a cap on these damages either, but anything exceeding a ratio of 9:1 would likely be unconstitutional.
Do You Need a Lawyer in a No Fault State?
Auto accident victims often face devastating physical, emotional, and financial losses as a result of someone else’s carelessness. An Arizona personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation you need to begin restoring your life or adjusting to new circumstances. Even in a no fault state, car accident victims have nothing to lose from seeking legal advice from someone specializing in personal injury law. Contact Sargon Law Group to schedule your free consultation and speak to a lawyer today.