Several circumstances can lead to a lawsuit in Arizona. The most common? A type of car accident. From hit-and-run cases to multi-car collisions, auto accidents can cause severe personal injury, property damage, and emotional turmoil. When medical bills and lost wages begin to pile up, you might consider filing a civil lawsuit.
While filing a car accident lawsuit is not a decision to take lightly, sometimes litigation can be the best avenue to receive fair compensation after a wreck. Today, we’re discussing everything you need to know to file a civil lawsuit for a car accident in Arizona.
What Is a Civil Lawsuit?
A civil lawsuit is a legal action brought about by an injured party in a civil court of law. Unlike a criminal lawsuit, which seeks punishment for an individual’s actions, a civil lawsuit seeks compensation. After a car accident, an injured party can bring a civil lawsuit against the at-fault driver to seek compensation for their damages.
Types of Damages Included in a Car Accident Lawsuit
In the state of Arizona, an accident victim must suffer damages to seek compensation after a car crash. There are two types of damages in most personal injury cases: special and general damages.
Special damages are expenses that can be calculated to an exact dollar amount. Typically, you can find the prices for special damages on receipts or statements. Medical treatment and property damage are two examples of special damages that are tied to a specific price tag.
Additional examples of special damages include:
- Lost earnings and lost earning capacity
- Medical bills and future medical expenses
- Travel costs for visiting medical professionals, such as gas expenses
- Property damage, such as the cost to fix or replace your vehicle after an accident
Unlike special damages, general damages are not capable of exact calculations. These damages typically reflect the emotional and mental strain an accident victim faces after a wreck. In most car accident claims, the accident victim works alongside a personal injury lawyer to accurately price general damages.
General damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Long-term disability
Common Car Accident Injuries
There are many frightening car accident effects, including physical injuries and emotional trauma. While all accidents can be traumatizing, specific types of accidents tend to result in more dramatic injuries. For example, side-impact collisions typically result in one or more broken bones in the arms or ribs. Rear-end collisions, especially at high speeds, can cause severe whiplash.
Some of the most common types of motor vehicle injuries we see in Arizona include:
- Facial injuries
- Bone fractures
- Cuts and lacerations
- Soft tissue injuries, such as sprains and strains
- Neck and back injuries, such as whiplash or a herniated disc
- Traumatic head injuries (TBI), such as concussions
- Internal injuries, such as internal bruising and bleeding
What to Do After an Auto Accident
The initial aftermath of an auto accident can be extremely hectic. However, it’s important to remember that these first few moments are critical for seeking compensation down the line. Once you ensure the safety of yourself and any passengers, there are several important steps to take before even thinking about a lawsuit.
1. File a Police Car Accident Report
Immediately after a collision, you must file a police car accident report. A police report is not legally required if property damage is less than $1,000. However, if you were hurt in the crash, a police report helps form the basis of your personal injury lawsuit.
In Arizona, a police car accident report typically contains key details about the accident, including the time and date of the crash, as well as the contact information for all drivers involved. The report also contains a simple diagram of the accident scene, witness statements detailing the incident, and a thorough description of how the accident unfolded.
This document helps accident victims retain records of what happened at the scene, and it can serve as proof of personal injury and property damage.
2. Receive Medical Treatment Immediately
You must receive medical attention after being injured in a car accident. In several cases, delayed pain—such as whiplash, internal injuries, and soft tissue injuries—develops in the days and weeks following a crash. It’s essential you receive medical treatment as soon as possible to safeguard your health. Plus, if you’re injured, a record of your medical treatment can serve as documentation for your settlement negotiations.
3. Keep a Record of All Expenses
Expenses can pile up quickly following an accident. Be sure to keep a record of each expense moving forward, including medical records and lost wages. Likewise, if you’re receiving routine outpatient medical care, document all money spent on travel costs. Arrange all bills, receipts, and statements in chronological order to easily share with your personal injury attorney when filing a claim.
4. Check the Statute of Limitations for Your Car Accident Case
If you move forward with a personal injury claim, your case must fall within the Arizona statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a time limit placed by courts that determines the amount of time an accident victim has to file a civil claim or take action against the individual who harmed them. Arizona has a two-year statute of limitations for a car accident personal injury claim, beginning on the day of the crash.
If you proceed with legal action immediately after your auto accident, you likely won’t have to worry about your statute of limitations expiring. However, if you experienced delayed injuries and were not aware of the extent of damages until several months down the line, you should confirm your case still falls within the time limit.
5. File a Personal Injury Claim with the Insurance Company
Once you confirm your case is within the Arizona statute of limitations, you can move forward with an injury claim. In most cases, you don’t have to file a lawsuit right away. Your car accident attorney will file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company instead.
Auto accident attorneys begin each insurance claim by investigating the collision and gathering evidence to prove the other driver’s negligence. After fully documenting your case, your attorney will submit a demand letter to the other driver’s insurance company. Keep in mind, most auto insurance companies don’t accept an accident victim’s initial demands.
It’s likely the opposing insurance company will send a counter-offer instead. If the insurance company doesn’t provide a fair settlement offer, your attorney will need to negotiate with the insurance adjuster. If all parties cannot reach an agreement, your lawyer may advise you to move forward with a civil lawsuit.
How to File a Civil Lawsuit for a Car Accident in Arizona
If negotiating with the insurance company doesn’t work, or the at-fault driver’s insurance policy was not sufficient, you may need to file a civil lawsuit to recoup your damages. If you file a lawsuit, you legally become known as the Plaintiff. The at-fault party becomes the Defendant.
Typically, a civil action lawsuit begins with a complaint. A complaint is a legal document that details the claims the Plaintiff has against the Defendant. The Defendant must answer the complaint within a certain time (usually about three weeks). Their answer must detail which portions of the complaint they admit to or deny. A Defendant’s reply also contains their defenses and whether they have claims against the Plaintiff or any other party.
If the Defendant doesn’t answer a complaint, a civil court may enter a default judgment in the Plaintiff’s favor. If the Defendant’s answer contains a counterclaim against the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff must also answer within three weeks. Once all complaints have been served, all parties exchange documents and evidence related to the case. This process is called the discovery phase.
Reaching a Car Accident Settlement
During the discovery phase, all parties exchange information through a process of written questions called interrogatories. In most cases, in-person interviews called depositions are also included. Once these processes are complete, all parties can voluntarily resolve their issues through mediation. Mediation is when an impartial, unaffiliated third party assists accident victims in reaching a settlement.
If a settlement is reached, the settlement agreement resolves all issues between the at-fault party and the harmed party. In this case, the court does not need to be involved. A settlement check is delivered to the harmed party’s attorney and shortly released to the harmed party.
If all parties do not reach an agreement, the case will go to trial.
Going to Trial for a Civil Lawsuit
In most civil cases, either party can choose to have a jury trial. At civil court, the attorneys for each party present evidence and arguments for each side. This process helps prove who is responsible for paying which damages.
A judge or jury will decide on all unresolved issues. Once they reach a decision, the judge will order the at-fault party to compensate the harmed party for their damages. A settlement check is then delivered to the harmed party’s attorney, who follows the appropriate timeline to release the funds to the harmed party.
Do You Need a Car Accident Lawyer for a Civil Lawsuit?
Much like filing a pain and suffering claim without a lawyer, it is difficult to file a civil lawsuit without an attorney. Therefore, we highly suggest hiring a car accident lawyer when filing a civil lawsuit. An auto accident attorney can help you gather evidence, assess damages, and establish liability. Additionally, you can feel safe confiding in them because of your attorney-client relationship.
A car accident attorney’s knowledge of personal injury and Arizona driving laws makes them invaluable to your case. They can make litigation filings on your behalf and communicate with the civil court. And an attorney skilled in negotiations and trial law can effectively represent you in court. Their expertise can help maximize your potential compensation. Plus, a lawyer can handle the civil lawsuit process, so you can focus on recovering.
Seek a Free Consultation to Learn More
Unsure if a civil lawsuit is right for you? Reach out to a personal injury law firm to receive free legal advice. A free consultation can help you decide whether or not you have the grounds to file a civil claim and determine your potential compensation.
You might not be able to prevent a car accident, but a car accident attorney can prevent you from receiving an unfair settlement.