Understanding Arizona Car Accident Laws

Cars are more than a convenience, they’re a necessity. We use them to get to and from work. We drive our children to school and to after-school activities. We use our cars to shop, travel, and socialize. They are an integral part of each of our lives.

Driving statistics bear this out. The average person in the United States spends over 90 minutes each day driving. That time adds up. Over the course of a year, each of us will spend about 12 days behind the wheel. Usually, the time we spend driving is fairly routine – until it’s not.

The Arizona Department of Transportation compiles annual traffic accident statistics gathered statewide. In 2015, their report showed that in the State of Arizona there were:

  • Over 5 million licensed drivers
  • Nearly 8 million registered vehicles
  • 116,609 vehicle collisions
  • Resulting in 895 fatalities
  • 53,554 injuries
  • $1,751,946,390 in total costs for deaths and injuries caused by vehicle accidents
  • $918,149,634 in total costs for property damage caused by vehicle accidents

These figures demonstrate that even though driving may seem routine, the amount of time we spend behind the wheel plus the amount of cars on the road means that eventually we will be involved in a car accident. In fact, statistics show that the average driver will be involved in two to three accidents over the course of their driving career. This is why it is so important that you understand Arizona’s car accident laws. The chances are good that, at some point in your life, you are going to have to use those laws to protect your interests or the interests of your loved ones.

Placing Blame or Determining Liability

In general, when there has been a car accident, someone is to blame. It can be as minor as a rear end tap at a stop sign or as serious as blowing through a controlled intersection while intoxicated. The bottom line is someone is at fault for causing the collision. Determining who is at fault is an important component of Arizona car accident law.

Arizona is what is known as a pure comparative fault state. This means that the individual who caused the accident has to pay for the injuries and property damage that result.

At times deciding who is at fault is easy. Other times, making this call can be more difficult. In any event, either the parties to the accident and their insurers will agree on whom is at fault, or a judge or jury will decide.

There are car accidents where both drivers are at fault. In such a case, the determination that needs to be made is not simply who is at fault. Instead, a comparison of the actions of both drivers must be made in order to decide the percentage of responsibility each one has for causing the accident. Any compensation that a driver may obtain for their damages is then reduced by the percentage of their fault for the accident.

For example, Driver A is found to be 75% at fault for the accident that caused his injuries. The jury then awards Driver A $10,000 in damages. That reward would be reduced by 75% and Driver A would receive only $2500 for the injuries from the accident.

Recovering Damages

In Arizona, you have two ways to recover money for your damages from a car accident. As a first course of action, you can attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement with the insurance company of the driver who hit you. Given the evidence that you or your attorney provide to them, the insurer may be willing to offer you a specific amount of money in exchange for a release of liability. If the amount of money initially offered isn’t acceptable, you or your attorney can negotiate with the insurer in order to obtain a settlement amount that is acceptable.

When you accept a settlement and sign a release, you are waiving all rights to sue the insurer for damages in a court of law. If you are negotiating your own settlement, only an attorney who is experienced in Arizona car accident law can tell you if accepting the settlement is in your best interest, and only after a careful review of the evidence has been completed.

If you and the insurer for the other driver cannot come to an agreement on a settlement, your remaining option is to file a lawsuit in order to recover your damages in court. In the vast majority of cases, this lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of the car accident that caused your injuries.

The majority of car accidents are based on the legal concept of negligence. In the law, negligence is made up of four elements: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

Duty is another word for acting reasonably. For example, some of the duties that we have while driving are to stay alert and follow the rules of the road.

A breach of duty occurs when someone acts unreasonably under the circumstances. In a car accident, one driver breaches their duty to act reasonably when they fail to keep a stay alert or follow the rules of the road.

Causation is simple. A driver breached their duty to act reasonably by doing something that they should not have been doing. As a result of the breach, you were injured.

Finally, damages are the harm that you suffered because of the other driver’s breach.

In order to be compensated for your injuries in court, each of the elements that comprise negligence must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the evidence that you present must show that every element was more likely to have occurred than not. At times, this concept is stated as the “51% rule”. In other words, you win your case if the evidence is in your favor by as little as 51%.