Accidents are traumatizing and picking up the pieces afterwards can be confusing and time consuming. If you have been in an accident and feel lost, take a look at the tips below to guide you on steps to take immediately after an accident and on how to obtain compensation for your injuries.
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If you are in an auto accident in Arizona and want to sue the responsible party for damages, you are required to prove four elements: (1) the person owed you a duty of care; (2) the person breached that duty; (3) the person’s negligence caused your injury; and (4) you sustained damages. A skilled Phoenix accident attorney will evaluate the potential success of your case based, in part, on the ability to demonstrate these four elements. This is an oversimplified explanation, but in terms of an auto accident, a potential case might look like this:
You are injured after another driver sped through a stop sign and collided with the side of your car. You suffered damage to your car and physical injuries. In order to successfully sue the other driver you have to demonstrate that the other driver was negligent by failing to stop at the stop sign (which they had a duty to do); their failure to stop at the sign caused the car accident and damage to your car, as well as physical injuries to yourself; and you sustained physical and monetary damages through medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
There is also a time limit for filing your lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. Pursuant to Arizona law, a lawsuit alleging a personal injury claim (such as injury from an auto accident) must be filed within two years from the date the action accrues (generally the date of the accident).
6 Steps to Take Immediately After an Accident
- Get to safety. If it is safe to exit your vehicle, do so. Move as far off the road as possible to avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic.
- Call the police. Cooperate honestly and fully with the police. The police will obtain contact information and proof of insurance from all parties involved. You will have the opportunity to obtain a copy of the police report at a later date. Calling the police will also ensure that other first responders arrive on scene to administer medical attention.
- Seek medical attention. The health and safety of you and your passengers is of utmost importance, so seek medical attention immediately. Always make sure to follow through on any treatment recommendations from your health care providers.
- Photograph the scene and damages. Take photographs of the scene, your injuries and any damage to your vehicle and property.
- Witnesses. In most instances the police will speak to any witnesses. However, if you are able to collect contact information that can be helpful. In addition, if you are waiting for police to arrive, encourage any witnesses to wait for the police so they can provide a statement.
- Talk to an attorney. Recovering damages from an accident can be a long and time-consuming process, so consulting with an attorney early on will allow you to focus on your health and other responsibilities.
Speaking with Insurance Adjusters
Your insurance company and the insurance company for the adverse party will be eager to get your statement about the accident. Do not give a statement to any insurance company. Rather, consult with an attorney before giving your statement to avoid any traps that would reduce your settlement. Insurance companies may also try to trick you by sending a settlement check—do not cash this without speaking to an attorney.
Steps to Recover Compensation
As an accident victim you have two main options to recover compensation: negotiate a settlement with the insurance company or file a lawsuit against the person or persons at fault.
If you are planning to negotiate with an insurance company, there are a few things to remember. It bears repeating that it is their goal to get you to settle for the smallest amount possible. With that in mind, you will need to do the following:
- Establish liability by collecting evidence to prove who caused the accident. In addition to any evidence you documented immediately after the accident, the police report will contain a wealth of information.
- If you have not had your injuries diagnosed, make an appointment immediately. Make sure to follow through on all recommended treatments and attend all appointments.
- Obtain copies of your medical records and bills from all treating providers.
- Consider whether you need to hire an expert to reconstruct the accident scene or examine a crucial piece of evidence like a tire or airbag.
After you have your evidence and established the cause of the accident, you will make a demand to the insurance company. You will want to request the full policy limit or possibly more. The goal is to ensure that the amount sufficiently covers your medical expenses and lost and future wages, as well as any pain and suffering. If you receive a denial or unsatisfactory response, it may be time to file a lawsuit.
While you can negotiate with the insurance company on your own, they may be more inclined to deny your claim if you do not have legal representation. Having an attorney in your corner will save you valuable time that would have otherwise been spent dealing with the insurance company and will give you the confidence that you are pursuing the best possible course for maximum recovery. An attorney can evaluate your case, identify any liens that may impact your settlement and ensure you meet all deadlines related to your lawsuit. Most Phoenix accident attorneys offer free consultations as well.
Types of Damages
If you are injured in a car accident in Arizona, there are two main types of damages you may be entitled to: economic and non-economic. Economic damages provide compensation for actual money lost because of an accident. This may include past and future medical bills, lost wages and loss of future earning potential. Non-economic damages compensate you for non-monetary losses like pain, suffering, anxiety, disfigurement and loss of companionship. There is no limit on damages in Arizona.
Pure Comparative Fault
Since Arizona is a “comparative fault” state, you may still be entitled to compensation even if you were partly to blame for the accident. If that is the case, your damages would be reduced by the proportion of negligence you contributed. For example, if you are awarded $50,000 in damages but are found to be 20 percent at fault, your damages would be reduced by 20 percent and you would receive $40,000. This applies even if you are more at fault, for example 75 percent at fault. In that case your award would be reduced by 75 percent.
Punitive damages are different from other types of damages because they not meant to compensate the injured party for any loss. Rather, Arizona courts impose punitive damages to penalize the wrongdoer to such an extent that it will deter any similar behavior in the future. Punitive damages are reserved for particularly egregious cases where the defendant was guided by an “evil hand and evil mind.” In a car accident case, this may require proving that the negligent party “intentionally” caused the accident. Punitive damage awards are very rare in Arizona.
Estimating the potential damages award for an accident is complicated and influenced by factors such as:
- severity of your injury
- medical expenses
- pain and suffering
- lost wages
- policy limits
Do not fall prey to online settlement or damages calculators—they are incredibly unreliable.
Accidents are traumatic and figuring out what to do next can be confusing. Let the caring and experienced Kelly Law Team guide you through the process of recovering the compensation you deserve. Contact us today at 602-283-4122 for a free consultation