According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, there were 107,348 motor vehicle crashes in the state during 2013, which led to a total of 50,284 injured people and 844 fatalities. Among these crashes, the average jury award in an Arizona personal injury settlement hovered around $820,000. In wrongful death cases, the settlement has reached as high as $4 million. Although it would seem that most auto accident settlements were the cause of drunken driving, nearly 40 percent were related to urban driving and almost 20 percent were caused by excessive speed.
Auto accidents are always unfortunate, regardless of injury and personal property damage. Because Arizona is a comparative fault state, which means that fault is apportioned to different individuals, vehicle owners can file a lawsuit and possibly receive compensation for injuries suffered and damages incurred if they are able to prove the other driver was mostly at fault.
In straightforward cases, such as a fender bender, insurance companies often settle the case and appropriate compensation, but if an insurance company is not providing a reasonable settlement to cover lost income, medical bills, property damage, and so forth, an Arizona driver is entitled to file a lawsuit and have his or her day at court.
Determining Fault in an Auto Accident
After an auto accident, appropriating fault is one of the first, and most difficult, steps towards insurance compensation or making a case in court.
To understand the difficult nature of determining fault, consider a vehicle that unexpectedly stops and causes a car to slam into its bumper. The car that ran into the lead vehicle has a higher chance of being at fault. In this case, courts (or police) can say that the second car was following too close. It is important to remember that the police’s words and actions are held in the highest regard for both courts and insurance companies, and if the other driver was given a citation for violating a traffic law, he or she might be given a higher appropriation of fault.
The systems for proving fault are far from perfect, and an ultimate determination of fault includes driver admissions on the scene, witness statements, police citations, and sound reasoning by the judge and/or jury if the case reaches the courts. Some drivers have even resorted to using dashcams for instant video proof.
Accessing Damage in an Auto Accident
Both smaller auto accidents and those that result in serious injury are often settled by the insurance companies of the two parties. In addition to determining fault, the companies assess property damage, medical bills, and other factors before sending a settlement agreement or letter. During this process, and before reaching an agreement with the insurance companies, drivers can also assess their own damages and send a demand letter to the insurance company.
It can be helpful to contact an auto accident attorney to calculate damages and determine whether the insurance companies will compensate accordingly. Keep in mind that settling or agreeing to a payment from the insurance company bars a driver from further recovery in courts.
How to Know if a Lawyer is Needed
When it seems that the insurance companies are not going to offer a fair settlement, or in cases of severe personal injury or even death, drivers in Arizona are entitled to sue in tort. Because of Arizona’s Pure Comparative Fault Rule, drivers unsatisfied with the insurance settlement can sue regardless of the extent of the damages. Regardless of whether the driver incurred $10,000 or $100,000 in bills or lost income, he can still choose to file a lawsuit.
How Much is Your Case Worth?
One of the most common questions clients ask is how much compensation a person can expect to receive. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to calculate an accurate monetary award; however consulting an auto accident or personal injury lawyer can help you estimate what you may be entitled to. The court’s final award will be contingent upon many factors, including:
- Insurance policy limits
- Who is at fault
- Lost income, which can also include future income
- The permanence of the injury
- Severity of injuries and amount of medical bills
These are just a few of the many factors, and drivers filing the suit should wait until fully recovered before determining the value of a case (but don’t overlook the Arizona two-year statute of limitations). It is not, however, recommended to wait to hire a lawyer, as he or she can begin organizing the information necessary for your case as soon as possible and help drivers with the next steps.
Motorcycle accidents are unfortunately all too common on Arizona roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 4,957 fatalities and 93,000 injuries attributed to motorcycle accidents in 2012, which includes both solo accidents and those caused by other motorists.
These numbers are certainly startling, and the NHTSA reported a 7-percent increase in motorcycle fatalities between 2011 and 2012. Back in 2009, the NHTSA also noted that Arizona’s motorcycle fatality rate is higher than the national average, and nearly 80 percent of motorcycle wrecks result in injury or death (in contrast, 20 percent of vehicle accidents result in injury or death).
Common Problems Associated With Motorcycle Accidents
Regardless of the severity of personal injury or property damage, a motorcycle crash is always unfortunate. Unlike an accident in a vehicle, motorcycles lack the adequate protection to reduce chances for injury. Additionally, because motorcycles are more difficult to see on the road, there is a higher possibility that other drivers may not see the motorcyclist.
A combination of diminished visibility, lack of protection, and the inherent driving capabilities of a motorcycle (greater acceleration and smaller vehicle, which makes it easier to weave through traffic, for example), many motorcyclists have confronted significant difficulties when seeking civil reimbursement for damages incurred.
For example, let’s say an at-fault, negligent driver causes a motorcycle to “lay down,” or drop the bike when in motion to avoid a more severe crash. The motorcyclist will incur property damage and possibly personal injury, but he/she has to effectively prove that the negligent vehicle caused the lay down and that a lay down was the only choice of action.
Determining fault and appropriating an accurate settlement might not always work in the motorcyclist’s favor, but there are specific options and tasks he/she can employ to build a strong claim and receive appropriate compensation for damages.
Determining Fault in a Motorcycle Accident
Because Arizona is a pure comparative fault state, insurance adjusters and the authorities fully investigate an accident between two parties to determine the percentage of fault. What this means is that if a motorcyclist didn’t signal a lane change and a vehicle driving 25 mph over the speed limit hits the bike, for example, investigators must determine which party contributed more to the accident. In this case, both parties failed to comply with standard traffic law, and the appropriation of fault could be even. On the other hand, some could argue that the speeding vehicle posed a greater risk than a motorcycle failing to signal a lane change.
Let’s say the fault attribution was 40-percent motorcycle and 60-percent vehicle, and the accident caused $10,000 in damages. Because of Arizona’s comparative fault rule, the vehicle can recover $4,000 and the motorcycle can recover $6,000.
With any accident caused by a negligent driver that results in injury or damage, get the police and/or medical professionals involved immediately. The official police report will include witness testimonies, drawn crash diagrams, and on-the-scene analysis. Furthermore, if the other driver did commit a traffic violation causing the crash, the driver may get a citation. A citation is typically used as proof of fault when reaching a settlement with insurance companies or in civil court.
How to Make a Claim After an Accident
If a motorcyclist is injured or killed due to a negligent driver, it is important that he/she receives compensation for pain and suffering, property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and more. The immediate events that occur after an accident, however, can effectively determine the amount and scope of compensation for damages incurred.
After an accident, always call 911 for police and paramedics, and even if the personal injury doesn’t seem that bad, go to a doctor immediately (and don’t wait for an insurance adjuster to choose a doctor). A delay in medical care could hurt the case.
Speaking of delays, the motorcyclist should notify his/her insurance company as soon as possible, as creating a timely paper trail shows responsibility and avoids the defense that the motorcyclist is “faking” for a big insurance payout. At the same time, don’t sign or give a statement to the insurance company before speaking with an attorney. If the insurance company is not offering a fair settlement (an attorney can objectively determine what a fair settlement would be), or in cases of severe injury or death, Arizona motorcyclists can sue in tort.
Before the claim goes to court, consider the following:
- Obtain pictures of personal and property damage
- Record names and contact information of crash witnesses
- Preserve damaged personal property (don’t fix the helmet, bike, or clothing worn during the accident)
- Be complete and truthful about all pain and other symptoms with the doctor, and meticulously archive all medical bills and other documents
- Maintain an accident file containing papers, receipts, and any other documents related to the crash
- Keep an accurate record of lost wages
- Keep a “Pain and Suffering” diary
- Exercise caution about posting information on Social Media
With an average of 299 sunny days a year in Scottsdale, riding a bicycle is a common way to get around. Around 1 percent of all trips are by bicycle, and according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury or death than motorists do. On a national scale in 2012, nearly 726 cyclists were killed in accidents with a motor vehicle and more than 500,000 cyclists went to the emergency room due to bicycle related injuries.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the State of Arizona saw a total of 2,039 bike accidents, 30 fatal accidents, and 1,679 cyclists injured in 2013.
Even attentive motorists sometimes forget to check the bicycle lane when merging or turning, or look for cyclists before suddenly opening their car door (a potentially deadly accident known as “dooring”). Arizona is a “fault” state when it comes to car accidents, and when a negligent motorist strikes a cyclist, the cyclist can make a claim for damages such as medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages caused by the accident.
A common misconception regarding bicyclists is that they have less rights when on the road. Perhaps it’s because some bicyclists don’t adhere to the same traffic laws, even the basic ones such as fully stopping at a stop sign. Arizona State Law §28-812 (Under Title 28) states, “A person riding a bicycle on a roadway or on a shoulder adjoining a roadway is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle.”
Therefore, a bicyclist who blows a stop sign is subject to the same laws as a motorist and can be ticketed. This also means that cyclists have the same rights and protections as motorists.
When a negligent motorist drifts into a clearly marked bike line and causes a cyclist to crash, the cyclist is backed by the full extent of the law. The case wouldn’t be much different from a motorist drifting into another lane and causing another motorist to crash.
Determining Fault in a Bicycle Accident
Similar to an accident between two cars, authorities and the motorist’s insurance company investigate who most likely caused the crash. A common vehicle-bicycle accident occurs when a motorist makes a left turn at an intersection and fails to check for the cyclist coming through the intersection with the right-of-way. “Dooring” is also an unfortunately common occurrence, and it involves a cyclist who crashes into parked-vehicle doors suddenly opened.
When injured in a bicycle accident, it is important to call the authorities right away and let the police investigate and make a report. The police report identifies the witnesses at the scene, and officers typically take witness statements and draw crash diagrams.
Because Arizona recognizes the Pure Comparative Fault Rule, recovery of damages is based upon the individual’s degree of fault. Witness statements and the official investigation is paramount in determining the percentage of fault from each party. Negotiations with the motorist’s insurance company will also focus on which party was negligent in the accident, and to what degree.
Bicycle Accidents Caused By Road Hazards
Road hazards can prove devastating for a cyclist. Even a small variation in road conditions can cause serious injury, neck trauma, or even death. If a cyclist suffered a fall due to a road hazard, it is possible to hold the city, county, or state responsible (if the accident occurred on a public roadway).
Pothole accidents are the most common, and a government entity should be responsible for fixing potholes or providing sufficient warning. Public agencies do have a duty in the United States to provide safe roadways, and dangerous sewer grates or badly placed rail or trolley tracks (tracks that run in the direction of traffic or cross on a curve, for example) are not acceptable and safe road conditions.
How to Know if You have a Claim
Immediately following an accident with a car, the bicyclist’s first goal should be to make sure that he/she gets necessary medical help. If a cyclist does not require an ambulance, simply wait until the police arrive at the scene and investigate. Even if not immediately injured, get the police involved, as some cyclists don’t realize they’re injured until hours after the accident. Also, it is important not to negotiate with the driver. Instead, get a statement into the official accident report.
Also, and this is important for making a claim later, gather contact information from the automobile driver as well as any bystanders, and document the crash, injuries, clothing, the bicycle, medical bills and reports, and anything else. Preserve the evidence surrounding the accident as much as possible.
A personal injury attorney experienced in bicycle accidents can advise cyclists on how they should proceed after the accident, and it is crucial to consult with legal counsel as soon as possible so that negotiations with the motorist’s insurance company can begin. Counsel from an attorney can also help cyclists gather and preserve evidence in case the negotiations do not reach a suitable agreement and the parties are forced to take the claim to civil court.
If you feel you have a bicycle accident lawsuit, we invite you to give us a call at (480) 502-0708 or send us a message for a free initial consultation.
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