As was the case in most other states, the number of fatal vehicle collisions in 2021 hit a near-record high. However, unlike most other states, the 2021 numbers continued a trend.
Authorities blamed speeding for much of the recent increase. During coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, many people put the pedal to the metal on nearly-empty streets and highways. The lack of traffic enforcement in many places made things worse. Speed increases the risk of a crash and the force in a wreck. Speeding drivers have less reaction time, and speed turns a non-injury accident into a severe injury wreck.
Impaired driving rose during the pandemic as well. Cocktails were available in drive-thrus in many locations. Typically, when people order drinks in these places, they don’t wait until they get home to start drinking. Unfortunately for victims, alcohol impairment begins at the first sip. These effects make it difficult and dangerous to operate motor vehicles and other heavy machines safely.
Impairment and speed-related wrecks are usually not “accidents.” People accidentally leave the oven on. They don’t accidentally drive at unsafe speeds or consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel. If negligence, or a lack of care, caused a vehicle collision, an accident attorney in Arizona can obtain substantial compensation in court. However, these cases are complex, as outlined below.
For instance, if Ed (which is short for Edwina) unintentionally knocks over her neighbor’s fence as she backs out of her driveway, she should pay compensation. That is, she should pay to replace the fence. If Ed unintentionally collides with her neighbor on I-10, she should pay compensation.
There’s a big difference between a wrecked fence and a wrecked human life. Therefore, the compensation is different. In addition to economic losses, such as missed work and hospital bills, Edwina must pay non-economic damages for loss of enjoyment in life and emotional distress.
Responsibility is pretty straightforward in the Ed vs. the fence case. No matter what teen drivers tell their parents, fences don’t leap into the street. As outlined below, responsibility in the vehicle collision case is more complex. The fence doesn’t need a lawyer, and a car crash victim needs an accident attorney in Arizona.
However, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Before an accident attorney in Arizona even thinks about the legal aspects, victims need medical attention and vehicle repair or replacement.
An accident attorney in Arizona connects car wreck victims with doctors, mechanics, and other professionals who don’t charge anything upfront.
Someone must eventually pay accident-related bills. That someone is the other driver or another third party if the driver was negligent. An ordinary negligence case in Arizona has four basic parts:
Commercial operators in the Grand Canyon State, like rideshare drivers and truck drivers, must go above and beyond to prevent accidents. For example, noncommercial drivers must slow down when it rains in Arizona, and it seldom does. Commercial operators are responsible for things like pulling over until the rain stops or slacking off.
If H.I. was traveling 20mph above the speed limit, that’s a dangerous speed and a breach of duty. If H.I. was traveling five mph above the speed limit, that’s probably not a dangerous speed or a breach of duty. At least, that’s true in most cases. Five mph above the speed limit could be dangerous, depending on weather, traffic, and other conditions.
Another example can be: If Gale runs over Nathan as he’s crossing the street and Nathan gets an infection at the hospital, Gale isn’t legally responsible for Nathan’s infection-related injuries. The factual cause is what an accident attorney in Arizona calls “but-for causation,” as in the crash wouldn’t have happened “but for” the driver’s negligence. Other factors, like bad weather, might contribute to a crash. But bad weather doesn’t cause wrecks.
Under Arizona law, damages in a car crash case must not only pay the victim’s bills. The monetary damages must put victims in the same place they were in before the wreck. No one can turn back the clock and erase an injury. Money damages are the next best thing.
Once an accident attorney in Arizona makes a prima facie, or preliminary, negligence case, the defendant, which is usually an insurance company, comes up to bat. The principles of a negligence case are basically the same everywhere. However, the defenses in a car crash case vary in different states.
Comparative fault is one example. This doctrine splits legal responsibility for an injury between two people. In most states, victims are entitled to damages if they aren’t mostly responsible for wrecks. But Arizona is a pure comparative fault state. Even if the victim was 99 percent at fault for a wreck, the other driver is legally responsible for a proportionate share of damages.
This point brings up an important observation. Even if an emergency responder, police officer, or another person with authority says you were at fault for a wreck, an accident attorney in Arizona should still evaluate your claim. You never know how much money you might be entitled to until you ask a professional.
The so-called seat belt defense is another example. Arizona has a very broad seat belt law. Likewise, the Grand Canyon State has a wide seat belt defense in car crash cases. Victims are legally responsible for their own injuries if:
This same analysis applies to helmetless motorcycle and bicycle crash victims. The law may require these victims to wear helmets. But failure to wear a helmet may or may not affect an injury claim.
Ordinary negligence, which was outlined above, is a violation of the duty of reasonable care. Negligence per se, which is next on our hit parade of injury law, is a violation of a traffic law. In the Grand Canyon State, negligence per se can be presumptive or conclusive. Those words are very lawyer-ly, so let’s break things down a bit.
Most traffic laws are non-penal. You cannot go to jail for speeding or running a red light. If a negligent driver breaks a non-penal safety law, that driver is presumptively responsible for damages.
A legal presumption is a bit like starting at the 40-yard line instead of the 20-yard line. It’s easier for an accident attorney in Arizona to move the ball past the fifty and prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
A few traffic laws are penal laws. People could go to jail for driving under the influence DUI, reckless driving, and a couple of other infractions. In these cases, an accident attorney in Arizona starts just past the fifty. Unless the insurance company sacks the quarterback with a defense like comparative fault, the victim automatically wins.
That being said, additional evidence could be important in the damages phase. Typically, the more proof a victim presents, the more money a jury awards. This proof usually includes witness statements, the law enforcement accident report, and eyewitness testimony. That testimony usually includes the victim’s own testimony.
These principles are the same in almost every state. Nevertheless, different states have different traffic laws. The cellphone law is a good example.
Like many other states, Arizona has a hands-free law. Unlike many other states, this law has several loopholes. For example, it’s usually legal to use a hands-free speakerphone while driving, although using such a device is as bad as driving drunk. Moreover, this state’s hands-free law is hard to enforce. So, many emergency responders don’t issue tickets, even if a driver was breaking the law.
This part of an ordinary negligence or negligence per se claim is arguably the most important part for a victim. It’s also arguably the most controversial area.
Many people don’t believe that accident victims should receive maximum compensation for their serious injuries. However, there’s a big difference between a fine in a criminal case and damages in a civil case. Fines punish wrongdoers, and damages compensate victims.
Nevertheless, because of this controversy, the laws about injuries vary considerably from state to state. Here are a few examples.
We haven’t yet talked about the different kinds of damages in a car crash case. We mentioned compensatory damages above. These damages, wait for it, compensate victims for their economic and noneconomic losses. Additional punitive damages are available in some extreme cases.
In 2021, jurors in Corpus Christi, Texas, ordered a bar to pay $300 billion in punitive damages following an alcohol-related wreck. Why was the bar involved in the case when the bar wasn’t driving the car? That’s a very good question we’ll address below.
Some states limit the amount of damages in negligence cases. Arizona doesn’t limit compensatory damages. The jurors who hear the evidence decide how much money the victim should receive. This state forbids arbitrary or grossly excessive punitive damage awards. What’s excessive in one case is reasonable in another case.
Collateral Source Rule
Very few car crash claims involve punitive damages, although almost all car wreck cases involve the collateral source rule. Sometimes, a health insurance company, GoFundMe campaign, or another collateral source pays some or all of the victim’s medical bills. Even more often, an accident attorney in Arizona negotiates with a doctor and lowers the medical bill.
Assume Glen’s health insurance company pays half of his $100,000 medical bill. In some states, Glen is only entitled to $50,000 for medical bills even though courts in this state use the collateral source rule. Therefore, Glen is entitled to $100k for medical bills. The insurance company shouldn’t get a financial windfall because Glen was responsible enough to buy health insurance. In practical terms, that means Glen could get to pocket more of his settlement money.
Dram Shop Liability
We mentioned alcohol provider liability above. In many states, including Arizona, commercial alcohol providers could be vicariously liable for car crash damages. Once again, there are a lot of lawyer-ly words in that sentence.
Vicarious liability simply means third-party liability. Bars, restaurants, and other commercial providers could stop alcohol-related wrecks before they start by merely cutting off people who have had too much to drink. Arizona’s dram shop law applies if a provider serves a person who’s obviously intoxicated. Evidence on this point includes:
Once again, the burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, a little evidence on this point goes a long way.
This vicarious liability area often comes up if the negligent driver was under 18 or s/he was driving a U-Haul truck or another rented vehicle. As opposed to the driver, the owner could be financially responsible in some cases. The negligent entrustment rule applies if an owner allows an incompetent operator to drive their car and that operator causes a collision.
Noncommercial negligent entrustment cases are rather easy to prove in Arizona. Courts in this state use the family purpose doctrine. In most cases, jurors may presume that a vehicle owner gave a family member permission to use the motor vehicle.
Commercial negligent entrustment claims, like the U-Haul truck case, are a little more complicated. The Grand Canyon State doesn’t have a vicarious liability law. That is why the federal Graves Amendment limits owner responsibility in these cases.
The laws discussed above apply in pretty much every court in the Grand Canyon State. However, Arizona is a home rule state. Therefore, counties and cities can make their own laws, at least in some areas. Additionally, some informal differences exist in different cities and counties.
The Valley of the Sun has grown a lot in the last ten years. The city’s transportation and healthcare infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with this growth. Roads weren’t designed to handle lots of traffic, and the closest hospital is usually not very close.
Moreover, Phoenix has a few laws which differ from state laws. Commercial negligent entrustment, which we discussed above, is one example. Phoenix has a joint and several liability laws in this area. This law allows victims to file legal claims against a rented vehicle’s driver or the company that owned the vehicle in plain English. Some larger Phoenix suburbs, like Scottsdale, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler, also have special laws in a few areas.
The number of fatal car crashes in Pima County increased 16 percent in 2020. Curiously, the number of vehicle collisions decreased. As a result, there are fewer wrecks and more severe injuries. This difference may seem unusual, but it makes sense.
As mentioned, speed-related wrecks cause a lot more damage. Many of these wrecks happen on I-10/I-8, which is the shortest route between Southern California and Texas. If you’ve ever driven that distance, you look for the shortest possible route.
Like Phoenix, Tucson has some special negligence laws. The hands-free cellphone ordinance is a good example. At first blush, Section 20-160 looks like the state’s cellphone law. Nonetheless, there are some important differences.
Tucson’s law is easier to enforce than Arizona’s law. Consequently, cops in Tucson are more likely to issue cellphone tickets, which means the negligence per se shortcut is more widely available. Additionally, this law prohibits hands-free devices unless they’re “designed” for such use. As a result, using a standard smartphone in a hands-free mount might be illegal in Tucson.
Following a familiar theme, the number of crashes dropped by 1 percent in Mesa in 2020. However, traffic fatalities increased a whopping 29 percent. Almost half of these fatal accident victims were pedestrians. Most roads in this part of Maricopa County have high-speed limits and wide lanes. It’s tough for many people to cross the street before the light turns red.
Suburban car wreck cases usually involve more financial damages than urban cases. These wrecks often happen on freeways, which usually means the injuries are much worse. Additionally, helicopter medevac is more common in these areas since seconds count on a trip to the hospital. Short-distance helicopter flights could cost over $40,000 each.
These claims have some logistical issues as well, which an accident attorney in Arizona must deal with. The Maricopa County Courthouse is in downtown Phoenix. To reduce travel time for injured victims, attorneys usually try to do as many remote hearings as possible.
Picking a jury is often an issue for accident attorneys in Arizona in large areas like Maricopa County. Jurors from places on the other side of the county, like Glendale or Wild Flower, might not be able to find Chandler on a map. That’s especially true if, like many Arizonans, they haven’t lived in the state very long.
Jurors from faraway places usually care little or nothing about victims from Chandler. Therefore, an accident attorney in Arizona tries to keep these individuals off the jury, if possible. Jury selection is quite complex, and it’s the subject of another blog.
This final section will be quite short since Gilbert is practically next to Chandler. The same issues regarding the accidents and jury selection apply. The good news for area residents is that no major highways go through Gilbert, so the roads are a little safer.
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