Michelle is driving down a four lane street in Tucson, Arizona (two lanes in each direction). Michelle is in the right lane. Another car comes up in the left lane, passes her, and then cuts in front of her in order to try to make a right turn. He clips her front left bumper and knocks her car into a parked car.
Michelle’s car has about $3,000 in damages, and she suffers neck, back, and right shoulder pain, even though she was wearing a seat belt.
The police arrive and call an ambulance to take Michelle to the hospital. Luckily, she was not seriously hurt, although she saw a chiropractor for two months. After eight months, Michelle has pretty much recovered. She missed two weeks of work as an elementary school teacher because of neck and back pain and being generally banged up.
The first thing that Michelle should do is report the incident to her own car insurance company, to the insurer of the driver that hit her, and possibly to the proper authorities if she's legally required to do so. (Learn more: Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in Arizona?)
If Michelle delays letting the insurance company know about the accident, the adjuster may think that she isn't hurt all that badly, or that the accident didn't necessarily happen the way Michelle says it did. Since the police came to the scene, Michelle should be sure to get a copy of the police report.
Michelle needs to be aware of Arizona’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Arizona, the statute of limitations for car accidents is two years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts. This deadline also applies to property damage and wrongful death claims arising from a car accident.
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact an Arizona car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Arizona Car Accident Laws.)
As Michelle is recovering from her car accident injuries, she should keep the adjuster informed of her progress.
You want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the medical and financial documentation that supports your claim for damages. You also want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident. In a case like Michelle’s -- a sideswipe type of collision -- the driver who hit her could make a reasonable argument that Michelle was at fault for failing to let him pass her. So someone in Michelle’s situation would certainly want to know what the shared fault rule is in her state.
Arizona has what is called a “pure comparative negligence” rule to calculate damages when both parties are found to share the fault for an accident. This means, if you are found to be in part negligent with respect to your injury, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000. If you were 90% at fault, you could still technically get $10,000 from the other driver.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant’s adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Arizona's car insurance laws. In Arizona, a driver is only required to carry bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident, and property damage liability coverage in the amount of $10,000 per accident. If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Michelle’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $8,300. The breakdown looks like this:
Michelle and her attorney decide that another $10,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Michelle’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $30,000 to settle the claim. Finally, after negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Michelle accepts a final settlement of $16,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before Arizona's two-year statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Michelle’s case, she was ready to settle after eight months. She had recovered, and the adjuster’s final offer was a fair one.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.