In this article, we’re going to discuss the claim and litigation process that occurs in the state of Arizona after someone has suffered an injury in an accident caused by another party. Keep in mind that each of these steps involves specific procedures that must be followed in order to ensure success and maximize results. It is possible for the average person to navigate this process and reach a satisfactory conclusion. However, in many cases having the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney is the best way to obtain the compensation that you deserve.
In the aftermath of an accident, the most important concern is your health. You need to seek immediate medical treatment for your injuries and obtain all necessary care to stabilize your condition. If your injuries are severe, you will be hospitalized. It is important at this time to concentrate on getting better. Right now, this is the most important step that you can take to protect your interests.
Once you have obtained your initial medical treatment and your condition has stabilized, you should contact your insurance company and inquire about filing the necessary claim forms. Filling out the claim forms initiates what can be considered the first step of the claim and litigation process.
After you receive your initial medical treatment, it is extremely important that you follow you doctor’s instructions and advice. Failure to do so can result in a delay in recovery from your injuries and in some cases, cause your condition to worsen. In regard to the claims/litigation process, the failure to follow your doctor’s advice can jeopardize your ability to obtain full compensation for your damages.
During this time you will be contacted by your insurance company for follow-up information about the accident itself and your injuries. You may also be contacted by the insurance company of the party who injured you. You have a duty to cooperate with your insurance company in order to obtain the coverage under your automobile insurance policy. However, you are under no obligation to give information to the other party’s insurer. Be advised that the other insurance company is investigating the claim not for your benefit, but for theirs. They will take any information you provide to them and attempt to use it to limit or deny the claim you’ve made against their policy.
At this point, you should consider hiring an experienced attorney to represent your interests. Once you hire an attorney, all communication about your case must go through them. If you do decide to continue to the claim process yourself, proceed with caution.
There will come a time when you have either completely recovered from your injuries or where have not completely recovered, but there is nothing more that your doctor can do for you. In either case, you will have reached maximum medical improvement. It is at this point that a demand letter will need to be sent to the other party’s insurer.
A demand letter will document everything about your case. It will contain the police report of the accident and all of your medical treatment and the bills for that treatment. It will also include the time you’ve lost from work and the documentation that establishes your lost wages. The details of how the accident has affected your day-to-day life will also be included. Finally, the demand letter will specify the amount of money you are seeking as damages for your injuries, and a time limit for the other party’s insurer to respond to your demand.
Once the other party’s insurance company has your demand letter, they will make an assessment of your claim and potentially make an offer to settle. This offer will, in the majority of cases, be less than your demand and if you are not represented by an attorney, could be much less.
You or your attorney will then negotiate with the insurance company in an attempt to arrive at a settlement figure that everyone can agree on. If this happens, you will receive the settlement amount in return for a release of liability. If a settlement figure cannot be agreed upon, then the case will proceed to litigation.
Once settlement negotiations have broken down, a complaint for negligence naming the other party as the defendant must be prepared and filed in the appropriate court. This complaint lays out all the allegations that establish the defendant’s negligence that you intend to prove. Once the complaint is filed it will be served on the other party. This service is usually done by the sheriff of the jurisdiction in question or a process server.
Once the defendant has been served, they must file an answer to your complaint – usually within 20 days. If they do not, they can be found liable by the court.
During discovery, both parties to the lawsuit have an opportunity to “discover” everything that the other side knows about the accident. This is done by the exchange of a series of written questions called interrogatories and the exchange of documents through a request to produce. It also includes sworn testimony taken at a deposition. All discovery procedures are done under oath, so that the answers to written or oral questions, for example, will be admissible at trial. The purpose of discovery is to prevent one party from being surprised at trial with a piece of evidence or a witness they had not previously been disclosed. Because of this, any information not produced in discovery will not be admitted at trial.
In many Arizona counties, lawsuits seeking damages that are less than a specified amount are required to go to mandatory arbitration. In Maricopa County, this amount is $50,000. In other counties it is much less.
Arbitration is like a trial, except there is no judge or jury. Instead an appointed arbitrator acts as judge and jury, hears the evidence, and decides the case. After the arbitrator makes a decision, either party can appeal the decision to the trial court. However, if the appeal does not result in at least a 23% increase or decrease in the damages awarded, the party requesting the appeal must pay the costs and attorney fees of the opposing side.
If your case seeks damages in excess of $50,000, you will go to trial with a judge and jury. In that trail each side will present evidence. You will present your case first and the party who injured you will present their side second. The jury, or in some cases the judge, will hear all the evidence and then deliberate in order to reach a verdict. If you prevail, the judge will enter an order requiring the other party to pay you damages in the amount decided on by the jury. If the accused party prevails, the order will declare the other party is not guilty of negligently injuring you.