Common examples of personal injury negligence claims include car accidents, slip and fall claims (also called “premises liability”cases), products liability and professional malpractice cases. Injuries that occur at work are generally referred to as “industrial” claims and are governed by worker’s compensation laws.
Under the law, if someone else causes an accident, they are liable for the medical bills as well as pain and suffering directly as a result of the accident. Remember, however, that the other person may not have any insurance, or enough to pay the bills, and sometimes there may be a dispute as to who was at fault or whether all the injuries and treatment are directly related to the accident. It is usually best to make sure your bills are covered by your own health insurance before making any legal claim. A lawyer can advise you on questions of liability, available insurance coverage as well as medical liens or rights of reimbursement.
Under the law, personal injury “damages”include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages as well as the “pain and suffering”you have experienced or will likely experience in the future. There is no formula or precise way to calculate pain and suffering, however, because every case is different.
If someone dies as a result of someone else’s fault, the surviving family members can bring a “wrongful death” claim. In Arizona, the only persons who can bring such a claim are the parents, the surviving spouse and the natural children of the person who died. The legal term “loss of consortium” is used to describe the loss or harm suffered by each person based on their relationship with the family member who died.
Although you are not required to have an attorney to make a personal injury claim or to negotiate with an insurance adjuster, an attorney will help you understand your legal rights. If you caused an accident or may be responsible for someone else’s injuries, an attorney will usually be hired by your own insurance company to represent you , depending on the type of claim and coverage.
For most negligence cases in Arizona, you must file a lawsuit within two years of the date of the accident or injury or it will be barred by the Statute of Limitations. Be careful, however, because some deadlines can be as short as six months, and there are different requirements for making a claim against government agencies or employees, for example, or if you were hurt on the job.
Most personal injury lawyers are paid on a “contingency fee” basis, meaning the attorney's fees will be a percentage of any settlement or financial award. Litigation costs, such as filing fees, and the cost of obtaining medical records or hiring expert witnesses, are often advanced by the lawyer, but are separate from attorneys fees, as will be explained by your attorney.
If necessary, go to the emergency room or follow up with your regular doctor. You should bill all treatment through your regular health insurance, if you are covered. Some doctors will provide treatment on a “lien” and wait to be paid from a settlement, but you should not agree to this if you have health insurance.
Try to find out who was responsible for causing the accident or injury. You should call the police and request that a report be made when you are involved in an accident that was someone else’s fault. If the police do not do so, you should obtain the contact information for everyone involved and their insurance companies as well as the names and contact information of any witnesses.
After an accident, review your own insurance policy and talk to your insurance company or agent. You may be entitled to payments for medical bills (“med pay coverage”) and your insurance may apply if the other driver does not have insurance or if there is not enough insurance (“uninsured and underinsured motorists” coverage).
Always be polite and cooperative when reporting the accident, but remember that you generally do not need to give a recorded statement nor should you talk about your injuries until you are released from your doctor's care.
Keep track of any expenses you incur, including bills and receipts, and be sure to document any time lost from work due to the accident. Take photographs of the vehicles or the accident scene, as well as your own injuries, if applicable.
Never leave the scene of an accident. You will need to cooperate by providing information to the police or sometimes to your employer if the accident happened while you were on the job. If you may be at fault for causing a car accident and you have car insurance, you should report the accident to your own agent or insurance company, and they will usually be able to take care of investigating the accident, settling any claims based on the available coverage, or hiring a lawyer to defend you, if necessary.