Your Phoenix Personal Injury Case: The Basics

You've heard that I-10 is one of the most dangerous roads in America, but nothing can quite prepare you for the sudden impact of a high speed accident. The rest of the night is a blur of ambulance rides, doctors and weeping family members. When you come to (a day later) you have a thousand questions, but no one will give you a straight answer. FindLaw has created this guide to your Phoenix personal injury case to lift the legal shroud and outline the basics of a typical personal injury case.

Types of Lawsuits

Personal injury recovery usually involves a negligence lawsuit. The law of negligence governs injuries that were accidentally inflicted, such as car crashes, slips-and-falls, or medical malpractice. Negligence law generally covers accidents because there's no need to prove intent, just that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injury.

Related to negligence, medical malpractice lawsuits apply when the injury was accidentally inflicted by a medical professional. This could happen through misdiagnosis, an unreasonable delay in treatment, or even by leaving a foreign object inside your body during surgery.

If a defendant injured you on purpose, the law of intentional torts permits you to sue under an assault or battery theory.

When a defective product has caused an injury, a person can sue the manufacturer in a products liability lawsuit. In these cases, a plaintiff must point out a design or manufacturing defect that caused the injury in an unexpected fashion. These cases are usually very technical, and an expert witness in the applicable field may be crucial to analyzing a case and providing expert testimony.

Deceased individuals cannot file a lawsuit, but any lawsuit they would have had is controlled by his or her family as a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the unfair costs borne by the deceased individual's family members, such as lost wages, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.

As you can see, personal injury lawsuits can be quite complicated, so consider scheduling a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost always work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentile of your settlement.

Workers Compensation

In Arizona, workers' compensation is a "no fault" insurance system where injured workers receive medical benefits no matter who causes a  job-related accident. If an illness or injury is job-related, the injured worker receives medical benefits and may receive temporary compensation, if eligible. If you are injured on the job, make sure you notify your employer as soon as possible.

Injured workers have one year to file a claim with the Industrial Commission of Arizona. You can use this form to file your claim. Check out this thorough brochure about workers' compensation for more information.

Time Limits in Arizona - Statute of Limitations

A statute of limitations places a time limit on when a plaintiff may initiate a lawsuit. After the expiration of the statutory period, unless a legal exception applies, the plaintiff loses the right to file a lawsuit over this incident forever. This seemingly harsh rule prevents people from dragging defendants into court for ancient injuries, after evidence and witnesses have disappeared.

In Arizona, you have two years from the date you suffered the injury to initiate your personal injury, medical malpractice, or products liability lawsuit. However, if the injury isn't obvious, for example medical malpractice where symptoms take time to manifest, the statutory period is extended by the time it takes to reasonably discover the harm and its source.

Filing Suit - Basics

You can file your lawsuit with the Clerk of Superior Court at: the downtown location, 201 W. Jefferson St.; at the Mesa location at 222 E. Javelina; at the Northwest Regional Court Center location at 14264 W. Tierra Buena Lane in Surprise; or at the Northeast Regional Court Center at 18380 N. 40th St., Suite 120, in Phoenix, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All someone needs is a complaint, which briefly describes the injury-causing incident, the injuries, and requests specific monetary compensation. Do it yourselfers can try copying this sample complaint, while others will want to talk to an attorney about the filing. After the complaint gets stamped, a copy of it will need to be sent, along with a summons and a civil cover sheet, to all defendants. Certified return-receipt mail is probably a good idea so it can be shown the defendants actually received the envelope (should they fail to appear).

Damages

Money can never really make up for the ordeal of a serious injury, but since there is little alternative, monetary damages are the typical form of recovery in negligence suits. Damages come in two types: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are straightforward because they are designed to compensate you for the monetary burden associated with the injury. They typically include:

  • medical expenses;
  • lost future income;
  • loss of property;
  • costs to repair or replace property; and
  • loss of employment opportunities.

Non-economic damages are sometimes referred to as "pain and suffering" damages because they are designed to compensate you for the physical pain and mental anguish that resulted from the injury. Courts will consider pain, loss of enjoyment of life, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, scarring and disfigurement.

Significantly, Arizona is one of the rare states with no upper limit on non-economic damages stemming from a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Comparative Negligence

In cases where you have negligently contributed to your own injury, Arizona applies the pure comparative negligence doctrine. In a comparative negligence regime, fault is assigned to each party and the plaintiff's ultimate recovery is diminished by his or her percentage of fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Significantly, Arizona is one of 13 states that uses a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the injury was 99% your fault you can still recover 1%.

Last, but not least, remember that each personal injury case is different and carries its own set of legal considerations and questions. You may want to talk to a personal injury attorney about the specifics of your circumstances, as well as your options.

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