Arizona Personal Injury Questions & Answers
What is a contingency fee?
Arizona personal injury cases, if accepted at The Law Office of Carrie M. Wilcox are handled on a contingent fee basis, meaning that we agree to not charge you any attorney fees until we settle your personal injury case or win it at trial or arbitration. We’re banking on our own abilities, just like our clients do. If we recover nothing, you pay no attorney fees! Certain costs, however, may remain the responsibility of the client. Costs in a personal injury case include expenses such as filing fee, service of process, expert witnesses, reports, copying and mailing charges and other expenses deemed necessary to prosecute your personal injury lawsuit.
What Should You Do if You become Injured?
1. Immediately seek medical attention. What may appear to be soreness could turn out to be a serious injury. We have all heard about people who were struck on the head, who felt fine immediately after the accident and later developed a blood clot or other life threatening injury. Your safety and health is priority one. Additionally, since many personal injuries become more serious over time or continue as lagging injuries for extended periods, it is important to begin the treatment for your injury to shorten the recovery period. Finally, although most people would rather avoid a personal injury lawsuit, some defendants refuse to take responsibility for their own negligence. When you promptly seek medical attention for a personal injury, you begin creating a record -proof -that may be needed later to prove your injuries, encourage settlement and, ultimately, prove your personal injury case at trial
2. Call 911 or the police, if appropriate, and request that a report be made. Write down the information on all involved persons, witnesses, insurance details, vehicle descriptions including the vehicle license numbers of witnesses, time of day, place, date,
3. Keep your medical records. When you seek a personal injury lawyer, he will want to see your medical records. Although we normally must order the records to make sure we have a complete personal injury file, having your own copy of medical records available is always a good idea.
4. Consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as practical. An experienced attorney may have specific recommendations, cautionary advice and can help you through the recovery process. There may be things that a personal injury lawyer can do in the short term to help you through the personal injury recovery process, such as making sure that insurance is paying for a rental car or assisting in finding qualified care from a medical specialist in the needed field. Prompt consultation with a personal injury lawyer also allows the lawyer to send an investigator to the scene before the accident scene changes and to retain qualified experts if necessary. Remember, failure to act promptly may result in missed deadlines, including statutes of limitations under Arizona law, that could result in an injured party sacrificing all or some of his/her rights.
5. Be careful what you say to anyone about the accident that led to your personal injury. Your own statements about fault, although good-intentioned, may not even be accurate. Eye-witness reports are often flawed and it is very possible that your own observations about an accident are simply incorrect and could erroneously subject you to liability.
6. Obey your doctor! Follow his instructions regarding prescriptions, rehabilitation, exercise and bed rest. Do not make your personal injury worse by failing to treat it properly and do not prolong your recovery period by ignoring your doctor’s detailed instructions.
7. Assist your personal injury lawyer. When we litigate your personal injury case, it is imperative that you show up for your appointments on time, appear for depositions/arbitrations/hearings and promptly provide requested documentation. A successful personal injury case is a culmination of the efforts of an experienced personal injury lawyer and the client.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is the use of a neutral party to evaluate the facts and merits of competing parties’ positions on personal injury cases and then rule accordingly. An arbitration proceeding in an Arizona personal injury case can take place either by agreement of the parties or pursuant to rule. Arbitration is a streamlined procedure designed to assist parties resolve their small dollar value personal injury and other cases expeditiously. Arbitrations may be presided over by a lawyer who arbitrates as part of his normal practice or the court may assign a lawyer at random. Many former judges become arbitrators upon their retirement from the bench and make excellent arbitrators. The attorneys litigating a personal injury matter normally have the right to “strike” (remove) an assigned arbitrator at least once without providing a specific reason. In many personal injury cases, a randomly assigned arbitrator may have little or no personal injury experience, may be seen as biased for plaintiffs or defendants or otherwise not a good fit to decide the merits of a given personal injury case. The ability to strike an arbitrator assigned to your personal injury case is one method of protecting the parties’ rights in an Arizona lawsuit.
Will My Case Go to Arbitration?
In Maricopa County personal injury cases, Rule 3.10(b), Maricopa County Local Rules of Practice, states that cases are subject to mandatory arbitration if the amount in controversy does not exceed $50,000. Other counties, pursuant to Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 72, have been allowed to vote on the specific arbitration requirements for their cases, including personal injury cases and other lawsuits.
The breakdown by amount in controversy for cases in the various Arizona counties, such as personal injury cases, and others, is currently as follows:
La Paz County:
Santa Cruz County:
The precise arbitration requirements that apply to an Arizona personal injury case, therefore, vary between the counties. Likewise, apart from the jurisdictional dollar figure, the precise procedures that apply to an Arizona personal injury case may vary from county to county. However, remember that if both parties to a personal injury case in Arizona agree to use an arbitrator, the case may be arbitrated regardless of the dollar value of damages. While court-required arbitration is generally non-binding, the parties can agree to make the arbitrator’s decision binding, meaning that the arbitrator’s ruling is final and the case will not go before a regular judge and jury.
What Kind of Recovery Can an Injured Person Receive Following a Successful Case?
Personal injury settlements, awards and verdicts vary considerably from case to case. As you might expect, two different juries hearing the same exact personal injury case may arrive at very different, even opposite, conclusions. Thus, there is no guarantee that a particular party will receive any particular damage amount. Thus, the descriptions below are not meant to imply a guarantee or promise of a damage award for any personal injury plaintiff.
The legal system in Arizona personal injury cases allows monetary recovery for various types of injuries, including actual, compensatory, general, consequential, special, exemplary and punitive damages.
Actual, compensatory and general damages are often used interchangeably and refer to those damages that a plaintiff sustains that can be directly attributed to the injury. These are damages that logically seem to flow from the injury.
Consequential or special damages (personal injury lawyers often call them “specials”) result from the personal injury but do not usually appear to result from the personal injury as clearly and logically as actual damages. A personal injury plaintiff must ask for these damages specifically in order to receive them. Special damages include quantifiable damages, such as medical expenses, vehicle repair, property replacement, lost wages and other damages.
Exemplary or punitive damages are rare in personal injury cases because they only can be awarded in the instances of gross recklessness, willful or malicious conduct. These are not the kind of damages that result from a typical negligence case, such as personal injuries resulting from a simple car accident. When you read in the newspaper about a huge verdict, many times the actual damages are relatively small and the punitive damages are the bulk of the verdict. Think of exemplary or punitive damages as punishment for bad behavior.
In addition to damages, the victorious party in a case may be awarded certain costs and fees pursuant to Arizona Revised Statute §§12-332, 12-341, 12-342, 12-343. Keep in mind that Arizona law is somewhat restrictive on the types of costs that for which it allows recovery, at least in comparison to some states.
What if I may have been Partly at Fault in Causing the Accident?
Arizona is a comparative negligence state, meaning that a judge or jury may apportion responsibility for a personal injury to the plaintiff or defendant on a percentage of fault basis. Thus, a plaintiff may be assessed some portion of the total responsibility for the accident, up to 100%. An experienced Arizona personal injury lawyer can help you assess your case and advise you on whether a personal injury lawsuit is still a good idea.
What Should I Look for in a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Personal injury lawyers come with all sorts of personalities; however, the best ones seem to exhibit the following qualities:
1. Experience. The court system is complex and personal injury cases demand an attorney with experience. Good personal injury attorneys are familiar not only with the court system but also with how insurance companies play the game (often very harshly). In addition, confidence in the courtroom only comes with years of experience and a confident attorney is needed to convince juries to side with an injured plaintiff.
2. Willingness to Take Your Case to Court. Why would you hire a law firm that farms litigation cases out to other lawyers? Many attorneys avoid court like the plague and many law firms do not like the challenge and resource demands that trying an Arizona personal injury case to a jury requires. Thus, there are two types of personal injury lawyers: Those that settle cases as quickly and easily as possible and those that fight tooth and nail against insurance company lawyers and other defense counsel. If your attorney lacks courtroom experience because he or she only settles cases, your case will almost inevitably result in a lower recovery for you, the injured plaintiff. Insurance companies know that some personal injury law firms avoid the courthouse and thus, they know that they can settle cases for far less than the case’s value. Hire a trial lawyer, not a wimpy attorney anxious to sell you out for bottom dollar.
3. Responsiveness. Does your lawyer respond to your telephone calls? Help you through the discovery process when the other side is demanding documents? Stop the insurance adjusters from harassing you? Your lawyer should respond to your concerns, fears and the specific difficulties of your case.
4. Honesty and Forthrightness. Your lawyer should explain to you exactly how he gets paid, your responsibilities and the strength and weaknesses of your case. As well, you are entitled to regular statements detailing the costs expended on your case.
A.R.S. §12-332. Taxable Costs and Jury Fee in Superior Court
A. Costs in the superior court include:
1. Fees of officers and witnesses.
2. Cost of taking depositions.
3. Compensation of referees.
4. Cost of certified copies of papers or records.
5. Sums paid a surety company for executing any bond or other obligation therein, not exceeding, however, one per cent on the amount of the liability on the bond or other obligation during each year it was in force.
6. Other disbursements that are made or incurred pursuant to an order or agreement of the parties.
B. A jury fee shall also be included in the judgment and taxed as costs and shall be fixed by the court at the time the judgment is given. The jury fee shall include the cost of reimbursement for juror travel expenses. The jury fee shall be paid to the clerk of the court for transmittal to the county treasurer who shall dispose of it as other similar money is disposed of. An action to collect jury fees shall be commenced:
1. Only if the judgment fixing the jury fees is recorded in the office of the county recorder not later than thirty days after the judgment is rendered.
2. At any time after the date of the recording of the judgment fixing the jury fees and the judgment does not expire until it is paid in full.
C. The court may at any time for good cause shown relieve a person from payment of a jury fee if the court believes that such relief is proper.
A.R.S. §12-341. Recovery of Costs
The successful party to a civil action shall recover from his adversary all costs expended or incurred therein unless otherwise provided by law.
A.R.S. §12-342. Costs on Appeal
A. On an appeal by the party against whom judgment was given in the court below, if the judgment of the appellate court is against him, but for a lesser amount, he shall recover costs in the appellate court, but shall be adjudged to pay costs in the court below. If the judgment of the appellate court is against him for the same or a greater amount than in the court below, the adverse party shall recover costs in both courts.
B. On an appeal by the party in whose favor judgment was given in the court below, if the judgment of the appellate court is in his favor for a greater amount, he shall recover costs in both courts. If judgment of the appellate court is in his favor but for the same or less amount than in the court below, he shall recover costs in the court below and pay costs in the court above.
A.R.S. §12-343. Costs of New Trial, Arrest of Judgment or Insufficient Pleadings
A. The costs of a new trial may either abide the result of the action or may be taxed against the party to whom a new trial is granted, as may be adjudged by the court at the time of granting a new trial.
B. When a judgment is arrested or a verdict set aside because of insufficiency of the pleadings of the party in whose favor the verdict or judgment was rendered, the costs thereof shall be taxed against the party whose pleadings were adjudged insufficient.
Disclaimer: The Law Office of Carrie M. Wilcox and its principals, agents or representatives, make no guarantees or representations as to the accuracy or currency of any information herein contained. Providing this brochure does not establish an attorney-client relationship. To create such relationship, both the attorney and potential client must sign a written fee agreement. This infor-mation is meant only as general information, may not apply to your case specifically and is not meant to be relied upon for purposes of taking legal action. You should contact an attorney in person for further and specific information. Carrie M. Wilcox is licensed in Arizona only.