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The United States is one of the busiest countries in the world in terms of traffic, so it's not surprising that road accidents are fairly common. There were around 6.3 million crashes in the US in 2015. 116,609 of these crashes were in Arizona, including nearly 37,000 where there was an injury or fatality.

If you own and drive a vehicle in Arizona, it is important that you understand the state's accident laws and know what to do in the event of an accident. Here's a quick guide giving an overview of current legislation.

Accident laws in Arizona

Accident Laws in AZ

Like many US states, Arizona uses an 'at fault' system for vehicle accidents which is based on tort liability. In this system, the driver who is at fault in the accident is liable for the damages caused. The 'at fault' system is used to sort out insurance claims in accidents. If blame for the accident is not clear or it is contested, then a lawsuit can
be filed and a court will use the comparative fault system to determine liability.

If you are at fault in a vehicle accident in Arizona, you could face a driving suspension, a fine or even jail, depending on the severity of the accident, whether you follow the correct post-accident procedures and whether you were under the influence of drugs, alcohol or other intoxicating substances. The Arizona Revised Statutes Sections 28-661 to 28-677 gives key information regarding accidents involving death, injury and damage.

Comparative fault system

Comparative Fault System Info

With many vehicle accidents, one party is fully to blame. Perhaps they've pulled out
too early at a junction or have hit an unattended vehicle. These are fairly easily resolved under the 'at fault' system - the driver at fault will be fully liable for costs.

But what happens when blame is divided or disputed? Arizona uses a 'pure comparative fault' system in these cases. This is where a court decides how much each party is to blame, in percentage terms, and then apportions costs. For example, you're involved in a car accident where exact blame is unclear. The judge awards you $50,000 in damages (vehicle damage, medical bills, income lost through injury) but deems you 30 percent liable. You will be entitled to 70 percent of these costs ($35,000) and will also be liable for 30 percent of any damages awarded to the other party.

Recovering damages

Recovering Damages after an Accident

In Arizona, you have two possible methods of recovering money for damages relating to a vehicle accident. The first option is to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the other driver and their insurance company. This may be possible in cases where blame clearly lies with one party. If you accept a settlement offered by the other party, you'll need to sign a release form and will waive your right to sue for damages in court.

If you are unable to come to an agreement with the other driver and their insurer, your second option is to file a lawsuit. The court will determine the total amount of damages owed (repair costs, medical expenses, replacement vehicle costs, lost wages, costs related to emotional distress, etc.) and will apply the comparative fault system after reviewing the evidence presented.

Arizona statute of limitations

Arizona Statute of Limitations

The 'statute of limitations' for personal injury or property damage after a car accident in Arizona is two years. This means that if you want to file a lawsuit for an accident, you must do so within two years of it taking place. This may seem like a long time, but you'll need to bear it in mind if you are trying to negotiate an out-of-court settlement and things are dragging on.

The statute of limitations only concerns how long you have to take the case to court.
It has nothing to do with how long you have to make an insurance claim. You'll need to check your insurance policy on this, as time periods vary from insurer to insurer.

Although filing a legal case is time limited, there are no limits on the amount that can be pursued or awarded in car accident cases.

How to stay compliant with the law in the event of an accident

If you're unfortunate enough to be involved in a vehicle accident in AZ, you need to follow certain procedures to avoid getting into trouble. Here's what you should do:

  • Stop your vehicle and park somewhere where you're not obstructing traffic. You need to remain at the scene of the accident otherwise you risk having your license suspended.
  • Inform the local Arizona police.
  • Exchange information with the other party/parties involved - name, address, contact details, driving license number, license plate number.
  • Remain at the scene until a law enforcement officer arrives. They will report the accident to the MVD if necessary.
  • Notify your insurance company.

If there are injuries

  • Provide assistance to any injured persons if possible. Don't attempt to move anyone who is seriously injured, unless it's essential to do so.
  • Call for emergency help and call 911 if there are serious injuries to deal with.
  • File a police report.

Unattended vehicles

If you hit an unattended vehicle, you must also follow accident procedures:

  • If possible, locate the vehicle owner and exchange details with them.
  • If you can't find the owner of the vehicle, which is often the case, you should attach a short note to the vehicle explaining what happened and include your name and contact details.
  • If you're not the owner of the vehicle you're driving, you must provide the owner's name and contact information.
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