Car accidents can be scary and disorienting. Worse still, you or someone else may be seriously hurt. In these difficult times, it's best to have a plan. Learn it, and, if you have to, print it out and keep it in the glove box. Here are the rules and guidelines for how to handle yourself after a car collision. These aren't simply courtesies for which Arizonans are famous: these are the laws. But remember, safety always comes first. If you can't follow a law because it would be unsafe on the road, you should still do your best to drive safely in light of the particular conditions.
What Do You Do Immediately After the Accident?
Crashes may happen in any number of ways and involve any number of parties. Still, some scenarios will occur more frequently, and the laws are typically going to be the same. Here are the laws that apply to common scenarios.
If you are driving in Phoenix, or anywhere else in the Grand Canyon State, you must stop and give your name, address, and vehicle registration number to any person that was injured or had his/her property damaged. If the other party to the accident asks for it, show them your driver license.
The Department of Transportation's Arizona Driver License Manual recommends that you exchange additional information. You should record: insurance company names and policy numbers, witness names and contact information, and license plate numbers.
If anyone is injured, you must give "reasonable assistance." This means that you might have to arrange for an ambulance or personally take the injured to a care facility. If an injured person is unconscious and cannot receive the information that you're required to provide, you should give that information to the police. Do not try to move an injured person unless the collision results in a fire at the scene.
If you're motoring along a narrow road, or maybe trying to squeeze your Buick into a spot only big enough for a Mini Cooper, there's a chance that you'll strike a car, and the owner will be nowhere around. In that case, you still have to provide your identifying information. Leave a note with your name and address (or best contact information) in a place where the car's owner will likely find it.
Notice to Law Enforcement
In Phoenix, if the accident causes a death or injury, state law requires you to notify either the Phoenix Police Department, Maricopa Sheriff's Department, or the highway patrol. Contact law enforcement as soon as possible.
PHXPD may send a volunteer to help you if you are stranded and direct traffic if there's been an accident. Call (602) 534-1951.
In Arizona, individual cities may have ordinances that require driver's to file accident reports with the City for all accidents. As of August 2013, the City of Phoenix has no requirement.
What are the Possible Legal Consequences for an Accident?
The legal consequences of a crash can vary significantly, ranging from civil penalties (e.g. loss of license or traffic school) all the way to criminal penalties (e.g. fines, probation, or incarceration). Criminal penalties are typically reserved for cases of intentional or criminally reckless conduct. Still, depending on the circumstances, it may be difficult to know which type of penalty you may face, so may be a good idea to find a local attorney, especially if you have a commercial driver's license or your employment depends upon your driving record.
A traffic accident may result in a criminal conviction if the investigation reveals that the driver was engaged in "reckless driving," "aggressive driving," "excessive speeds," "racing," or one of several other potential misdemeanors. A driver will almost surely face a criminal prosecution if an officer concludes that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In such cases, it is best to find a local DUI or criminal lawyer.
Generally, you only face civil consequences for car accidents where you are at fault. In the event of a collision, a driver is at fault if he or she breached a duty to drive safely, and that breach caused injury. Questions about whether there has been a breach of a duty and causation can be difficult legal questions. It is a court's job to determine whether a party to a crash was at fault, and to what extent.
This all means that if you were injured in an accident, and you sue the other driver, you can only recover for the amounts that you did not cause yourself. Additionally, some crashes -- as in the case of a natural disaster or hazards in the roadway -- may involve no breach of a duty at all.
The law generally presumes that a driver is at fault if he or she has committed a moving violation, and a collision results. The violating driver, in such a case, would have to prove that something other than his or her moving violation caused the crash.
If you are at fault in an accident, and it results in a severe physical injury to another party, the criminal and civil penalties may be enhanced. The court may require you to attend traffic school, perform community service, or endure a longer period of license suspension or probation, and pay larger fines which insurance may or may not cover.
The Role of Lawyers and Insurance
Most car insurers advise that you do not admit fault after a collision. This is because fault is a legal question for the lawyers to settle. Car insurance policies often provide for the insured driver's legal defense, so before you retain a lawyer, check with your insurance provider to see whether you already have one, and if there are restrictions on which lawyer you choose.
If you were injured, and you were not at fault, your insurance might not provide you with an attorney to seek damages from another driver. In that case, you may want a lawyer specializing in plaintiffs-side work. These lawyers tend to work on a contingent fee arrangement, which means that you pay nothing to begin the case. The lawyer must accept a set amount or an amount set according to a formula, but only after you win or settle your case.
Create a plan for handling traffic accidents before they happen. Have your contact and vehicle registration info ready to go in case of a collision. Don't be too alarmed at a sobriety test because they're part of a normal procedure, and it's always best to cooperate. Read FindLaw's section on Phoenix DUI Laws if it applies to your case.
Get Legal Help After Your Car Accident in Phoenix
If you were involved in a car accident resulting in serious damage, injury, or other complications, it may be wise to consult a skilled car accident attorney in addition to contacting your insurer. After all, an insurance company is looking out for itself, while an attorney will look out for you.