You've been hurt—maybe by a careless driver, in a slip and fall, or by a dangerous product—and you think you might have a personal injury claim. But like most people, you don't know much about the Arizona laws and procedures that control your case. How do you file a personal injury lawsuit? How much time do you have to file? What if you're partly to blame for the accident?
We'll walk you through the basics of Arizona personal injury law, including:
Because it's a type of civil case, your Arizona personal injury lawsuit will be governed, for the most part, by the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be difficult to understand and apply, and the time to learn them isn't while you're trying to handle your own lawsuit. You'll want an experienced Arizona personal injury lawyer on your side.
Most personal injury lawsuits are filed in the state's main trial court, called the Arizona Superior Court. Each county has at least one Superior Court; larger counties have more than one. In most personal injury cases, you'll file your lawsuit in the Superior Court for the county where the accident happened.
You start a personal injury lawsuit by filing a document called a "complaint" with the clerk of the court. (Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 3 (2023).) In separate, numbered paragraphs, your complaint should describe:
Note that Arizona has some special rules about what your complaint must (and must not) include. Specifically, in most personal injury cases, you're not allowed to specify in your complaint the exact amount of damages you want to recover. (Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 8(b)(1) (2023).)
Instead, you must state the "damage tier" to which your case belongs. (Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 8(b)(2) (2023).) There are three damage tiers:
(Ariz. R. Civ. Proc. 26.2(c)(3) (2023).)
You'll want the advice of experienced legal counsel when assigning your case to a damage tier. The tier to which your case is assigned will also impact your ability to do "discovery," meaning to find out facts and information about the case known by the defendant.
Be sure to check for other special rules applicable to the type of case you're filing. (See, e.g., Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-566 (2023) (no pleading specific damage amount in a medical malpractice case); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-685 (2023) (special rules for cases involving dangerous products).
Arizona, like all states, has laws that put deadlines on how long you have to file a lawsuit in court. These laws, called "statutes of limitations," are claim killers: They're designed to kill your personal injury claim forever if you don't file your lawsuit in time.
For "injuries done to the person of another including … for medical malpractice," you've got two years to file your lawsuit. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-542.1 (2023).) In most cases, the two-year clock begins to run on the date of your injury.
Arizona law recognizes several exceptions to the general statute of limitations. Here are some (but not all) of them.
If a minor (under Arizona law, a person who's less than 18 years old) is injured, the two-year statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until the minor turns 18. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-502 (2023).)
When the defendant leaves the state after causing your injury, the two-year limitation clock doesn't run during the period of the defendant's absence. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-501 (2023).)
In most cases, the two-year statute of limitations clock starts to run on the date you're injured (in legal terms, the "accrual" date). But what if you don't know right away that you're injured? In that case, Arizona's "discovery rule" says the limitation clock doesn't start to run until you discover or should have discovered that you were hurt.
Some kinds of lawsuits have different limitation periods or special rules that apply.
If you want to file an injury lawsuit under Arizona's "dog bite statute" against the owner of a dog that bit you, you have one year to file your case in court. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 11-1025 (2023).)
(Learn more about Arizona dog bite laws and owner liability rules.)
A lawsuit against any Arizona government—city, county, or state—or a government employee must, as a general rule, be brought within one year after the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821 (2023).)
In addition, if you have a claim against the government, a government employee, or a public school, you must give written notice of your claim, usually within 180 days after the date you were injured. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821.01 (2023).) Importantly, this written notice isn't the same thing as filing a lawsuit. You must provide this written notice before you're even allowed to file a lawsuit. If you don't give notice as required by law, you're prohibited from filing your case in court.
The written notice must include:
In order to collect damages in your personal injury lawsuit, you must prove that the defendant was legally to blame, or at fault, for your injuries. In most cases, this means proving that the defendant acted negligently (meaning carelessly).
Sometimes, the defendant will claim that you, too, were negligent. If you're found partly to blame, what happens to your lawsuit?
Arizona is a pure comparative negligence state. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-2505 (2023).) Under Arizona law, if you're found partly to blame for your injuries, the damages you can collect are reduced by your share of the fault. But as long as you're not 100% to blame for the wreck, you can collect some damages. Here's a quick example to illustrate.
Suppose you're in an auto accident. You sue the other driver (the defendant) for damages, who claims that you were also to blame and asks to be awarded damages against you. After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $50,000 and assigns you 30% of the fault for the wreck. The jury assigns 70% of the blame to the defendant and finds that the defendant's damages total $40,000. How much in damages will each of you collect?
Because the jury found you 30% at fault, you can collect 70% of your $50,000 in damages: $50,000 x 70% = $35,000. You'll collect that amount from the defendant's insurance company.
The defendant, by comparison, was found to be 70% at fault, meaning they'll collect 30% of their $40,000 total damages: $40,000 x 30% = $12,000. Your insurance company will write the defendant a $12,000 check.
When the defendant causes an injury intentionally, or through willful or wanton misconduct, the defendant can't raise your comparative negligence as a defense.
Most states put limits, or "caps," on the damages an injured person can collect in a personal injury lawsuit. Damages for injuries like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and disability and disfigurement are frequent targets. Some states limit these damages in all personal injury cases. Others cap damages only in specific kinds of cases, especially medical malpractice suits.
Arizona has no caps on damages in personal injury cases. Damage caps are prohibited by the Arizona Constitution. (Ariz. Const. art. 2, § 31 (2023).)
Can't settle your Arizona personal injury insurance claim and need to file a lawsuit? Your first call should be to an experienced Arizona lawyer. The laws and court rules involved in a lawsuit are among the most complicated and difficult of all laws to understand. And the price of a mistake can be devastating. Miss the applicable statute of limitations, for example, and chances are you've lost your right to sue, forever.
If you're ready to move forward with a personal injury lawsuit, here's how to find an Arizona attorney near you.