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Attorney Van O'Steen

Collision Liability for Personal Injury and Property Damage

Van O'Steen

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If your car is rear-ended while you are stopped at a traffic signal that is red, the driver of the other car almost always will be legally responsible to pay all your damages resulting from the collision, including personal injuries.

Liability for auto accidents, however, is not always this clear. In some cases, fault must be shared among two or more drivers.

Arizona is known as a "comparative negligence" state. This means that in determining responsibility for an accident, the relative fault of each of the drivers must be established.

If it is determined that one driver is without fault and the other driver is 100 percent responsible for the accident, the driver at fault or his insurance company is liable for 100 percent of the other driver's injuries and damages.

On the other hand, if one driver (“A”) is 60 percent at fault and the other driver (“B") is 40 percent at fault, then driver A or his insurance company is responsible for only 60 percent of driver B's damages. Driver B must absorb 40 percent of his loss, although his insurance company may have to pay part of it, depending on his coverage.

Similarly, driver B will be liable for 40 percent of A's damages and A must look to his own insurance company, if he has applicable coverage, for the remaining 60 percent of his loss.

In some cases, the allocation of fault among drivers is a complicated matter. Although these cases often are difficult, this issue of comparative fault (the degree or percentage of fault of each driver) is negotiable.

If you have automobile insurance, your own carrier will be helpful in attempting to resolve questions of comparative fault.  If you do not have coverage, and you believe another driver or his insurance company is taking an unreasonable position regarding the allocation of fault, your only option may be to file a lawsuit.

If your claim does not exceed $10,000, you may file it in Arizona's Justice of the Peace Courts, even where a claim for personal injury is being made.  Court fees are modest, procedures are simplified, and you are not required to employ a lawyer to represent you.