Arizona Car Accident Law: How Do Police Determine Fault in a Car Accident?

how do police determine fault in an accident

Imagine driving to work in Arizona like a responsible motorist would, with your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. You see the traffic light change to yellow, so you gradually step on the brakes to completely stop once it goes red.

Alas, the vehicle behind you failed to do the same thing and, as a result, crashed into yours.

So, what should you do next?

First, check yourself and others for injuries. Then, call the police to help document and determine who’s at fault.

But how do police determine fault in an accident that occurs on Arizona roads in the first place? And what steps can you take to recover compensation for your losses?

This guide shares insights into Arizona’s fault-based system when dealing with auto accidents, so read on. 

How Do Police Determine Fault in an Accident on Arizona Roads?

Arizona police help determine fault in traffic collisions by creating police reports. These written documents record the officers’ points of view about the incidents. Insurance companies use them to make decisions about insurance claims and settlements.

Now, suppose you’ve been in a crash and called law enforcement. Once the police arrive at the scene, they’ll do the following to help establish fault:

  • Take your and the other involved motorists’ statements
  • Interview witnesses
  • Assess the location of the vehicles and placement of the damage
  • Look for physical evidence, such as skid marks and poor road conditions

The police will also look for signs that a driver violated traffic laws and that such violations contributed to the crash. For example, they’ll factor in the involved drivers’ physical and mental state at the scene. Doing so lets them detect indications that a motorist may have been driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol. 

Is It Always Necessary to Inform the Police of a Crash in AZ?

Arizona motorists don’t always have to inform the police about a car crash, provided it’s minor. However, they must do so if the motor vehicle incident they’ve been in resulted in bodily injury or death. They must also tell the police about collisions that caused property damage worth over $2,000.

While you don’t have to tell the police about a seemingly minor crash, you should still do so because it might be worse than you thought. Here’s how. 

Delayed Onset of Crash Injury Symptoms

Some crash injuries can take days, even weeks, to become noticeable.

An example is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Not only can it have delayed symptoms, but it’s also a high-risk factor for psychiatric disorders. For instance, people with TBIs could be at a higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Another example is whiplash, a neck injury caused by a sudden, rapid head movement in one direction and back. It’s a common injury in rear-enders and can occur at speeds as low as five to ten miles per hour. It can cause neck and even shoulder pain, headaches, blurred vision, concentration issues, and fatigue.

If it turns out that you sustained those injuries after a crash and you didn’t call the police, you’d have one less evidence that can prove you were in one. And if you can’t prove you were in a crash someone else caused, you may be unable to recover compensation. That’s why it’s imperative to call the police after a crash so that they can file a report and record your incident. 

Negligent Drivers Who May Deny Responsibility Later

Some at-fault drivers may act cooperative and friendly at the crash scene. However, they may deny all responsibility when it’s time for them to pay for your damages. They may do this once they learn that an at-fault incident in Arizona can lead to an average car insurance premium increase of 53%

Why Is Determining Fault in Arizona Car Crashes Vital?

Arizona’s fault-based insurance system holds anyone who causes or contributes to a crash responsible for paying the damages sustained by the other parties. That often applies to motorists who have committed negligent driving actions or behaviors. In many cases, though, the ones who pay for the damages are the at-fault drivers’ auto insurers.

Thus, determining fault in a car crash in Arizona is necessary for victims to receive the compensation they deserve.

Another reason establishing negligence is crucial is because of Arizona’s pure comparative law. 

What Does Arizona’s Pure Comparative Law Mean?

Pure comparative negligence is a law that assigns fault to all parties that may have contributed to an incident. You can think of it as “sharing the blame.” It allows someone to claim damages provided the other involved party was at least 1% at fault.

Let’s say that Driver A was 99% at fault for causing a crash, while Driver B was only 1% at fault.

Driver A can still recover damages for the 1% they weren’t at fault. On the other hand, Driver B may only recover 99% of the damages since they contributed 1% to the incident. 

How Arizona’s Pure Comparative Law Can Work Against You

Determining fault is imperative because the other party may put some of the blame on you, even though they’re 100% at fault. Even if they say you’re just 1% to blame, you should dispute this allegation.

Here’s why. 

It Could Affect Your Car Insurance Premiums

Your car insurance premiums may increase due to a false claim that you were partly at fault for a crash.

Also, Arizona is unlike other states wherein anyone involved in a crash (even if it wasn’t their fault) can suffer from higher premiums. Under AZ laws, insurers shall not increase an insured person’s premiums due to their involvement in an accident that they didn’t cause or significantly contributed to

You’d Recover Less

Getting blamed for a traffic incident that you didn’t contribute anything to can affect how much you can recover. While 1% may seem negligible, it’s not if you consider how much the financial consequences of a crash can be.

According to HealthCare.gov, a three-day hospital stay can cost an average of $30,000. If you need a doctor to fix a broken leg, you can expect to pay about $7,500. That sums up to $37,500, and it doesn’t even include the costs of:

  • Other healthcare services like surgery, physical therapy, and psychological therapy
  • Medications
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future potential income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Fixing or replacing your damaged property

As you can see, a car crash can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even just 1% of that could be significant (e.g., $1,000 for $100,000). Therefore, you should never shrug off a false claim about your “shared” fault in a car accident. 

What Can You Do to Protect Your Rights as a Crash Victim?

The first step is to call the police for assistance, however minor you think the incident is. Again, the crash may be much worse than it initially appears.

Aside from informing the police, you should also take the following steps after a crash. 

Gather Evidence

As you wait for law enforcement officers, take as many photos and videos of the crash site as possible. You should also record as many details of the incident as you can remember on a voice or video recording. It can help you recall information pertinent to your case that you may forget.

Talk to Witnesses

While the police will talk to witnesses, some may leave the scene before the officers arrive.

So, if possible, speak with potential witnesses and ask if you can record their testimonials. It’s also a good idea to request their contact details in case the police, your insurer, or your lawyer will need to talk to them.

See a Doctor Immediately

Go for a medical check-up as soon as possible following a car crash. The sooner you do, the sooner a doctor can assess your health and confirm any injury or condition caused by the incident. You’ll need their official records when you file an insurance claim or sue the at-fault party for negligence. 

Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer

Proving you didn’t contribute to a crash is complex and requires a lot of investigative legwork. And as someone who has sustained injuries, you likely don’t have the good health and energy to do all that.

That’s why you should consider hiring a personal injury lawyer. An attorney can protect your rights by building a solid case that can help establish your lack of fault.

To do that, your lawyer will gather the following evidence:

  • Police reports
  • Expert witness testimonials
  • Surveillance, traffic, and dash camera video recordings
  • The other involved parties’ driving and legal history

Your lawyer will also work with other experts to reconstruct, investigate, and analyze the incident. They can then make more educated conclusions about your case’s causes, events, and consequences. 

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Now you know that the answer to the question, “How do police determine fault in an accident in Arizona?” is by investigating and creating police reports. They talk with witnesses and everyone involved, some of whom may make false claims.

So, if you’ve been in a crash that was 100% someone else’s fault, you must prove your lack of fault to get the compensation you deserve.

Our attorneys at Sweet Lawyers have a 98% success rate and can help with your case. Contact us today, and we’ll gladly evaluate your case for free.

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