by Samuel Saks on Jan. 11, 2021

Accident & Injury Wrongful Death Accident & Injury Accident & Injury  Car Accident 

Summary: Car accidents and injury claims involve many areas of law, including tort law and insurance law. Arizona law is unique in many respects. Learn more about these issues in this article.


By Sam Saks, Esq.,

Driving is probably the riskiest thing you do every day.  According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, there were over 100,000 car crashes in the state last year.  On average, two people were killed on Arizona roads every day as a result of vehicle accidents.  Car accidents in Arizona cause almost $3 billion in damage every year.  For these reasons, car insurance is mandatory.  In Arizona, all drivers must have at least $15,000 in liability coverage (and at least $30,000 for accidents involving more than one person).  Other types of auto insurance coverages are not required, such as coverage for damage to your vehicle, coverage for your medical expenses, and protection against uninsured drivers or drivers with minimum insurance.


Accidents often involve complicated legal issues, such as traffic laws and safety regulations (e.g., for trucks and other commercial vehicles), legal issues relating to negligence and liability, wrongful death claims from fatalities or serious injuries that lead to death, vehicle and other property damage, and medical treatment expenses.

Insurance Companies and Attorneys

Insurance is a complicated, competitive, and highly regulated industry.  It is no wonder there are so many commercials on television.  Lots of money is at stake: auto insurance companies took in over $107 billion dollars in premiums in 2013 according to the Insurance Information Institute.  Insurance companies employ teams of people trained to investigate and evaluate claims, called “claims adjusters.”  The job of a claim adjuster is to collect information, review records (including police reports, witness statements, and medical records), and determine the extent of the insurance company’s liability.  But make no mistake: adjusters are employees of an insurance company. 

While insurers play an important and valuable role in society, the reality is that insurance companies do not make money by paying the maximum possible amount for your claim or by paying you as quickly as possible. 

Insurance companies maximize their profits by minimizing their risk and payouts whenever possible.  And they have the resources and motivation to do so.  Most claims adjusters have dealt with thousands of accident cases and attorneys.  How many have you dealt with?  Due to this power imbalance many people choose to hire attorneys to represent them when it comes to accidents involving an injury, a death, or property damage.  A lawyer can help navigate the insurance process, which can be time-consuming and frustrating, and help resolve a claim fairly and efficiently. 

Pitfalls to Avoid

By their nature, accidents are stressful and unexpected.  If you are the victim of the accident you are likely to be in a very vulnerable position and unprepared to think clearly.  So what are you to do?  Here are some basic tips for dealing with an accident:

  • Call the Police and Get Medical Treatment.  This is obvious, but surprisingly overlooked.  Focus on your immediate safety and health, not the damage to your vehicle, the other driver, or the possibility of a ticket.  Under Arizona law (A.R.S. § 28-661), you are required to stop and remain at the scene of an accident you have been involved in.  Try to stay as calm as possible.  Keep in mind that some injuries can be internal and due to the adrenaline pumping through your body or the shock of an impact, you many not feel any severe pain.  If you have any reason to believe you are injured or you feel any pain at all, consider going to the hospital as soon as possible.  Some other symptoms to look for are dizziness, ringing in the ears, confusion, and nausea.  If you feel pain after the accident, find a trusted medical provider or urgent care facility that can see you and evaluate you.


  • Cooperate with the Police and Be Honest.  When talking to a police officer, make sure you give him all the information he asks for.  Do not leave anything out.  Do not exaggerate or lie.  Just be honest.  If you don’t remember something, say so.  If you are asked whether you are injured make sure you report all of your symptoms, even if they seem minor to you.  Don’t assume that you are injured only if you can see blood.  The recent news about NFL football players and concussions / brain injuries underscores the brain damage that can be caused by sudden impacts or collisions.
  • Collect Information.  If it is safe to do so, take pictures of your vehicle and the other driver’s vehicle.  If you have injuries like swelling or bruising, take pictures of it, as they will not likely take pictures at the hospital.  Get the name of any witnesses just in case they leave before the police have a chance to talk to them.  Arizona law (A.R.S. § 28-663) requires drivers involved in an accident to exchange at least the following information: name, address, registration, driver’s license.  You are also required to “[r]ender reasonable assistance to a person injured in the accident, including making arrangements for the carrying of the person to a physician, surgeon or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary or if the carrying is requested by the injured person.”  Make sure the other driver gives you his information as well.  Usually, the police will have you fill out an accident information exchange form (see below for more about this form).  The accident exchange information form will contain the necessary information as well as a report number.  Typically, reports are not available until several days after an accident.  In Phoenix, traffic accident reports are available online at:  If the Arizona Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) responded to your accident, you have to fill out a form to get your report.  For more information on obtaining a traffic accident report, go to
  • Take Action.   Once you have taken care of your physical condition, consider contacting an attorney.  Most insurance policies require you to report your claim to them after an accident.  Many times, the other driver’s insurance company may contact you and attempt to get you to give a recorded statement.  Your insurance company may make a similar request.  In general, you do not have a legal duty to agree to a recorded interview as soon as the minute they ask you for one.  A skilled adjuster can ask the “right questions” or re-characterize certain statements to minimize the value of your claim and foreclose or limit your practical ability to recover much for it.  If the recorded statement is taken shortly after the accident, you may not realize the true nature of your injuries and level of pain: many people report increasing pain in the days following an accident.  If you have any questions or concerns, you may want to contact an attorney for guidance.

Who is at Fault?

How do you know who is at fault for an accident?  Sometimes the answer seems obvious: you were rear-ended while at a stoplight.  The other driver was speeding or was drunk driving and was ticketed for a DUI.  While these may seem like obvious cases (and usually are), keep in mind that the other driver may telling a different story to the police.  Arizona law recognized the concept of “comparative fault” which means that both parties may be partially at fault for an accident.  For example, if the other driver was trying to make a left turn but you were speeding, the other driver might be deemed 80% at fault and you might be deemed 20% at fault.

Understanding an Arizona Crash Report (aka “Police Report” or “Traffic Accident Report”)

An Arizona Crash Report is a series of forms and documents prepared by officers who responded to an accident.  The crash report is a written record of the accident from the police officer’s point of view and is the key document that insurance companies will use to make certain decisions about your case or insurance claim.  An Arizona Crash Report is a series of forms and documents prepared by officers who responded to an accident.  The crash report can be confusing if you are not familiar with its structure and terminology. 

Before a Report: The Accident Information Exchange Form.  If police officers have responded to the scene of an accident, you will be given an “Accident Information Exchange Form” before you see a crash report.  Think of the Accident Information Exchange Form as a preliminary accident report.  These forms can differ based on the city that the police officer works for.  The Phoenix Police Department Accident Information Exchange Form has an incident number listed on the lower left-hand side of the form along with the responding officer information.  The form also lists basic information about the accident, including the location of the accident, the names of the drivers involved in the crash, the make, model, license plate numbers of the cars involved, where the vehicles were towed, and whether the accident involved any physical injuries.  Keep in mind that officers prepare reports after investigating an accident.  The full report may not be available until days or weeks after an accident.  In addition, supplements may be issued for certain reports. 

Basic information:  The Arizona Crash Report form is divided into sections, which are numbered on the left-hand side of the page.  At the top of the report in section 1 is basic identifying information about the accident.  It includes spaces for the year, month, day, and hour of the accident.  It lists a National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) number that is used to identify the vehicles involved.  It includes an officer ID number which will identify the key responding police officer.  Finally, the crash report will have a ten digit Agency Report Number that typically begins with the year and has the following format: “2014-XXXXXX.”  This number is important because it will help you locate all the paperwork related to the accident case.  Section 2 lists a basic summary of the accident, including the total “units” or vehicles involved, the total injuries, and total fatalities.  Section 3 lists the general location of the accident.  Section 4 lists the traffic units or vehicles involved.  The officer will assign a number to each vehicle involved in the accident (e.g., Traffic Unit no. 1, Traffic Unit no. 2, etc.)  The vehicle numbers are shorthand for the officer’s use in writing the narrative, which is perhaps the most important section of a report.  For each vehicle, crash report lists driver and ownership information, make, model, and VIN number, and insurance policy information.  The crash report will note whether the driver was injured, an estimate of an injury severity, the posted speed limit and the “ofc est speed” which stands for “Official Estimated Speed.”  Section 5 lists any passengers who may have been involved in the accident and may assign them a numerical seat position.  Section 6 lists any property damaged other than vehicles.  Section 7 contains the officer’s name, badge number, and agency, typically the “Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) or local police agency. 

The second page of the Arizona Crash Report form lists witnesses and their contact information in section 8.  Section 9 lists the citation charges and any vehicle unit that was cited under a provision of the Arizona Revised Statutes (“ARS”) or applicable city code.  Beneath section 9, are section blocks 10 through 24, which is a series of small boxes that list information about the accident.  There are sections for light condition, weather condition, manner of crash impact, road surface condition, direction of unit travel, contributing circumstances, violations / behavior, road grade, traffic unit maneuver / action, and location of pedestrians.  Each item has a check box for a unit number to identify the vehicle to which the item is relevant. 

The third page of the report contains section 25 that lists vehicle damaged area(s).  There are diagrams for the officer to identify the damage caused to vehicles as a result of the crash.  Sections 26 through 30 contain information about the roadway alignment, lane configuration, and any ejections or extrication using the unit number and seat positions from the first page of the report.  Section 31 describes the sequence of events leading up to the moment of impact in the accident.  The section has pre-assigned numbers to certain events like overturn or rollover, fire / explosion, jackknife, and cargo / equipment loss.  On the right lower corner of section 31 is the sequence of events with the applicable unit numbers and sequences filled in.  The bottom of page 3 shows and example sequence of events and how the numbers show what happened during the accident.

Accident description (narrative) and crash diagram:  The accident report will also have summary or description of the accident including key information like when it happened, who was involved, and a summary of any witness statements or tests performed by the officer.  It is written in a narrative format, i.e., like a story, and from the officer’s point of view.  If you disagree with the narrative you may be able request that the officer file a supplement to the narrative to correct any inaccurate information.  Most likely, however, the officer will decline to do so. 

As part of any serious accident description or accident involving major injuries, death, or drugs, officers may take additional measurements of the accident scene.  In addition to tire or skid mark analysis, the officer may draw a crash diagram, showing the location of the vehicles on the road and the sequence of events leading up to the accident.

The crash report may also contain traffic accident witness statements, which are sometimes filled out by the witnesses themselves.  In these statements the witnesses record their contact information, what they were doing just prior to the accident (e.g., direction of travel, etc.), what called their attention to the accident (e.g., breaking glass, tire squeal, etc.), and what they saw. 

Crashes Causing Death / Fatal Supplement

If the accident involved a fatality, the Arizona Crash Report will have a fatal supplement.  It will list the name of the victim, the victim’s address and physical description.  It will also list where the victim was removed to and who he was removed by.  This may be identified by the MCMEO, Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office (“MEO”).  The fatal supplement will list the date of death, time of death and whether the victim was deceased at the scene or transported to a hospital.  The fatal supplement will list any safety device failure, improper usage of a safety device, any ejection from the car or ejection path (for example, through side door opening, through windshield, through back window, etc.). 

The supplement will list whether an air bag was available.  It will also list an extrication (“extr”) supplement which details how the victim may have been extricated by ambulance attendant, by police, by fire department, etc.  There is a section on the fatal supplement that will be completed if any driver is tested for alcohol/drugs.  This will detail the alcohol test type, alcohol test results, and drug test results.  The fatal supplement also contains information about the crash configuration and whether it is an underride / override.  An underride crash configuration is when a car travels under a vehicle, lifting it up.  An override configuration is when a vehicle ends up on top of another car.  This section also lists whether the override / underride had a compartment instruction. 

The fatal supplement will also list whether there was a fire occurrence; in other words, whether a fire occurred in the vehicle during the crash.  Finally the fatal supplement will list the time EMS was called, the time EMS arrived, and the arrival time at the hospital.  The fatal supplement also has a section for comments by the officer.  The crash report in an accident involving major injuries or death (“major events”) may also contain an incident command system log, listing the incident commander and listing all of the officers who responded to the scene.

Truck or Bus Accidents

If the accident involved a truck or a bus, the Crash Report will contain a truck / bus supplement.  This form will list the qualifying information, which describes the truck involved in the crash, state whether at the time of the crash the truck or bus was operating on a traffic way open to the public or in transport or whether the truck or bus involved in the accident was parked on or off the traffic way. 

The qualifying information section also includes information on whether a commercial driver license (“CDL”) was issued and if so, what class of license.  The truck / bus supplement will also list vehicle information about the truck including the vehicle configuration (for example, truck/trailer, tractor/semi trailer, truck/tractor without bobtail or saddle mount, etc.).  It will list the cargo body type (for example, van / enclosed box, cargo tank, flatbed, etc.).  It will list the GVWR / GCWR, which stands for gross vehicle weight rating and gross combined weight rating.  Finally it will list the carrier information, which is information about the trucking company, whether the trucking company that owned the truck involved in the accident was an interstate carrier, intrastate carrier, or “not in commerce-government.” 

Finally, the truck / bus supplement will list the USDOT identification number of the truck that crashed.  Commercial trucking is regulated by the federal government, and specifically the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”).  The DOT has a division called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that oversees commercial trucking.  You can look up information about the truck and trucking company involved in the accident at

Employers and Commercial Auto Insurance Policies. 

If you are hit by a commercial truck it is possible the company may be responsible for your damages and injuries.  The good news is that most companies have significant insurance policies. On the other hand, the law of negligence is slightly more complicated when it comes to employees acting in the course and scope of their employment.  These cases can also get complicated quickly. Some things to consider include: whether the employee driver was working at the time of the accident or merely returning home in the company vehicle; whether the employee driver was operating in a reasonable manner or under the influence of drugs; whether the employee driver has sufficient personal insurance to cover his actions if he is deemed not to have been working at the time of the accident.

Common Driving Violations. 

If you’ve seen a crash report, section 9 lists citation charges (aka, driving infractions or tickets).   Here are some of the most common violations:

  • A.R.S. § 28-701: Speed greater than reasonable and prudent speed.  This statute requires: “A person shall not drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances, conditions and actual and potential hazards then existing. A person shall control the speed of a vehicle as necessary to avoid colliding with any object, person, vehicle or other conveyance on, entering or adjacent to the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to exercise reasonable care for the protection of others.”

The same statute also prohibits you from driving too slow or impeding traffic:  “A person shall not drive a motor vehicle at a speed that is less than the speed that is reasonable and prudent under existing conditions unless the speed that is reasonable and prudent exceeds the maximum safe operating speed . . . .”

  • A.R.S. § 28-644: Failure to obey traffic control device (e.g., stop sign, stop light, yield sign, etc.). 
  • A.R.S. § 28-751: Improper turn.  Among other things, this statute provides that “[t]he driver of a vehicle intending to turn left shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle. If practicable the driver shall make the left turn from the left of the center of the intersection and shall make the turn to the left lane immediately available for the driver's direction of traffic.”
  • A.R.S. § 28-771:  Rules at intersection.  Under this statute: “When two vehicles enter or approach an intersection from different streets or highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right. This subsection does not apply to vehicles approaching or entering an uncontrolled "T" intersection if the vehicle on the left is on a continuing street or highway and the vehicle on the right is on the terminating street or highway. The vehicle on the terminating street or highway shall yield to the vehicle on the continuing street or highway.”
  • A.R.S. § 28-1381 et seq.: Driving or actual physical control while under the influence (“DUI”).  This is the first in a series of statutes that relates to DUI, driving under the influence of intoxicants.
  • A.R.S. § 28-873: Improper stopping, standing or parking. This statute governs when and where you can and cannot stop your vehicle.

Tickets don’t matter as much as you think.   The fact that a police officer decides to give a ticket to a driver or decides not to give anyone a ticket does not end the case.  The police officer has the right to determine which, if any, driver may have violated the traffic laws (found in Title 28 of the Arizona Revised Statutes).  But for the purposes of an insurance claim or accident case, this determination is not binding.  In other words, a judge or jury may decide that a ticketed driver did not cause the accident and is not responsible for any damages. 

Will My Car Insurance Rates Go Up?

Under Arizona law, if you have not caused or significantly contributed to the cause of an accident, your car insurance rates or premiums cannot be raised.  Specifically, A.R.S. § 20-263 provides: “ No insurer shall increase the motor vehicle insurance premium of an insured as a result of an accident not caused or significantly contributed to by the actions of the insured. Any insurer which increases the premium as a result of accident involvement shall notify the insured of the reason for such increase.”

Legal Issues

Negligence.  In a case involving an accident the key legal issue is negligence.  The law of negligence is complicated and full of nuance.  Put simply, negligence simply means the failure to act as a reasonable person should under the unique circumstances of the case, and those actions lead to injury or damages.  As you may have noticed, this is a vague standard and leaves a lot of room for insurance adjusters (and attorneys) to argue. 

In the context of driving, everyone operating a motor vehicle has a legal duty to drive safely and follow the rules of the road.  Even once you prove that someone acted negligently, you still have to prove that their negligent actions caused damage or injury.  This is known as “causation.”  Causation is more complicated than it sounds.  For example, if you negligently crashed into someone who had a heart condition, your negligent act did not cause or give rise to that person’s heart condition.  It may have made things worse, but you can’t be held responsible for the condition in the first place.  Similarly, if the damage or injury was inevitable no matter what you did, your negligence may not be considered the true cause. 

Damage and Injuries.  Another difficult issue is damage and injuries and how to put a monetary value on them.  The law entitles victims of negligence to be made whole or paid so that they are in the same position that they were before the accident. There are several types of damages and injuries.  For example, most accidents cause physical damage to the vehicles involved.  If your vehicle is stuck in a repair shop for weeks, you suffer from a type of damage called “loss of use,” which is the hassle and expense of obtaining a rental or otherwise being without your vehicle.  If the vehicle gets repaired the owner will likely take a hit if he decides to sell it; this type of damage is known as “diminished value.”  Many accidents involve damages in the form of medical injuries to drivers, passengers, or pedestrians.  This type of damage is known as “bodily injury.”  Bodily injury is often the most complicated issue in an accident case.

Bodily injury involves not just medical issues about the nature and severity of an injury, but also pain and suffering.  How can you put a monetary value on pain and suffering?  How much money will compensate you for a broken leg, a scar, low back pain, a broken figure, or a bruise?  There is no precise answer, which is why figuring out the true value of your claim requires experience and training.

Settlement and Recovery.   Sometimes an insurance company will offer you a settlement payment in exchange for you signing a release.  Releases are often complicated, but they boil down to this: if you sign it you will have no right to any further recovery for the accident or your injuries.  In other words, you give up the right to file a lawsuit or seek additional money if your injuries turn out to be more serious than they seemed.  This is why it is important to seek legal advice if you have any questions or concerns about a release.  Most people do not have sufficient experience with accidents or legal issues involved to accurately determine the value of their case or what it is really worth.  Some insurance companies will try to get you to settle quickly, offering you prompt payment in order to end the case.  Even if you think the amount is fair, your medical providers may have recorded a “healthcare provider lien” that entitles them to payment of some or all of the money you get from the insurance company.  A reputable attorney should be willing to give you free advice on whether the settlement offer seems fair or not under the circumstances of your case.   Often it is valuable to have a second opinion to know that you and your family are protected.

Types of Automobile Insurance Coverage         

When you buy car insurance you are confronted with numerous confusing choices.  Every driver must have the mandatory minimum liability limits, but all other coverages are optional.  Think of these coverages as “buckets.”  Each coverage or bucket will cover a specific situation or category of damage.  Here is a summary of the most common coverages:

Liability.  This is the central coverage that protects you if you were to cause an accident and found to be at fault, or “liable.”  For example, if you hit a car because you were on your cell phone and the other driver suffered a head injury, you might be 100% responsible for all of his damages. 

You have a choice on how much protection to purchase.  The more protection you purchase, the higher your monthly premium.  All drivers in Arizona are required to have policy limits of at least $15,000 / $30,000.  What does that mean?  Liability coverage is based on an amount per person limits and a total amount no matter how many people are involved.  $15,000/$30,000 means that your policy will pay on your behalf up to $15,000 if the accident you cause injures one person.  If the accident you cause injuries two or more people, your policy will pay up to $30,000 total. 

What happens if the person you injured suffers severe injuries, is taken to the hospital or dies?  If all you have is the minimum limits, the injured person could sue you and your spouse personally for the additional amounts.  Since this is personal liability, everything you own could be at risk: your home, your personal property, money in your bank accounts, etc.   

Given the high cost of medical treatment and the number of accidents on Arizona roads, you may want to consider buying more than the minimum policy limits.  Insurance companies offer several different levels of liability coverage: $100,000 / $300,000 (up to $100,000 per person or $300,000 total if two or more people are injured).  You may also want to consider an “umbrella policy,” which can protect you if the limits of your automobile insurance policy are not enough to pay for damage or injuries you cause.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (“UM”) and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (“UIM”).   The liability portion of your policy protects you from other people suing you.  But what if someone hits you?  How will you recover for your injuries or the injuries of your passengers?   First and foremost, you can go after the person who caused the accident.  If that driver was following Arizona law, he has at least $15,000 / $30,000 to cover his liability.  But what if you are seriously injured and your medical bills are over $15,000?   In that case, you can sue the other driver personally. However, the other driver may not have anything to collect, and you may be in for a long legal process if you decide to file a lawsuit. 

Underinsured Motorist or UIM coverage is a part of your own policy that protects you if the other driver does not have enough insurance to cover your injuries.  For example, assume you are hit by a driver who has only $15,000 in insurance coverage.   You or your attorney are able to prove that you have suffered $65,000 in injuries (medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.) as a result of the accident. Luckily, you had decided to purchase $50,000 in UIM coverage.  Here is how your recovery would work:

   $15,000 to you from the other driver’s insurance.

+ $50,000 to you from your own insurance company (under the UIM coverage)


= $65,000 total to you.

But what if you suffered $70,000 in injuries?  You would not have coverage for the additional $5,000 and would have to sue the other driver personally. 

Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) coverage.  What happens if the person who hits you violated Arizona law and has no insurance, or did not pay his insurance premiums and had his policy cancelled?   In that case, UIM does not apply.  Instead, you would have to make a claim under your policy’s Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage or attempt to sue the driver personally.  It is not known how many uninsured or underinsured drivers are on Arizona roads, but you may want to consider protecting yourself by purchasing UM and UIM coverage.

Medical Payments (“Med Pay”).  Medical payments is coverage for your medical expenses if you suffer an injury in an accident.   If you do not have health insurance, it is important you consider buying this coverage because of the high price of medical treatment.  Like UIM and UM, this is a coverage that protects you, not the other driver involved in the accident.

Property Damage, Comprehensive, and Collision Coverage.   As we have seen, liability coverage is for damages you cause to people.  There are three other coverage types that relate to damages to objects rather than people. 

  • Property Damage: coverage for damages you cause to objects or things.  For example, if you drive into a house and do not injure anyone, your property damage coverage would pay for any damage done to the house.  It will also pay for damage you do to someone else’s vehicle.  It does not apply for damage to your own vehicle if you are responsible for the accident. 
  • Collision Coverage: this covers damage to your own vehicle, whether or not you are responsible for the accident.  If you are not at fault for the accident, the other driver will likely end up paying for the damage to your vehicle (through the property damage coverage under their policy).  If you do not purchase collision coverage and cause an accident, your insurance company will not pay you for the loss. 
  • Comprehensive Coverage: this covers damages to your vehicle that were not caused by a collision.   This includes things like theft, vandalism, and objects falling onto your vehicle.  If you do not purchase comprehensive coverage and your vehicle is stolen, your insurance company will not pay you for the loss.  Many lenders and leasing companies require you to maintain comprehensive coverage in order to protect their interest in your vehicle. 

Repairs and Total Loss.  What happens when vehicles are damaged?  Insurance companies have property damage departments to take care of claims involving physical damage.  In general, you have the right to have your car towed to the repair shop of your choice.  However, you should check whether your repair shop will work with the other driver’s insurance or your insurance (if you have collision coverage).  Assuming that you did not cause the accident, the other insurance company has the right to send a property adjuster to look at your vehicle and give an estimate of the damage.  If you do not agree with the property adjuster’s evaluation, you can have your own insurance company send its adjuster to issue an estimate (if you have collision coverage).  

When a vehicle is so severely damaged that the repairs would cost more than X% of its total value, it will likely to be “totaled” that is, deemed a “total loss.”  Most insurance companies will refer the matter to a total loss department.  They will come up with a value for your vehicle after determining what it was worth before the accident.  They will take the following items into account: make and model, mileage, condition, options on the car.  If you put on new tires or installed additional equipment (e.g., a stereo system) before the accident, you may be able to negotiate for a higher valuation.  Vehicle evaluations can be complicated so if you disagree, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to advise you.  Some attorneys will not charge to discuss this issue with you. 

Most insurance companies will give you two options when it comes to a totaled vehicle: (1) they can pay you the full amount of their valuation (if you have a lien on the vehicle they will pay off the lien and send you a check for the difference), or (2) they will let you keep the vehicle with a salvage title and pay you the difference between the value of the vehicle and the “salvage value” of the vehicle.  In some cases, a totaled car may still be safe to drive.  In that case, you may receive more value by choosing the second option. 

Please keep in mind that your insurance policy is governed not only by state law, but also by the terms and conditions of the policy itself, which is considered a contract between you and the insurance company.  For this reason, insurance policies can be very different and can contain exclusions for certain situations.  This is why it is important to carefully review your policy and any exclusions or amendments before making a claim.  You are entitled to a copy of your insurance policy and your declaration page, which will summarize the types of insurance coverage that you have.

What Is My Case Worth?

Now that you know a little more about auto insurance and negligence, how do you know what your case is worth?  How do you know if you should accept a settlement offer?  What will a judge or jury award you if you file a lawsuit?  Unfortunately, there is no clear answer because so many details can be important.  For example, do you have pre-existing injuries that may not have been caused by the accident (sometimes referred to as “eggshell” victims)?  Did the accident cause death or serious injury?  Is it possible that you will be determined to be at fault or partially at fault for the accident?  Are there any special circumstances like a drunk driver, a hit and run, or a truck or commercial vehicle?  These and other questions are critical to coming up with a reasonable estimate of what your claim is really worth.  Many attorneys who practice in this area will not charge you any upfront fee, but instead work on a “contingency fee” arrangement in which their bills get paid out of the proceeds of your claim. 


Presented by Sam Saks, Esq.,  Sam is the founder of Legal Aid of Arizona and a co-founder and partner at the law firm of Guidant Law PLC.  He has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in cases involving insurance coverage, negligence, and substantial damages.  

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney/client relationship. 

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