Arizona courts handle a sizeable number of civil cases every year. Many of these involve a plaintiff seeking legal intervention in a civil wrong, i.e., accident, injury, or damage to a person or property. These cases are different from criminal cases in court procedure, and penalties incurred. Furthermore, the standard of guilt is much lower in cases involving accidents, injuries, and damages. The plaintiff only needs to prove that the defendant has 51 percent liability.
How These Civil Cases Begin
Suffice to say that lawsuits on accidents, injuries, and damages begin in one of two ways:
- After a crime
Generally, when an individual wrongs another individual, the law examines the conduct for elements of a crime. If it is indeed a crime, the state shall take up the case against the alleged offender, regardless of the victim’s intentions. In such a case, the sole purpose of prosecution is to punish the individual for the offense. The victim does not get compensation for the accident, damage, or injury.
If the victim, i.e., the individual who suffered injuries or damage to a person or property, wishes to get compensation, he/she must file a civil case. The case typically begins in the court of competent jurisdiction in the county where the accident or injury happened. This may be the Justice Court or Superior Court, depending on the estimated worth of the loss incurred from the damage or injury.
The Justice Court has limited jurisdiction over cases involving money judgments worth up to $10,000. If the victim estimates that the loss is worth more, he/she must file the civil suit in the Superior Court. There is no cap on how much an individual may sue for in a Superior Court.
Bear in mind that acquittal in a criminal case does not mean that the defendant is not subject to civil liabilities. Take, for example, The People of California v. Orenthal James Simpson and the ensuing civil suit, Goldman v. Simpson. Although acquitted of two counts of murder, the victim’s family pursued a civil lawsuit for wrongful death. A civil jury found Simpson guilty and awarded punitive damages to the plaintiffs.
- When no one commits a crime
Damage to body or property due to a crime is not the only reason to file a civil case in Arizona. Cases of this kind are generally called torts, personal injury, or small claims. For example, a local newspaper ran a full-page article making unfounded claims about you or your business, consequently causing you to lose money and valuable clients. You are well within your rights to sue and recover the estimated amount of loss incurred so far – with interest and cost of litigation reimbursed. The newspaper’s action is a tort or personal injury. A tort is a lawsuit seeking compensation for physical injury, permanent disability, psychological distress, or injury to a property because of an intentional act or inexcusable negligence by another person, business, or government entity.
As much as you would like to call the cops on your dry cleaner and have the court imprison him for ruining your $3000 jacket, this is impossible. The same applies to the driver who bashed your side mirror. The state does not have any vested interest to take up this kind of case. Thus, both of you must resolve the dispute between yourselves, or you may file a small claim.
A small claim is a kind of civil case for everyday grievances. Here, the plaintiff seeks monetary compensation for loss or damage due to an injury or accident. The small claims division of Justice Courts handles these cases – with a maximum claimable amount of less than $5000. Over this amount and you must file a complaint in the Superior Court. The process for small claims cases is less formal, and the law prohibits lawyer representation in the actual proceedings – although parties may consult a lawyer in preparation for the claim. The rule of evidence is also less strict; both parties bear an equal burden in proving the claim. Where a valid claim exists, the judge’s sole concern is awarding equitable judgment – seldom is one party solely responsible for the incident.
Who can I sue for an accident or injury?
Pretty much any individual. Note that an individual refers to a person, business entity, and even public agency and their officials. Anyone may sue for the loss incurred due to the intentional conduct of the other. In some cases, Arizona laws allow individuals to sue for the unintentional conduct of another individual. This provision especially applies when the defendant has a fiduciary responsibility towards the plaintiff or claimant. However, suing the government is a little bit tricky because of sovereign immunity. Since 1963, the law has allowed individuals to sue the government under certain circumstances.
In any of these cases, you should consult a reputable civil case lawyer. Most first-time consultations are free, but it is prudent to confirm this before booking a session. During this visit, the lawyer shall explain how the law applies to the case, the validity of the claim, and the kinds of relief are available under Arizona Laws.
What kind of relief are available for accidents and injuries?
In these cases, the presiding judge has the prerogative to order a relief equitable to both parties. In determining the kind of relief, the judge generally considers the rule of law applicable in the case and the body of common law. Generally, civil relief available under Arizona laws are viz:
- Damages: Damages refer to the monetary award or compensation that the court orders the defendant to pay the plaintiff for the loss incurred. However, damages awarded in civil cases go beyond just money. It may be punitive or compensatory. Compensatory damages are the most awarded in accidents and injury cases. The law permits the award of punitive damages against persons guilty of the most egregious conduct (Take for example Goldman v. Simpson). Since the court cannot jail a guilty defendant in a civil case, it imposes punitive damages as punishment in addition to compensatory damages.
- Specific Performance: Often, monetary compensation will not suffice for an accident or injury. In this kind of case, the plaintiff makes a legal petition to compel the other party to perform a duty or action. For example, remember the libelous one-pager from the local newspaper? Awarding damages may not suffice. The plaintiff may request that the court compels the newspaper to retract the article, issue a public apology, and take responsibility for the libel. For others, such as breach of contract, specific performance compels the defendant to follow through with the original agreement.
However, the reach of specific performance is limited. There are certain cases where specific performance is not possible or may constitute a miscarriage of justice. For example, the court may not compel a party to fulfill marriage promises made to another. The court can only order reimbursement of the other party for the costs incurred in the preparations.