How The Arizona Government Cheats Its Own People
by Attorney Mark Breyer
Government has incredible power. This is news to nobody. We all know that the government sets the laws that we live by. Many of those laws are debatable. In fact, the very nature of the beast is that government will create laws that many people will disagree with. And, at least for the purposes of this discussion, that's fine. However, when a government sets up laws that apply only to the government, and a different set of laws for everybody else, that's a real problem. Either the laws created for the government are the ones that should apply to all of us, or the burden that the law places on all of us it should also place on itself.
As an Arizona certified specialist in personal injury and wrongful death litigation, I see this problem on a repeated basis. Yes, that's right, I am a personal injury lawyer. Therefore, maybe you find what I have to say questionable by its very nature. I know that it's very much in fashion to doubt the validity of personal injury claims. However, on this subject, there can be no dispute. The governments in the State of Arizona have set up a system where they are not held accountable to the same degree and for the same actions that every single one of its citizens are held accountable for.
Let's use the example of a car accident. If you, me, or anybody else in the State of Arizona were to rear end somebody else at 70 miles an hour who was at a stoplight while we were drunk and speeding in a school zone, we would have serious civil liability. Put another way, there would be a huge personal injury lawsuit that would probably follow due to the significant injuries that would likely occur in such a terrible situation. Now, there is a law known as the statute of limitations. The Arizona statute of limitations varies from case to case and it depends on a number of issues. However, generally speaking in an automobile accident the person who was hurt has two years to file a lawsuit. So, using our hypothetical, the person who was rear ended in a school zone at 70 miles per hour by a drunk would have two years to simply file the paperwork in the court system and begin their case. They are not required to have done any significant research beforehand. As long as they know who hit them and they have a reasonable basis to believe that they can prove that the person who caused the accident is liable, they can file the lawsuit. Since Arizona is what is called a "notice pleading" state, there doesn't have to be a lot of specifics in the Complaint when the lawsuit is filed. In fact, the purpose of the statute of limitations is simply to make sure that people who are negligent do not have to worry forever about the possibility of a lawsuit against them. Also, to prevent evidence from disappearing over time, we make people file lawsuits within two years after most car accidents.
Now, we can all debate how long the statute of limitations should be. Some people may believe two years is too long in the statute of limitations, and that somebody who is going to file a lawsuit that simply begins the process should have to do so within a year. However, there may be people who would argue that two years is too short, and that somebody who is injured in an automobile accident who then has to go through many months or years of medical treatment, sometimes loses their job and their income, should not be forced to run out and hire the best personal injury lawyer they can find. In fact, some may argue that the shorter statute of limitations might actually encourage lawsuits by forcing people to get a lawyer immediately. However, this is one of the issues that governments are supposed to decide. Right or wrong, the government should set a statute of limitations in Arizona personal injury cases regardless of the fact that everybody will not agree.
However, since everybody who lives or works in the State of Arizona - or even the person who drives through the State of Arizona - that is drunk and going 70 miles an hour and rear ending someone in a school zone can be sued for two years after their horribly negligent act, should the government get its own set of rules that prevents its liability? Of course, not. That is ridiculous. But it is the fact. Even when the government admits that it was negligent. Even when it admits that its employee of the government has done something terribly and horribly wrong. Even where the government admits that its horribly negligent employee caused the accident and badly injured somebody else, they have created their own set of rules to avoid having to pay the medical bills and wage loss to the innocent victim unless the innocent victim clears a high set of hurdles in a much shorter period of time. There is no justification for these laws.
Every governmental entity in the State of Arizona - the State of Arizona itself, every city in the state, the counties, school districts, and any other governmental entity - has created a "notice of claim" law. Now, in addition to the fact that instead of a two year statute of limitations to file a lawsuit the governments have only a one year statute of limitations, they have made things much, much worse than that. It is bad enough that they have cut in half the amount of time for which they can be sued even in cases where their negligence is obvious. Nobody could deny that they caused a serious injury that should have been prevented. No matter how horrible their actions, they have cut in half the amount of time to file a lawsuit. If that was all that the governments in Arizona had done, it still would be bad. But what they have done with the notice of claim laws is far worse. You see, in Arizona you have 180 days to file a notice of claim from the date of the motor vehicle accident or any other negligent act by any government employee or by the government itself. This means that after the victim in this hypothetical situation was rear ended at 70 miles an hour by the drunk governmental employee in a school zone, the clock started ticking immediately. The 180 days - yes, that's less than six months - will run and the government will escape liability. The only way to avoid this is to file a "notice of claim." However, 180 days is so short that somebody who's severely injured will still be undergoing active and serious physical therapy. Also, they may have some general notion of the fact that they have two years to file a lawsuit after an accident in Arizona, and they therefore may hold off on even considering hiring a lawyer while they get better. People should have the right to worry about their medical care before they have to consider hiring personal injury lawyers. To make matters worse, they cannot simply file a quick "notice" document like they could with their Complaint. Instead, the "notice of claim" document must have sufficient facts and details and be served upon the proper party. Now, a Complaint that is filed at the two year mark need not be served upon anybody. If you have difficulty finding the person to serve that will not affect anything as long as you can find your way to the courthouse. Even a beginning personal injury lawyer in Arizona can find their way to the courthouse or certainly would know somebody who can. However, you must serve everybody within 180 days of the accident. To make it much worse, you cannot simply state that you were injured in an auto accident, but you must supply facts to allow the governmental entity to know what injuries you are claiming, even if you were so badly injured that you couldn't possibly know with any real certainty what facts are needed to fully support your claim.
People can attack lawsuits and personal injury cases all that they want. They can question how long somebody who's been hurt in a motor vehicle accident should have to file a lawsuit. But nobody can possibly and reasonably believe that the government should be able to make its own set of laws. Nobody should believe that even when a government is obviously negligent and causes severe injury or even killed somebody due to their neglect that if that person hasn't hired a lawyer in time for that lawyer to do complete research and gather the medical records and all the evidence and get the documents served in less than six months that they should lose their valid claim. This government of Arizona should not be allowed to bankrupt people and cripple them and avoid the liability that everybody else has for their actions. You want to talk about personal responsibility? Good, let's start with the government of Arizona. The notice of claim laws should be repealed. If they are not, everyone must get the word out to people that they know about the importance of hiring a personal injury lawyer immediately if there is any chance whatsoever that any governmental employee or entity had any impact or effect on the injury or the damages suffered.