Car accidents can be incredibly traumatic experiences, and unfortunately, they happen all too often. Along with the physical injuries, emotional distress, and financial strain caused by getting into a crash, it can also seem daunting to navigate the legal aftermath.
Car accidents in Florida usually trigger the state’s no-fault auto insurance laws. Each driver’s own personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage pays that driver’s (and the driver’s passengers’) medical expenses and lost earnings up to the dollar value limits of their policy, regardless of who was at fault. But when car accidents cause severe damage or trauma, injured drivers and other victims may also have the right to pursue a personal injury claim for additional compensation.
If you or someone you love suffered injuries in a Florida car crash, it’s crucial to understand the legal basis for taking action outside the no-fault insurance system. Here’s a review of the criteria for pursuing a Florida car accident claim and how an experienced attorney can handle the process in order to maximize the amount of your compensation.
Understanding the Basis for Filing a Florida Car Accident Claim
Florida law requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage, also known as no-fault insurance. Drivers (and their passengers) who suffer injuries in a car accident must turn to that PIP coverage first for compensation of their resulting medical costs and lost income, no matter who was to blame for the crash.
In theory, the goal of Florida’s no-fault system is to simplify the claims process by avoiding long and expensive legal battles about who was at-fault for a car accident, as is typical in other states. However, in practice, no-fault rules can also make it difficult for accident victims who suffered serious injuries to secure the compensation they need. That’s because the minimum amount of PIP insurance—$10,000—rarely covers the costs and losses caused by a serious crash injury.
Florida’s no-fault laws recognize that PIP coverage may not supply sufficient compensation for accident victims. For that reason, they allow injured individuals to pursue additional compensation outside of the no-fault system if damages exceed $10,000 and at least one of the following factors is present.
Serious Bodily Harm
Car accidents commonly cause severe trauma. Injured accident victims can pursue compensation beyond their no-fault coverage if they suffer an injury constituting serious bodily harm, as defined by Florida law.
Meeting the serious bodily harm threshold is the most common reason crash victims give for pursuing damages outside of the no-fault insurance system. Florida law defines these injuries as physical harm that causes significant loss of an important bodily function, especially if it’s not likely to heal completely.
This definition is somewhat subjective, but Florida courts consider many factors to determine which victims qualify, such as the type and extent of the injuries, the length of the recovery period, and the impact the injuries have on being able to work and live a normal life.
Some examples of injuries constituting serious bodily harm under Florida law include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Limb amputations
- Permanent nerve damage
- Loss of a fetus
- Chronic pain
The most reliable way to determine if you suffered an injury severe enough to qualify as serious bodily harm is to speak with a Florida car accident injury attorney. In a free consultation, a skilled lawyer can assess your trauma and advise you about the probability of being able to pursue a claim beyond your PIP coverage.
According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), traffic accidents in Florida resulted in more than 3,400 fatalities in a recent year. Each of those deaths caused untold suffering and financial distress for those left behind.
Losing a loved one in a car accident is always a tragedy, but it can feel even more devastating when someone else’s negligence caused it. In these unfortunate events, the victim’s surviving spouse, close family, or estate can typically pursue legal action against the at-fault driver or other parties for damages caused by their loss.
A wrongful death lawsuit, often filed jointly with a claim for damages the victim suffered prior to death (known as a survival action), seeks compensation that may include:
- Loss of the victim’s income, job benefits, financial support, inheritance, or services
- Loss of the victim’s guidance, companionship, or consortium
- Emotional suffering of a surviving spouse, child, or parent
- The victim’s pain and suffering prior to death
- Medical expenses prior to death
- Funeral and burial costs
As above, the surest way to understand your and your family’s potential rights to compensation after a loved one dies in a Florida car accident is to speak with an experienced attorney in a free consultation.
Most car accidents are the result of carelessness or simply human error. However, some collisions unfold due to actions that are so reckless that they constitute intentional misconduct. Examples may include road rage, street racing, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Florida’s no-fault laws generally permit victims of drivers who caused accidents through intentional misconduct to sue for damages outside of the no-fault system. In some cases, the victim may also win an award of punitive damages to punish the at-fault driver for extreme recklessness.
When Non-Drivers Have Liability
Drivers aren’t the only parties who can be at-fault for a Florida car accident. Other parties may also share that liability, or bear it entirely.
They might include:
- The employer of an at-fault driver who crashed a work vehicle
- The manufacturer of a defective vehicle or vehicle part
- A bar or restaurant that served alcohol to a minor who caused a drunk driving accident
- A government agency or contractor at-fault for unreasonably hazardous road conditions
Florida’s no-fault laws generally do not prevent car accident victims from pursuing compensation from parties other than at-fault drivers. Contact an experienced attorney today to begin exploring whether you may pursue a damages claim outside the no-fault system against a non-driver party.
Establishing Fault After a Florida Car Accident
Proving fault can be critical to any car accident claim made outside the no-fault system in Florida. To successfully recover monetary damages, the victim’s lawyer must often be able to prove that another driver or some other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances and that their dangerous decisions, actions, or inaction caused the crash.
For example, the evidence might show that a driver caused a car accident by:
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence
- Following too closely
- Running a red light
- Failing to yield the right of way
Car accident claims can get very contentious. It’s common for the parties to have differing versions of what happened. For that reason, proving fault is not always straightforward. An experienced attorney may seek and secure various types of evidence to establish what caused the accident and who was at fault, such as:
Police Accident Reports
When the police respond to the scene of an accident, they gather information and record their initial observations about the sequence of events leading up to the crash, especially whether any of the drivers violated traffic laws.
Along with providing documentation of any citations issued, police reports will typically contain a diagram of how the vehicles were situated, photos of the crash scene, statements from people involved, and contact information for witnesses.
Police accident reports do not serve as the final word on who or what caused a crash. But they can supply valuable data that an attorney might use to begin building a case for damages.
The physical evidence from a car crash can provide valuable clues to establish fault. For example, tire marks on the road can indicate the vehicle’s speed, the direction of travel, and whether the driver attempted to stop before the crash. The extent and nature of damage to vehicles can also paint a picture of how the collision unfolded and its potential causes.
If there are cameras in the vicinity of the collision, such as security cameras on a nearby building, traffic cameras, or dash cams from other vehicles, they may provide a visual record of the moments leading up to the accident or the moment of impact itself.
Experienced attorneys may need to act quickly to preserve video evidence before it gets deleted or overwritten, so be sure to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after any Florida car accident.
Forensic experts, such as accident reconstruction specialists, can often analyze the available evidence and prepare a comprehensive report giving their opinion about what happened and who was to blame.
Forensic experts can also interpret data from vehicles’ onboard computers and logs devices that may reflect critical details like a vehicle’s speed, use of brakes, steering, acceleration, or other factors that may have contributed to a collision. Experienced Florida car accident lawyers often have access to a network of forensic and other experts whose services may assist in proving a claim for damages.
Factors That Affect the Value of a Florida Car Accident Claim
In the aftermath of a serious car accident, obtaining restitution for financial, physical, and emotional harm is a huge priority for victims. The amount of compensation potentially available can depend on the specific circumstances of your case, including some aspects that are within your control and others that aren’t. Here are some of the factors that can impact the potential size of your recovery.
The Severity of Your Injuries
Severe injuries with long-term consequences, like spinal cord damage or traumatic brain injuries, will typically justify the highest compensation claims because of their substantial medical expenses. A car accident claim can pursue payment for the cost of treatment immediately after the accident, for medical interventions like surgery, and for ongoing care that can improve the victim’s quality of life, like physical therapy.
The ripple effects of serious injuries can lead to many other significant financial challenges as well. Crash victims can claim damages for their lost income due to being unable to work, their out-of-pocket costs from the accident, like property damage or the cost of a rental car while their vehicle is being repaired or replaced, and the cost of replacement services like childcare or transportation.
The severity of injuries also affects the degree of pain and suffering a car accident victim might experience. A Florida car accident claim can seek compensation for those impacts of an injury, too. In general, injured crash victims deserve payment for their physical discomfort, emotional distress, inconvenience, loss of independence, and diminished quality of life.
The Skill of Your Lawyer
Hiring an experienced Florida car accident lawyer who can evaluate your claim, determine the best course of action, and execute a winning strategy can make a big difference in maximizing the value of your claim.
Generally speaking, the right lawyer for a Florida car accident case is one who:
- Routinely handles cases involving circumstances similar to yours
- Has an established track record of favorable case results through out-of-court settlements and in-court victories
- Has earned the respect and trust of former clients and fellow lawyers
- Operates convenient offices across both Florida coasts
- Possesses the financial and human resources to handle car accident claims of any size or complexity
All reputable Florida car accident lawyers offer a free case consultation to prospective clients like you. Be sure to take full advantage of that time to learn about your rights and begin exploring your options.
The Financial Resources of the Liable Party
The amount you can expect to obtain from a car accident claim can heavily depend on the liable party’s financial resources. Typically, the funds to pay damages in a Florida car accident case come from an at-fault party’s liability insurance coverage. Less often, that party may also pay part or all of a claim from their personal or business assets.
An experienced car accident attorney can identify and evaluate the potential sources of payment for the damages you sustained in a Florida car accident, with the goal of maximizing your financial recovery.
Contact a Florida Car Accident Lawyer Today
You deserve compensation for the physical injuries, emotional distress, and financial hardship inflicted by a Florida car accident. And you may have the right to pursue a claim for monetary damages outside of Florida’s no-fault insurance system. So don’t delay. Contact a skilled car accident attorney today for a free case evaluation.