Personal injury cases are among the most common in Florida courts. From car accidents and dog bites to slip and falls, personal injury litigation encompasses a vast array of legal issues. Some injuries cannot be seen, such as post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of a violent assault, while others are more obvious, such as paralysis as the result of a serious car or truck accident. However, serious personal injuries can result in life-altering disabilities and can cause you to accumulate substantial medical bills while you are losing time from work. Accordingly, what can you expect from the litigation process if you hire a Florida personal injury attorney to handle your case?
No-Fault Application and Insurance Investigation
Florida is one of an increasing number of states known as “no-fault" states. Drivers are required to carry a special type of personal injury insurance to cover their own injuries if they are injured in a car accident, even if they were not at fault for the accident. If you are involved in an accident with another driver, there generally is an exchange of insurance information. Once a claim is made with an insurance company, the representatives for each company will conduct an investigation and determine their percentage of liability.
For example, if a driver carrying Insurance A rear-ends a driver carrying Insurance B, Insurance A will likely accept 100 percent liability for the accident. However, it often is not so simple, as insurance companies are not jumping at the opportunity to be held liable for an accident. Florida's no-fault law is in place to ensure you get the medical attention you need immediately following an accident. If you wait for an insurance company to determine its percentage of liability hoping that it will then cover your medical bills, your injuries may become exacerbated.
Negotiation and Settlement
Once a determination of liability is made, your personal injury attorney will attempt to negotiate a settlement with the liable driver's insurance company based on the nature of your injuries and the policy limits. This may take months or even years, however, because it takes time to determine the nature and extent of your injuries, and many individuals will have to continue treating their injuries for years to come. Factors involved in determining the amount of your potential settlement include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Your injuries
- Your medical treatment
- Your lost wages
- Your loss of enjoyment of life
- Your ability/inability to perform activities of daily living
- Your age
- Your percentage of liability
Florida law requires drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in liability coverage, meaning that a liable insurance company need not pay you more than $10,000 for your injuries, even if you have accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills and lost wages. Many drivers voluntarily carry coverage above the minimum limits, as they want to avoid being held personally liable for your injuries. Further, you may choose to carry a certain amount of underinsured motorist coverage with your own insurance company, meaning that if the liability company "pays out" on its policy and you still have expenses, your personal insurance company may make up the difference.
If your Florida personal injury attorney is successful in negotiating a settlement on your behalf, it may not be necessary to file a case in Florida court. For example, if you are involved in a car accident that requires emergency surgery, your medical bills may be well over $50,000 after only a few days of hospitalization. If the liable driver only carried a $10,000 minimum policy and liability is not disputed, the case may settle for the policy limits quickly.
Litigation and Discovery
If, however, the insurance company refuses to settle in the early stages of your medical treatment, then your attorney may file a legal case against the liable driver for your personal injuries. Because most insurance companies, whether for car or home insurance, are required to defend any actions brought against their clients and indemnify them for certain expenses, they will continue to speak with your attorney about a possible settlement as the case proceeds through the discovery process.
In the legal field, “discovery” refers to “the formal process of exchanging information between the parties about the witnesses and evidence they'll present at trial.” This is often the longest and most grueling part of the litigation process, and it can take over a year. At this stage, the defendant may request the following information:
- Police accident reports
- Medical records from the accident
- Prior medical records unrelated to the accident
- Information about previous accidents
- Your employment file
- Information regarding public assistance you may have received
- An interview under oath (known as a deposition or examination before trial)
The parties will go back and forth during this process and will take time to analyze the information received. Often cases will settle during the discovery phase once a defendant is in receipt of information sufficient to show that your injuries were severe and he or she is liable for your suffering.
Trial, Verdict, and Appeal
If a defendant is contesting liability, meaning that he or she believes you were either responsible for or contributed to the accident, the case may not settle. It also may not settle if the defendant does not believe you suffered truly serious injuries. In this case, your attorney will have to prepare for trial in Florida court, which may include gathering evidence, hiring expert witnesses, selecting a jury, questioning witnesses, and presenting information before a judge or jury for determination. It will then be on the judge or jury to decide who is liable for the accident and what your damages should be. You may be able to recover for not only injuries and lost wages, but also for your general pain and suffering. If, however, one of the parties is unhappy with the verdict, they may appeal to a higher court through Florida's judicial system.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Attorney Today
Overall, the personal injury litigation process in Florida is complex, and it takes the time and effort of experienced personal injury attorneys. It can be a frustrating process when a case does not settle early, especially when you are suffering or out of work, and liability is clear. But the nature of the American litigation process is slow in most matters, as the goal is to ensure that those being held liable for an accident are truly responsible. The Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA understands the frustration involved in personal injury litigation, and our experienced and understanding attorneys are here to fight for swift justice while guiding you through this difficult process. Call our Clearwater office today at 727-451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation about your personal injuries.