If you are in an automobile accident in Florida, you must first file a claim against your own insurance since Florida is a no-fault insurance state. If you do not have enough insurance coverage for your injuries, you may then file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance. Finally, if both insurance policies are not enough to cover your injuries, you can elect to sue the at-fault driver. In some cases, you and the at-fault driver do have enough coverage, but the insurance companies deny your claim or give you such a low offer that it does not cover all of the damages you claim. In this case, you might choose to take your case to litigation with an experienced car accident lawyer.
After an Accident
Even if you think your injuries are minor, you should always get medically checked. Some injuries manifest hours or even a day or three later. When you visit the doctor or emergency department, let the doctor know that you were in a car accident so that he or she can perform the proper tests.
If an ambulance brought you to the hospital, you could still call your attorney from the hospital. We visit clients in the hospital, especially in those situations where you may need to stay in the hospital for several days or weeks.
Working With Insurance Companies
After an accident, you should always do three things: Get medical attention, notify your insurance company of the accident, and contact your personal injury attorney. When you contact your insurance company, tell them:
- That you were in an accident
- Your policy number
- The year, make, and model of your vehicle
- The defendant’s contact information and vehicle information
- The date, time, and location of the accident
- Your attorney’s contact information
The insurance company will ask you questions. Refer it to your attorney, as the representative may try to use what you say against you later. Keep in mind that insurance companies are in business to make a profit. The more they have to pay out for claims, the more it affects their bottom lines. In some cases, the insurance company will try to deny your claim, and barring that, it will give you the least amount possible. You might not get enough to cover medical expenses related to the accident, never mind other damages you are entitled to.
If you do not have an attorney when you call the insurance company, let it know that you are notifying them of an accident and that as soon as you choose an attorney, you will forward the attorney’s contact information and will have the attorney call the insurance company.
While Florida allows up to four years to file a negligence lawsuit, insurance companies require you to start a claim much sooner—usually within 30 days, but some may give you much less time. Always notify your insurance company when you are involved in an accident as quickly as possible, even if you are waiting for your attorney to help file the claim.
You should also contact your attorney as soon as possible. Negotiations with insurance companies take some time, and you want to have plenty of time to properly pursue your claim.
Settlement and Litigation Complications
If more than one defendant is liable for fault and your injuries are severe enough so that your policy does not cover all available damages, the potential lawsuit could become complicated because of the number of people involved. Even in an accident with two parties—you and the defendant—you could be working with four (or more) attorneys: One for you, one for the defendant, one for your insurance company, and one for the defendant’s insurance company. Each additional defendant adds at least one attorney to the list of those involved in the lawsuit.
If the accident involves one or more commercial vehicles, it could become more complicated. Parties involved could include:
- The driver and his or her attorney;
- The driver’s insurance company’s attorney;
- The truck owner’s attorney;
- The truck owner’s insurance company’s attorney;
- A maintenance company, its attorney, and its insurance company’s attorney;
- A parts manufacturer, its attorney, and its insurance company’s attorney; and
- The manufacturer, its attorney, and its insurance company’s attorney.
You must forward all court documents to every person or company listed as a defendant if an attorney does not represent them, and to all attorneys representing a person or company.
When you become involved in settlement negotiations, each defendant could have a percentage of the liability apportioned instead of being considered wholly liable. You would have to determine how much in damages you are entitled to, then determine the percentage of fault for each defendant.
In many cases, defendants will argue that they have little to no liability. If you cannot get the defendants to come to a reasonable settlement, you might have to 1) settle for less, or 2) take your case to court to let the jury decide who should bear what percentage of liability. In other words, the defendants could start arguing among themselves, which could delay a settlement award.
For example, a truck driver crosses the center line and has a head-on collision with you. You believe that you are entitled to $10 million in damages for permanent injuries. The driver violated the hours of service regulations. The driver could argue that the dispatch company or even his own employer “encouraged” him to break the hours of service regulations by stating that he or she had to make a four-hour deadline, or he would lose his job.
That trip takes at least six hours typically. That would encourage the driver to speed or to drive more hours than is federally mandated. The dispatcher or company owner may share in the responsibility of the accident if you or the driver can prove that someone forced the driver to break the hours of service regulations.
Car Wreck Injuries
Injuries from accidents could range from minor bruises to long-term or permanent traumatic brain injuries or paralysis, depending on the circumstances. The number of vehicles involved, the size and / or weight of the vehicles, the combined speed of the vehicles, and several other factors all have a bearing on what injuries you suffer and the severity of the injuries.
Injuries could include:
- Bumps, bruises, scrapes, and cuts.
- Strains, sprains, pulled and / or torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries.
- Simple and / or compound fractures.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
Insurance companies use “typical” recovery times to determine what damages you might collect. However, if you have an underlying condition that causes longer recovery times, let your attorney know. Underlying conditions that could cause complications in recovering from car accident injuries include diabetes and immunodeficiency diseases. Additionally, if you are on drugs and / or treatments that compromise your immune system, including chemotherapy, your recovery time may be greatly extended.
While your underlying condition is not the responsibility of the at-fault driver, the injuries you receive and the additional care because of the longer recovery times are the responsibility of the at-fault driver, as you would not have had to seek medical attention for these injuries if it weren’t for the actions or inaction of the driver.
Florida allows for three types of damages after a car accident: Special, general, and punitive damages.
Economic damages, often referred to as special damages, are those that have a price tag attached to them. Someone—you or your insurance company—pays for these items. Special damages include:
- Past medical expenses for injuries you sustained in the accident.
- Future medical expenses for additional surgeries, follow-up appointments, and other medical care for injuries you sustained in the accident, and for secondary injuries, such as infections.
- Past lost wages for the time you missed from work due to the injuries you sustained in the accident.
- Future lost wages for the time you will lose because of the injuries. Even if you go back to work, you could claim future lost wages if you have a permanent or long-term injury that forces you to work for less money than you previously made. For example, if you have a job that pays $75,000 per year, but your injuries no longer allow you to do those duties, and you take a job that pays $30,000 per year, you could receive a percentage of what you would have made if not for your injuries.
- Medical equipment, such as mobility aids, changes to your home to allow for a wheelchair, and other medical equipment, including shower chairs and oxygen therapy tanks.
- Physical, cognitive, and/or psychological therapy. Some people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after being involved in a traumatic accident. Some also suffer from depression because they have a long-term disability because of injuries from the accident, especially those that might have been extremely active or those who can no longer work in their chosen occupation.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
Non-economic damages, often referred to as general damages, are those that do not have a price tag. In most cases, you get non-economic damages if doctors expect your injuries to be long-term or permanent. Insurance companies have their own definition of long-term injuries. Still, the Social Security Administration defines a long-term disability as one that lasts longer than 12 months, or that will result in your death.
General damages include:
- Pain and suffering.
- Loss of companionship if your loved one can no longer participate in family activities.
- Loss of consortium if your spouse can no longer have a physical relationship with you.
- Loss of a body part or function, such as your hand or your eyesight.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do routine chores, such as shopping, cleaning, home maintenance, and lawn maintenance that you usually do.
Florida allows punitive damages in certain circumstances. However, unless your claim meets certain requirements, the court caps punitive damages at three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000. If the court determines that the defendant’s actions were because of financial gain, that his or her actions were unreasonably dangerous, and the defendant knew or should have known that you would suffer injuries because of his or her actions, the court might consider a punitive damage award that is up four times what it awards for compensatory damages, or $2 million.
Additionally, if the court finds that the defendant intentionally meant to harm you, it may not cap punitive damages.
If possible, after an accident, document the scene of the accident. Take photos of the accident from all angles. In addition to getting witnesses’ contact information, find out what they saw. As soon as possible, get copies of your medical records. If you have trouble getting any documents required to prove your case, ask your attorney for help. You will also need a copy of the police report. If you have an underlying condition that might cause delayed recovery or that might prevent full recovery from the accident injuries, you might have to show medical records related to the underlying condition.
Call a Personal Injury Lawyer Today for Further Information
In any event, contacting a personal injury attorney you trust is one of the best things you can do to ensure a successful outcome to your bodily injury claim. Your attorney can assist in identifying liable parties, ensuring you receive the proper medical care, perform a full accounting of any losses suffered due to injury, and most importantly, act as your advocate through every stage of the bodily injury claims process.