Determining Car Accident Fault
If you were in a car accident, chances are you know just how harrowing the time that follows the crash can be. Nobody wants to be involved in a catastrophic or injurious auto collision, but many of us fail to consider how stressful and unpleasant the process of pursuing compensation for our losses and injuries can be.
Florida, in particular, attempts to make it especially difficult for state residents to achieve additional compensation when insurance does not cover damages. This is because Florida is a no-fault state, which means that the vast majority of auto collision compensation is actually paid by insurance policies held by the injured drivers.
The processes of pursuing compensation, bringing a lawsuit, and establishing fault in Florida auto accident cases can prove incredibly complex. This is just one reason why we always suggest speaking to a qualified legal professional before you begin to consider your options for additional compensation. You may be unpleasantly surprised to find that your goal is more difficult than you think—but, with a trained attorney by your side, you may just achieve the compensation you’re after.
Florida and No-Fault Laws
In many instances, there’s no need to determine who was at fault for a car accident in Florida. This is because of the state’s no-fault laws. Florida is one of twelve states referred to as a “no-fault state.” These states are so named because they require drivers to follow no-fault insurance laws. Such laws force car accident victims to pursue compensation for damages through their own insurers. This is the case regardless of who is found to be at fault for the accident.
The Fine Print of Florida No-Fault
- Drivers must maintain a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection insurance (also known as PIP)
- Drivers must also maintain a minimum of $10,000 in property damage liability (or PDL)
PIP insurance helps protect policyholders in the event of bodily injury. This coverage is where compensation for medical care and other injury-related expenses will be pulled from. PDL insurance is utilized to help pay for damage a policyholder caused to another party’s property.
Are There Benefits to Florida No-Fault Laws?
Not really. As stated above, these laws can make it difficult for innocent victims to achieve the justice that they deserve. No-fault laws do, however, free victims from the pressure of having to prove another driver’s negligence or misconduct. Those who are adequately covered through PIP can simply collect the appropriate damage recovery without a fuss.
PDL insurance also has some benefits. Without it, drivers who are determined to be at-fault would be responsible for some losses and damages out of pocket. Nobody ever wants to imagine that they’ll cause an accident—but every accident is caused by somebody, so this factor is one to consider.
The only other notable benefit of Florida’s no-fault approach to insurance really has nothing to do with drivers. It is, however, a great way to cut down on courthouse traffic. Florida residents don’t spend nearly as much time in court as residents in non-no-fault states do. That’s because it’s far more difficult to file a lawsuit against another driver in Florida.
The Downsides of Florida No-Fault Laws
These laws make it tricky to pursue compensation for property damage or bodily injury that exceeds the no-fault system’s compensatory ability. If you wish to bring a lawsuit against an at-fault driver for property or bodily damage, you’ll likely run up against a few roadblocks. That’s just one reason why selecting a trustworthy attorney to guide you through the process is so crucial.
The average base premium for auto insurance in a no-fault state is also often higher than premiums elsewhere. In fact, Florida has been named one of the top ten most expensive states when it comes to vehicle insurance. Many drivers also find the laws and required coverage under them to be redundant—a plethora of jobs offer health insurance plans that cover personal injuries already.
Important Takeaways for No-Fault State Residents
Floridians should consider the following concepts before they begin the process of attempting to determine fault or bring a lawsuit. The more keenly aware you are of your own insurance and policies (and the laws that surround them), the better prepared you’ll be for success in court. The only step better than self-education is to partner with a reliable attorney who can assist you in navigating the complexities of insurance law.
Some of the most notable takeaways to consider for your own benefit include:
- YOUR vehicle insurance policy will be your PRIMARY SOURCE of financial recovery following a vehicular accident
- You do not need to prove your innocence (or lack of fault) to collect compensation
- Most Floridians’ insurance premiums increase after an accident regardless of fault
- Drivers have the option to file a lawsuit for additional damages if they exceed available coverage, but should expect the process to be somewhat trying
Notable Types of Car Accidents
Some types of car accidents almost always lead towards one verdict or another. Certain situations, through their very nature, present virtually undeniable proof that somebody was at fault. For example:
- Rear-end accidents are almost NEVER found to be the fault of the driver in the struck vehicle. This can be traced back to the community’s collective standard of care. Safe driving guidelines dictate that vehicle operators should leave ample space to stop or decelerate between their vehicle and the vehicle in front of them. When a driver fails to do this and strikes another vehicle, it’s generally their own fault. Exceptions include instances where the struck vehicle was left in an unsafe position or had a broken tail light
- Left-turn accidents almost ALWAYS result in the driver performing the left turn being held liable for the accident. In some cases, the driver going straight may speed or run through a red light. These examples do not result in liability on the part of the driver turning left
Quick Tips if a Florida Car Accident Was Your Fault
Sometimes, we find ourselves on the side of the coin we never imagined we’d identify with. Most people who are found at-fault for accidents are plenty shocked and angry to hear the news. Even if an accident wasn’t your fault, you should still be careful of what you say or do following the crash. Some behaviors and phrases imply guilt even when it isn’t present.
If you believe that an accident was your fault (or if you wish to protect yourself in cases of uncertainty):
- Do not apologize for what happened. You don’t need to leave an injured driver alone and in pain or act rude. You can be courteous, helpful, and empathetic without apologizing. Your words can and will be used against you later
- Call the police to promptly file an accident report
- Take pictures and note witness contact information
- Notify your insurance company as mandated by law, but avoid giving them more information than they request (and have an idea of what things they might request without reason, too). Never give an insurance company a statement without first consulting with a skilled auto insurance and accident attorney
The Process of Proving Fault of a Car Accident
Determining fault is a difficult enough process without stringent requirements for proof; but, understandably, the government and any involved insurance companies must be absolutely sure of who was at fault for an accident before determining whether to award additional compensation. If you elect to pursue a lawsuit against an at-fault driver for compensation beyond that offered by PIP or PDL, you’ll need to work with an attorney to prove the other driver’s fault.
Proving fault comes down to one key goal: clearly demonstrating that the at-fault driver failed to act reasonably and responsibly. This could mean that the driver performed a problematic action such as speeding up and rear-ending someone. It could also mean that the driver failed to perform a certain act (and that failure lead to damage). All of us take on an unspoken duty when we head onto our local roadways. We agree to:
- Obey traffic laws
- Ensure the safety of others
This concept is known as a “standard of care” and holds serious weight in legal spaces. As long as you can prove an at-fault party failed to uphold this standard of care, you maintain your right to fight for adequate compensation. Proving fault may involve:
- Photos and videos | If you or anyone else involved in the accident took pictures of videos of the scene, these can and should be used. Skid marks on the road and other similar hints that point towards reckless or panicked driving can also help your case. If possible, try to contact witnesses or nearby businesses to see whether they have photographs, video, or even CCTV footage of the crash. Proof like this is essentially air-tight; if you have security footage of an at-fault driver behaving erratically and causing your crash, that could be all you need to prove fault
- Witness statements | Even if any available witnesses failed to capture photos or video of your accident, they still saw it occur. Science and research have shown us that witness accounts are not always the most reliable forms of evidence, but they can and do count for a lot in court. Make sure to obtain witness’s contact information if at all possible. Your attorney can contact them later to record their statements
- Car accident reports | Car accident reports are some of the easiest forms of evidence to procure. If you were in a car accident that led to property damage or injury in excess of $500, you must report that accident to the local police department no later than 10 days after the crash. This mandated document is a great way to save critical information about the accident and offers valuable insight into what occurred
Other Parties May Be at Fault for a Car Accident
Those who are unfamiliar with the banalities of insurance and auto accident law are often oblivious to another avenue for compensation: auto and auto part manufacturers. In some cases, even if an accident seems like it was another driver’s fault, vehicle-based issues could have caused the crash. Instances like these could provide cause to bring a lawsuit against the auto or auto parts manufacturer responsible.
If a vehicle’s design is not crashworthy and leads to undue harm, it could open a huge window of opportunity to pursue compensation through the manufacturer. The same goes for faulty parts, unreliable components, and other defects. Most lawyers retain teams of industry experts to help further their clients’ cases; those who litigate auto accident cases tend to have professionals straight from the auto industry available to observe and note factors like these.
What if the At-Fault Driver Has Insurance and Refuses to Pay?
This is one scenario where having an auto accident lawyer on your side could make the difference between a payout and walking home empty-handed. An attorney can help you seek and enforce a judgment against such a driver within the Florida court system. If the at-fault drivers’ insurance company sides with them and also refuses to pay, a lawyer can help you pursue payment from them, too.
Seek an Experienced Florida Car Accident Attorney
Accident victims have the right to pursue adequate compensation for damages—even if they’re bound by stringent no-fault laws in states like Florida. A seasoned and skilled car accident attorney will maintain a deep understanding of the ins and outs of no-fault law.
If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident and wish to pursue additional compensation, setting a time to speak with a qualified Florida car accident lawyer can help you understand your options.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765