The underlying purpose of Florida personal injury law is to compensate individuals who sustained injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence. Personal injuries can vary widely, and often include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, fractures, soft tissue injuries, or even simple bumps and bruises. These injuries often require the assistance of a personal injury attorney to help victims level the playing field and to get advised on their rights from someone who has their best interests in mind.
Types of Accidents and Incidents that Cause a Personal Injury Claim
An individual can sustain personal injuries in a variety of accidents and situations. In fact, the possibilities are really limitless, but some of the most common accidents and incidents that cause personal injury claims are:
- car accidents
- truck accidents
- slip and falls
- work-related accidents
- motorcycle accidents
- bicycle accidents
- medical malpractice
- rideshare accidents
- wrongful death cases
Proving a Florida Personal Injury Case: The 3 Parts of Negligence
In any case, the personal injury plaintiff must prove that the at-fault party or parties acted unreasonably in causing the injuries and damages. This issue of fault hinges on the concept of negligence, which is made up of 3 parts:
- duty of care
- breach of duty
Duty of Care
Duty of care is defined as another person’s obligation to not injure another person or place them in harm’s way. Almost everyone has a duty to another person to not hurt them, but in a personal injury case, the question is often “how much?”
For example, a grocery store owner or manager has a duty of care to keep their customers safe from harm by cleaning up spills, fixing broken steps, etc. In order to ensure this, the store must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their customers. This can become a little complicated as the term “reasonable” is open to interpretation.
Breach of Duty
Once it is established that someone had a duty of care toward another, the next part of negligence deals with whether or not the person breached that duty, or failed to live up to it. If they breach that duty of care–say, failing to get a loose handrail fixed for months–then the courts call that: negligent.
Basically, did the defendant create a dangerous situation or allow a dangerous situation to persist? This can be easy to prove in cases where someone was driving over the posted speed limit. But it can also become complicated since what is deemed reasonable, can vary from situation to situation and from minute to minute.
Once your attorney has proved that someone had a duty of care and that they breached that duty, they must then prove that the breach led to the accident or injuries.
Did the store have a duty to clean up the spill? Yes. Did they fail to clean up the spill? Yes. Did your slip and fall in the puddle cause you to hurt your back? Yes.
This is a simple case of proving causation. But again, it can become complicated quickly.
Someone can admit that they were negligent, but that doesn’t necessarily prove that that negligence caused your injuries. Take the example above: the store owner may claim that your fall was not caused by the puddle but because you were looking at your phone. Or they may claim that you fell because of the puddle, but that your back injury was pre-existing.
Understanding these situations, in the simple way that they are presented above, makes it clear that having an experienced trial lawyer on your side can make the process a lot easier on you and with a much higher chance of a positive outcome.
The Timeline of the Personal Injury Claim Process
The Florida personal injury process primarily involves the following:
- Filing a claim with all the parties involved and putting them on notice that you will be seeking compensation.
- Attempting to negotiate a favorable settlement offer with the negligent parties through back-and-forth talks.
- Filing a lawsuit with the court if negotiations are unsuccessful.
- Litigating the case in court to prove that you deserve to have your damages covered by the defendant.
- Trying the case or pursuing alternative dispute resolution (for example, in cases where the insurance company refuses to place an acceptable settlement offer on the table)
*Read this article, for a complete understanding of how the Timeline of a Personal Injury Case works.
Damages in a Personal Injury Case
Recovering damages in a personal injury case is not about making anybody rich because they were in an accident; it’s about preventing someone from becoming poor because they were in an accident.
Seeking damages, with or without a civil trial attorney, is intended to compensate the injured victim for anything they lost because of the accident or injury. Another way to view a personal injury claim is an attempt to make someone”whole” again–as much as possible–through the use of the civil court system.
Some damages are easy to put a value on, like the cost of a car or the cost of a surgery. They can be proven with receipt and medical bills. But other damages, known as general damages, are harder to place a monetary value on because they are abstract concepts, like pain and suffering. For example, how much is being able to hold your grandchild worth to you? What would someone have to pay you to never be able to have sex again?
Here are some common damages found in different types of personal injury cases:
Medical costs. This includes the cost of things like medical care, surgery costs, medications, physical therapy, etc.
Future medical treatment. This is an estimate of the cost of medical care you will need in the future because of your accident, like future doctor visits or surgeries.
Lost income. This category deals with the income you will lose taking time off work after the accident to recover, having to leave work to go to a doctor’s appointment, and the money you will lose in the future because you can no longer perform your job at a level that will earn promotions or advancements in your field. This could also include lost income because of a career change.
Damage to Property. This covers the obvious damage that occurs to the “things” involved in your accident, like your vehicle, cost of repairs, etc.
Pain and suffering. After an accident, you and your personal injury attorney may decide to seek compensation for all the pain and discomfort you suffered during and after the accident. You can learn more about the concept here: How is Pain and Suffering calculated?
Emotional distress. Some serious accidents cause psychological issues, like fear, anxiety, and PTSD. In some cases, this is considered part of pain and suffering.
Loss of relationships. If your personal injury situation caused one of your relationships to suffer, like with your parent, child, or spouse, you recover damages for this. Think about what I said earlier about the “value” of holding your grandchild or having a sex life. When this type of damage deals directly with a spouse, it is known as: loss of consortium.
Loss of enjoyment. If you injury took away you ability to do something in life that brought your joy, like painting or building furniture, or going on walks, your trial attorney may be able to get you compensation for these damages.
Hiring a Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
If you or someone you love has sustained personal injuries in Florida that resulted from someone else’s negligence, the law may entitle you to recover monetary compensation. Personal injury cases can be long and complex, however, and you need a skilled, experienced litigation attorney by your side every step of the way because there’s a lot your personal injury attorney will need to do. The Florida personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can help to streamline the personal injury process for you and may bring your case to a favorable resolution via settlement, alternative dispute resolution or, if necessary, trial.
Filing a Claim for Personal Injuries
Before a lawsuit is ever filed in a Florida personal injury case, the injured accident victim will usually need to file a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. For example, if you are involved in a car accident that was not your fault, you will most likely negotiate with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Filing a claim for personal injuries places the at-fault driver’s insurance company on notice of a potential lawsuit. Once a claim is filed and the injured plaintiff finishes all medical treatment and physical therapy, the plaintiff’s attorney will then make a request for all medical records and bills from the plaintiff’s various treatment providers.
In car accident cases, if the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured at the time of the accident, the personal injury plaintiff may file an uninsured—or underinsured—motorist claim against her own insurance company.
After you have finished treatment for all of the injuries you sustained in your accident, and once all treatment medical records and bills have been received, a Florida personal injury attorney can assemble a settlement demand package and send it to the claims adjuster who handles the case for the insurance company. In addition to the demand package, the attorney will send a letter of introduction that states an initial monetary demand for settlement. In serious personal injury cases, the attorney may make a demand for the insurance policy’s limits. In any case, the personal injury attorney will most likely ask for more money than what the client actually deserves. An initial settlement demand package will also include copies of all pertinent medical bills, medical records, and lost wage documentation.
Negotiating a Personal Injury Settlement
Assuming the at-fault insurance company concedes liability in a personal injury case, soon after the adjuster reviews the injured plaintiff’s settlement demand package, victims can expect an initial settlement offer. The purpose of an initial settlement offer is to get the ball rolling, so to speak. You should never accept an insurance adjuster’s initial settlement offer (unless the case offer is for policy limits), since these offers are routinely low.
After the adjuster makes an initial settlement offer, the plaintiff’s attorney will make a counter-demand that will be lower than the initial demand. These negotiations between the plaintiff’s attorney and the insurance adjuster typically go back and forth until such time as the parties reach an agreement to settle—or the parties reach an impasse. Settlement negotiations can last for a few weeks or for many months. The length of time usually depends on the nature of the injuries sustained and the complexity of the personal injury case.
Filing a Lawsuit and Litigating a Personal Injury Case
If the insurance company and the injured plaintiff cannot agree to settle a personal injury claim, then the injured plaintiff can file and litigate a lawsuit in the Florida court system. Just because a plaintiff’s attorney files a lawsuit in the court system does not necessarily mean that the case will ultimately go to court. On average, about 90 to 95 percent of Florida personal injury cases are never tried and are typically resolved out of court via settlement.
Personal Injury Jury Trials in Florida
If the parties decide to proceed to a jury trial, keep in mind that Florida jury trials can be long and tedious. The decision about whether to settle a case or take it to trial is intensely personal. A Florida personal injury attorney will help you weigh the pros and cons of going to trial and can assist you with making your decision.
The primary components of a Florida civil jury trial include the following: pretrial motions and depositions, jury selection, opening statements, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, recitation of the appropriate jury instructions, closing arguments, jury deliberations, and jury verdict.
Contact a Florida Personal Injury Attorney for a Free Initial Consultation and Case Evaluation
The knowledgeable Florida personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can meet with you to discuss your case and may pursue monetary compensation on your behalf—whether that be via settlement, litigation, trial, or alternative dispute resolution. To schedule a free consultation or case evaluation with a Florida personal injury attorney, please call us at (727) 451-6900 or contact us online.
*The above information was written and reviewed by either Attorney Matthew Dolman or another injury lawyer at the Dolman Law Group which has a combined 90 plus years of experience practicing Florida personal injury law. Matthew Dolman himself has been practicing personal injury law in Clearwater and St. Petersburg for the last fifteen (15) years. The information provided comes from extensive research and years of experience trying legal cases in courtrooms throughout Florida.
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