Getting an Attorney After a Car Accident
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles tabulates the number of traffic crashes every year. In the last year for which statistics are available, there were a total of 374,342 crashes in our state. Of these, 159,795 caused injuries, and 17,545 of those injuries were incapacitating for the victims. These crashes also caused a total of 2,939 deaths.
Tragic as these statistics may be, many people believe that Florida’s no-fault car insurance rules cover injuries and obviate any need for an attorney in a car accident. After all, no-fault insurance laws are in part designed to reduce the need to figure out who’s at fault in an accident. Under a no-fault system, each party’s own insurance pays bills related to their injuries and other economic damages.
But there are times when you still should reach out to an attorney, or when it’s highly advisable to do so. In this blog post, we will quickly review Florida’s no-fault car insurance laws, and then list the circumstances when car accident victims should seek an attorney’s help.
Florida No-Fault Car Insurance
Florida requires drivers who are licensed in the state to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP). PIP is designed to reimburse drivers for an accident’s economic damages, such as medical bills for treatment of injuries stemming from the accident. If you break your leg as a result of being hit by another car, for example, PIP should pay for your doctor’s bills, any hospitalization, an ambulance ride to the hospital, any required physical therapy, and more.
PIP also reimburses injured parties for wages lost from work as a result of the accident. If your job requires you to walk or stand and you were unable to do so for days or weeks as a result of the broken leg, PIP should compensate you for those lost wages.
Car insurance coverage in Florida must also carry $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL). If your vehicle or other property is damaged, PDL covers it.
When You Should Get an Attorney
To Step Outside No-Fault
While all Florida drivers must have no-fault insurance, and no-fault should always be tapped in a car accident, it isn’t the only recourse available to injured people.
First, people injured severely are allowed to step outside of no-fault and seek economic damages via a personal injury lawsuit. The law has very specific definitions of severe injury. To qualify, you must have had at least one of the following:
- Fractured bone(s);
- Significant disfigurement;
- Permanently limited use of a body part or organ;
- Significantly limited use of a body function or system; or
- An injury causing full disability for 90 days.
If your injuries entitle you to step outside of the no-fault system, you can also seek compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
Car accident victims with severe injuries as defined by law can file a claim against the responsible person’s insurance company instead of filing a personal injury claim in court. This is known as a third-party insurance claim.
Whether you pursue a personal injury law claim or a third-party insurance claim, you will need to demonstrate certain things to be justly compensated for your injuries.
First, of course, you will need to provide evidence for the amount of economic damage the car accident caused you. Medical bills, records of lost wages, expert testimony, eyewitnesses, and pictures of your injuries are all evidence of the extent of the damage. Prospective economic loss from likely future medical bills or likely future curtailment of wages from work can be attested to by doctors and employers.
Second, you will need to show that the car accident caused the injuries, and not some other event or the activities of daily living.
Third, responsibility for the accident must be assessed. If another party’s actions caused the accident, the other party may have violated a reasonable standard of care—for drivers, this means failing to drive safely. If the accident was caused by a factor other than unsafe driving, such as poor road surfaces or confusing detours, the parties responsible for maintaining roads or setting up detour signs may be responsible, because they violated the duty of care to maintain safe roads.
If the standards of care were violated, those who violated them can be said to be negligent. Negligent parties can be held legally and financially responsible for injuries caused by an accident.
If you can demonstrate all of the above, and you have been severely injured, you need to step outside of relying simply on no-fault insurance to cover your dama. Contact an attorney to either file a personal injury lawsuit or a third-party insurance claim.
To Negotiate With an Insurance Company
If you have stepped outside no-fault and are pursuing a claim with a third-party insurer, they may try to pay you less than the claim is worth. Insurance carriers have several different methods for doing this.
The insurance company may say that you are partly or entirely responsible for the accident, for example, whether this is true or not. Even a statement such as “I’m sorry” at the scene of the accident can be construed as an admission of guilt. They also may state that the medical treatment you have received was not needed. They may pressure you to accept their initial offer, which may be intentionally low.
It’s a good idea to consult an experienced car accident attorney if you’re negotiating with an insurance company. Lawyers can negotiate the best deal possible. Legal firms also have investigative teams. They can investigate the causes, find evidence to support the causes, and counter any insurance company claims that don’t accord with the facts.
If a Loved One Died in a Car Accident
Unfortunately, many car accidents are fatal. People can be killed immediately or die of their injuries shortly after the accident.
If a loved one is killed in a car accident, the damage to those left behind can be severe. Not only are they deprived of that person’s love, companionship, and support, but in many cases, the death can cause severe economic duress to survivors. There may be medical bills still to pay, funeral expenses, and a sudden and permanent loss of income to the household.
The law in Florida allows certain people to file a wrongful death suit to recover compensation for these losses. “Wrongful death” means that the death was caused by another party’s negligence or wrongful act. If a car careened out of nowhere and hit your loved one, that person’s reckless driving can be cause for a wrongful death lawsuit. A person driving under the influence can be responsible not only for a DUI charge, but for wrongful death if they cause a fatal accident.
In other words, wrongful death is related to personal injury, because negligence is common to both. In many ways, a wrongful death suit can be understood as a personal injury suit in which the injuries were severe enough that the person died.
Wrongful death suits are conducted in a civil courtroom rather than a criminal one. They do not convict the negligent person of a crime, but instead seek just compensation for losses related to the wrongful death.
To bring a wrongful death suit, the following must be true according to Florida law:
- Your family must have suffered a financial loss stemming from the death; and
- A probate court must assign a personal representative to the deceased person’s estate. The personal representative of the deceased person’s estate must be the person who files the lawsuit.
In addition, only certain family members are entitled to receive compensation for damages. They are:
- A surviving spouse;
- Dependents of the deceased person, including minor children, adopted children, and other blood relatives;
- Adult children of the deceased if there is no spouse;
- Parents of minor children; and
- Parents of adult children if no other survivors exist.
Children of unmarried people may be eligible for damages if the mother has died. If the deceased is the children’s father, the children must have received paternity acknowledgment and a child support order before the death.
Damages Possible in a Wrongful Death Suit
Damages available in a wrongful death suit are similar to those available in personal injury suits, but many elements are different, as well.
First, damages in wrongful death cases are based on factors that differ from those a court will consider in personal injury cases. In wrongful death suits, courts are required to base damage awards on the demonstrated financial need of the parties bringing the suit, the deceased’s expected lifespan under normal circumstances, and the degree of fault the deceased might have born for the car accident.
Second, damages sought can include:
- Medical costs from the car accident until the time of death including hospitalization, ambulance, surgery, X-rays, and medication for any survivor who paid them.
- Burial costs and funeral expenses for any survivor who paid them.
- Loss of support and services calculated based on the survivor’s relationship with the deceased, net income available for distribution, and the cost to replace the services rendered. The value of future loss is calculated using the combined life expectancies of the survivor and the deceased; when survivors are under age 18, the court may look at the length of time until their 18th birthday. For example, a husband who loses a spouse at the age of 35 who was, under normal circumstances, expected to live to the age of 75, would receive damages based on the income or services their spouse would have provided from their death at 35 until they were 75.
- Loss of companionship for a spouse.
- Emotional pain and suffering for a spouse and/or minor children, for parents who survive the loss of a minor child, and for parents of an adult child if there are no other survivors.
- Lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance for minors if there is no surviving parent.
Estates can seek compensation for:
- Lost wages for missing work from the date of injury to the date of death.
- Loss of prospective net accumulations of an estate when there is a surviving spouse or blood relatives.
- Medical costs.
- Burial costs and funeral expenses.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765