According to crash data from Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), about 42 percent of traffic accidents on Florida’s roads in 2018 resulted in injury or fatality; this is consistent with data from the last decade with the percentage of injury and fatal crashes hovering around 40 percent. For the majority of accidents without injury or death, those filing a car accident claim might be able to navigate the process reasonably well if their insurance carrier acts in good faith. Yet, even without injury, you might have to contact an attorney if you feel your carrier isn’t handling your claim effectively or has unreasonably denied your claim.
If you sustained injuries in a car accident in Florida or lost a loved one in a car accident, then it’s in your best interest to contact an attorney who can guide you through the claims process and initiate a personal injury lawsuit, if necessary. Insurance companies care deeply about their bottom line and will go the extra mile to avoid paying large claims, even to their own policyholders. Adjusters may even try to befriend you and use any other tactic they can to undercut your claim.
This guide provides information about the car accident claims process in Florida, things you can do to maximize your chances for the best outcome in your case, and ways in which an experienced car accident attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve after a car accident.
Florida No-Fault Insurance Laws
Florida is a no-fault insurance state. This means when an accident occurs in which people get injured, each driver files an insurance claim under his or her own policy regardless of who caused the accident. This makes claims for crashes resulting in minor or no injuries simple for drivers. Yet, it’s not uncommon for a serious or severe car accident to exceed policy limits. In these cases, you may have to go after the other driver to recover additional compensation.
When losses and damages exceed policy limits, it a complicated web of legal interests encompassing multiple insurance policies and parties to a lawsuit. A skilled car accident attorney knows how to deal with these complexities and can give you the best chance of recovering additional compensation after your car accident.
To register a vehicle and get license plates, Florida requires that motorists carry the following coverage:
- Minimum $10,000 personal injury protection (PIP), which covers your own injuries in a car accident regardless of fault.
- Minimum $10,000 property damage liability (PDL), which covers any damage you do to someone else’s property in a car accident (not your own property).
Even in seemingly simple and straightforward cases, PIP coverage only pays for 80 percent of medical treatment costs and 60 percent of lost wages. When you choose not to consult a lawyer and sue for additional damages, you may absorb additional treatment costs and lost wages.
Tips for Attaining Best Outcomes in Your Car Accident Claim
Every action you take in the seconds, minutes, and days following your car accident can affect the outcome of an eventual claim for damages. Each accident differs in type and severity. In severe accidents where rescue teams pull you from your vehicle and transport you to the closest emergency room via ambulance, you won’t be able to do much to help yourself out until you are released from the hospital or at least awake. Many of the following tips assume you are physically able to move after your accident. If not, loved ones or occupants in your vehicle who aren’t injured can also help out. Some of these tips will also benefit you if your accident has already occurred.
Although an experienced attorney will gather some of the following information for you, you must do as much as you can do to support your case. The following tips will provide you and your attorney with valuable evidence to help determine liability and prove the other party’s negligence:
- Seek medical treatment as soon as possible. It’s not uncommon for accident victims to feel fine immediately after a collision. The adrenaline from the accident blocks pain and some injuries simply do not show symptoms for hours or days. Yet, prevailing in your car accident claim requires proving the accident led to your injuries. For your own health and for the benefit of your claim, get checked out by a doctor soon after the accident, no matter what, even if you don’t think you’re hurt at all. In the days after the accident, take note of any pain, numbness, headaches, or any other symptoms, and return to the doctor if necessary to document your injury. This provides leverage for your attorney to use when negotiating a settlement with the insurance company and also serves as proof of injury to the court if you need to go to trial.
- File a police report. When severe accidents occur, emergency response teams and law enforcement find their way to the scene of an accident quickly. In other cases, where injuries aren’t as severe, busy police officers may not immediately show up to the scene of the accident. If you don’t need emergency services, you can file a report online or in person at a police department; however, it’s best to wait for an officer to come to the scene of the accident and record everything they see in the final report.
- Gather information. Get the contact information of all drivers and occupants involved in the accidents, including name, email, phone, insurance information, license plates, and anything else you might find useful. Record the time and location of the accident, and take note of the road conditions and weather, as well as any observations about the other driver(s). For example, if you saw the person was texting while driving before they hit you, if you smell alcohol, or suspect drug use, record these things to share with law enforcement in your statement.
- Speak to witnesses. Never discuss fault with another driver, occupant, or witness, because you don’t want to say anything that might imply you contributed to the accident. You should, however, gather the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the accident and/or pulled over to offer help. Law enforcement will also speak with witnesses to record their official statement in the report, but you should speak with them too, if possible.
- Take photos at the scene. Use your cell phone to take photos and/or videos at the scene of the accident. Take shots of the property damage to vehicles, any visible hazards, license plates, any visible injuries, and anything else which might be helpful for your claim. These photos provide valuable evidence for the insurance company and court, if necessary. Once clean-up crews arrive at the scene of the accident, you lose your opportunity to get photos.
- Keep records of tangible economic loss. Gather pay stubs to prove lost wages, keep all of the medical bills related to your accident, and record mileage to and from any appointments. Also, keep any receipts for repairs to your vehicle or towing expenses. If you have to modify your home to make it more accessible, make sure to keep estimates and final bills for things such as the installation of handrails or a wheelchair ramp. When in doubt if you should keep a receipt, hold onto it and discuss its relevance with your attorney.
- Keep a recovery journal. You cannot recover non-economic losses from an insurance claim, but Florida law entitles you to seek non-economic damages in a personal injury suit. Non-economic damages include things such as pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, and loss of consortium with a spouse. Make daily entries into a journal highlighting your recovery with special attention to your pain level, emotional struggles you might be experiencing, relationship issues stemming from your injury, and anything you think is important. The court may not allow you to enter this journal as evidence, but it helps you convey to your attorney your feelings and struggles, providing helpful information for placing value on your non-economic losses.
- Contact an experienced car accident attorney. At some point soon after your accident, you should schedule a consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer who can advise you on next steps.
Benefits of Hiring an Attorney to Handle Your Car Accident Claim
As mentioned above, it’s in your best interest to hire an attorney to handle your car accident claim. But, why? Reputable and competent personal injury attorneys have priceless experience to help you recover the most money for your claim. Some accident victims choose not to hire a lawyer because they are concerned about attorney fees and worried they cannot afford an attorney. Most car accident lawyers, however, typically handle claims on contingent fee basis. This means your attorney will not ask you for money upfront; instead, the firm will deduct fees from any compensation secured for you whether through settlement or litigation.
Financial concerns should not stop you, but instead, motivate you to hire a lawyer to handle your claim. Here are some of the ways an experienced car accident attorney can help you with your claim:
Insurance companies pay adjusters to investigate cases with the ultimate goal of finding ways to undercut the value of your claim. Good attorneys don’t rely on an insurance company’s investigation, but instead conduct their own. Your attorney will investigate all aspects of your car accident claim and attempt to uncover all facts which might support your case. Investigation activities not only include obtaining medical records, police reports, and other documents, but also contacting witnesses, taking statements, and securing their testimony.
Experienced lawyers have a vast network of experts and specialists who serve as “go to” people to help with injury cases. Depending on your particular situation and the severity of your accident, your attorney might use accident reconstruction specialists, medical experts, forensic specialists, and life planners, just to name a few. These experts provide opinions, statements, and testimony to specific aspects about your case and also help determine liability and place a value on your claim.
Insurance companies who know their policyholder is at fault for an accident might make an early settlement offer to avoid paying out a larger claim or court-ordered damages later on. These initial offers are typically strong enough to entice victims to accept the offer, but far less than full and fair compensation. You should consider the first settlement offer as a starting off point for negotiations. When you have an experienced attorney in your corner, insurance companies listen and don’t try to play the same games they do with the average claimant. Most lawyers are skilled negotiators who won’t leave your money on the table.
The vast majority of personal injury cases can be settled without litigation. Yet, situations do exist when settlement is not an option. The insurance company might claim that you partially or wholly caused the accident, or suggest the accident did not cause your injuries. Other times, parties cannot come to settlement agreements because the insurance company believes the claimant is asking for too much money. In any case, a skilled attorney is not afraid of the courtroom, and will aggressively litigate your case it goes to trial.
Contact Dolman Law Group After a Car Accident in Florida
If you have sustained a severe injury or lost a loved one in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, Florida law entitles you to seek damages in civil court to compensate you for losses related to the accident and injury. Do not try to handle your car accident claim on your own. It will only hurt your ability to recover the compensation you deserve.
You don’t have to take on large insurance companies or well-funded defendants by yourself. Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman are here to help. Our seasoned personal injury attorneys can navigate through the complexities of the legal process and diligently pursue the best outcome for your circumstances.
With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or write to us online for a free consultation and learn about the ways we can assist you after a car accident.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765