Being involved in a car accident can be a life-changing event. An injured car accident victim often loses income because they have to miss work, and all the while medical bills, vehicle repair bills, and insurance claims are piling up. At the same time, they may face substantial obstacles in meeting day to day responsibilities without access to transportation. When they know the accident was most likely preventable if not for someone else’s negligence, it makes matters worse.
Car crash rates are rising all over the nation. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), for example reports hundreds of thousands of traffic collisions across the single state each year.
If you have suffered financial hardship in a car accident, the law may entitle you to seek compensation for damages related to the accident. You will want to hire an attorney near you. Here’s why.
Recovering Compensation After a Car Accident
When you bring a lawsuit against liable parties with the help of your attorney, you are in a much better position for recouping the cost of damage to your vehicle or any associated personal property damaged in the collision.
While a minor fender bender isn’t likely to break the bank, more serious accidents can result in substantial repair costs. For example, while minor body damage might cost a few hundred bucks to repair, a damaged engine could cost upwards of ten thousand dollars to replace! Likewise, seemingly minor repairs such as damaged electronics or fluid lines can add up to thousands of dollars in damage as well.
Beyond this, an owner of a damaged vehicle that’s been repaired may encounter difficulty in selling the vehicle later for a fair price—the accident is permanently recorded in the vehicle’s history (for example, in a Carfax report), and can substantially depreciate the market value of the car. In cases of severe damage resulting in a totaled vehicle, determining the actual fair market value of the vehicle is difficult, particularly when the other party or their insurers have a vested interest in ensuring your vehicle is assessed at as low of a value as possible.
An attorney will have seen cases like this before, and will work as your best ally in ensuring you are properly compensated for the damage to or loss of your vehicle.
Mandatory Insurance Requirements
Each state has its own requirements for auto insurance. These requirements vary significantly. Registering a vehicle in a PIP-mandated state like Florida, for example, requires proof of the following auto insurance coverage:
- A minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP)
- A minimum of $10,000 in property damage liability insurance
Also like Florida, several states are no-fault insurance states, meaning each driver involved in an accident must file a claim under their own insurance policy before seeking compensation from the at-fault driver and/or their insurance company. This makes the claims process simple for crashes with minor injuries. But severe car accidents can easily exceed a policyholder’s limits.
Even when severe crashes are simple and liability is clear, PIP policies are unlikely to cover the full extent of damages, particularly in cases involving vehicles with a high market value or serious damage. Making up the difference requires the guidance of a competent Florida car accident attorney.
An attorney near you should know whether PIP laws apply to your situation, and under what circumstances you can seek compensation from a negligent party’s insurance carrier.
Hiring an Attorney After a Car Accident
Some question whether or not they should hire an attorney after a car accident. If you have a moderate to severe car accident with injuries that cause you to miss work, it’s almost always in your best interest to at least consult with an attorney near you.
If you are severely injured, you will not want to travel far to visit an attorney. You will not want to take an inordinate amount of time off to meet with a lawyer.
Even if the accident didn’t injure you or any of your passengers, however, you will still want to hire a car accident lawyer if your car sustained damage. The cost of fixing or replacing a damaged or totaled car can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, as noted above—and insurance companies will do everything they can to claim your car is not as badly wrecked as you or your mechanic claim it is.
You will want an attorney who will fight to make sure the insurance company pays out enough money to get you back on the road in a fully repaired or acceptably replaced, completely roadworthy vehicle. An inadequate settlement can leave you in an unreliable car that regularly breaks down, or an unsafe auto that leaves you vulnerable to crashes or accidents. And if you’re without a car due to an accident, you will want a car accident lawyer close by where you live.
You will want a lawyer who knows the local judges, clerks, and other attorneys in the area. Your attorney should understand what will move the judge in your case to rule in your favor. A local attorney will know how to select a sympathetic jury from the local jury pool and how to effectively present your case to jurors in your area. An attorney near you should know and have the respect of opposing counsel—that way, when your car crash attorney advocates on your behalf, the lawyers on the other side will need to take you seriously.
Finally, an auto accident lawyer near you should have important local knowledge that an out of town attorney will not. He or she may know the person who injured you and that person’s reputation or driving record from previous local cases. A car crash attorney near you should also know the location where you were hurt and whether any road conditions or defects there might have helped to cause your accident. And a local car accident lawyer may know and can convince people in the community, whether witnesses or respected experts, to testify on your behalf.
If you choose to hire a car accident lawyer, they can help you recover the most possible damages for your injuries or losses. Some of the ways a skilled attorney can help you after a Florida car accident include:
- Investigating your accident. Your attorney can investigate your accident to build a strong case against the defense by uncovering all of the relevant facts. This includes obtaining medical records, police reports, driving history, cell phone records, and any other relevant documents. Other investigation activities include contacting eyewitnesses, taking witness statements, and security witness testimony.
- Consulting with their network. Reputable car accident attorneys have a large network of specialists and experts who they rely on to help build personal injury cases. Depending on the extent of your injuries and the circumstances surrounding your accident, your lawyer might call upon medical experts, forensic scientists, accident reconstruction specialists, life care planners, and others who can help support your case and place value on your claim.
- Negotiating with insurance companies. When insurance companies know their policyholder caused an accident, they might make an early settlement offer. When the injured person accepts an early settlement, they waive their right to sue for damages. This protects the insurance company from paying a fair settlement amount or a large verdict later on. These settlement offers are oftentimes far lower than what a victim deserves. Most attorneys are skilled negotiators and will consider an early settlement offer a jumping off point for negotiations. In many cases, an attorney can negotiate a much higher settlement than the insurance carrier’s initial offer.
- Litigating the case in the courtroom. Most car accident claims can be settled without having to enter a courtroom, but sometimes settlement is not an option. The insurance carrier might deny liability altogether or severely undervalue a claim. Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group are not afraid to go to trial and pursue the compensation our clients deserve.
Common Car Accident Causes
Car accidents are sometimes caused by weather or defective vehicles, but most occur because one of the drivers was negligent. Some common driving behaviors that can lead to a car accident include:
- Distracted driving is any activity that physically, visually, or mentally removes a driver’s focus from the road. Distracted drivers cannot react to road hazards or other vehicles’ unexpected maneuvers, putting other motorists at risk for accidents. Some common distractions include cell phone use, eating and drinking, adjusting the GPS or radio, engaging with passengers, and daydreaming.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can lead to severe accidents. Impaired drivers lose the ability to react quickly to hazards, swerve into traffic, miss traffic lights, and run into other vehicles on the road. The Florida Department of Safety and Motor Vehicles estimates that more than 5,000 crashes each year are the result of alcohol-impaired driving. Drugs also impair drivers. The drug that drivers most commonly use is marijuana, which slows reaction time, decreases hand-eye coordination, and weakens concentration.
- Driving while fatigued can cause a driver to nod off for a few seconds or completely fall asleep at the wheel. Additionally, after a person goes for 18 hours without sleep, drowsiness and fatigue affect vision and spatial perception the same way that alcohol does, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Shift workers, commercial drivers, and those who struggle with sleep disorders are most likely to experience driver fatigue and cause an accident.
- Speeding isn’t always the direct cause of a car accident, but speed increases property damage and the likelihood of severe harm when accidents do occur. Speeding or going too fast for conditions like heavy traffic, high winds, or rain makes it easier for a driver to lose control of their vehicle.
- Following another vehicle too closely can result in a rear-end collision when the lead vehicle makes an erratic movement or stops suddenly. Tailgating another vehicle takes away the necessary time and distance a driver needs in order to react. Driving instructors recommend leaving a two to four second gap to avoid collisions when following another car.
- Failure to clear blind spots when turning or changing lanes can result in severe accidents, especially at high speeds on the interstate. All vehicles have blind spots, but blind spot size increases with the size of the vehicle. Inexperienced drivers who don’t use their mirrors to clear their blind spots put others who share the road at risk for accident and injury. Motorcycles, bicycles, and small vehicles can be difficult to see if they are riding in a car’s blind spot. Although this is a dangerous practice, drivers are responsible for looking for others who might be hiding in their vehicle’s blind spot.
Statutes of Limitations for Car Accident Claims
When another party’s negligence causes a car accident that results in injury, the injured person has a limited window of time to file a personal injury lawsuit. This time limit is referred to as a “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations varies based on who is named in the lawsuit and whether the accident caused a fatality.
Different states have different statutes of limitations. For example, here are the associated ones for different types of car accident liability claims in Florida:
- Car accident injury claims against another motorist. When another driver’s negligence causes a car crash, injured persons have four years from the date of the accident to sue for damages.
- Car accident product liability claims. Car accidents caused by a defective automobile or defective auto parts require accident victims to file a product liability suit to recover damages. The four-year statute of limitations applies, but if the accident results in a fatality, surviving family members only have two years to take legal action.
- Car accident claims against a government entity. Florida, as well as its counties and cities, can be held liable for a car accident when they didn’t properly maintain a road. Car accident victims have three years to bring suit if a sinkhole, pothole, inoperable traffic signal, or other similar issue resulted in an accident and injury.
Some exceptions to the above rules do exist, and specific statutes of limitations can vary greatly depending on the laws of the state where the case is heard. Your attorney will advise you if any apply to your situation.
Get the Legal Help You Need After a Car Accident
You shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden that comes with a car accident when it was someone else’s fault. Reach out to an auto accident law firm near you to discuss whether it can help you through the legal process of a lawsuit and handle the details of your case while you focus on getting back to normal. Most car accident lawyers offer free consultations, and they take cases on a contingent fee basis, which means they only collect attorney’s fees from any settlement or court-awarded damages you receive.
Dolman Law Group
800 N Belcher Rd.
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900 Fax: (727) 451-6907