Florida Car Accident Injury Case Length
If you were injured in a car accident, getting the proper medical treatment, filing one or more insurance claims, and filing a personal injury lawsuit can often be a complex process. Some car accident cases settle quickly, while others can take more than a year or several years. This guide provides information about the different aspects of a car accident settlement and factors that can impact how long it takes to settle your car accident claim. For more general legal information or specific information about your case speak to a car accident lawyer today.
Steps of a Car Accident Settlement
If you’ve suffered injuries in a car accident, you’ve likely already experienced some of the complexities of seeking compensation for your losses. Many different things must occur before you can get the money you deserve. Some of the legwork for a car accident settlement begins at the scene of the accident, and the rest occurs in the days and weeks following the accident. The following steps are in chronological order, but not strictly. Some actions you take might overlap or occur in a slightly different order.
Gather Information at the Scene of the Accident
If you are physically able, you need to gather as much information at the scene of your car accident as possible. First, take note of the make, model, and license plate numbers of vehicles involved. You should also get the name and contact information for all drivers and occupants involved in the accident, as well as relevant insurance information. Photographic evidence can be valuable, so use your cell phone to snap some pictures of the property damage, any hazards that led to the accident, and any visible injuries you have.
You can get much of this information from the official crash report filed with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, but police officers make mistakes and sometimes miss things, so its best to record what you can.
Get the Medical Treatment You Need for Your Injuries
If you were involved in a severe car accident, it’s likely emergency response teams showed up at the scene of the accident and transported you to the nearest emergency room. If you were lucky enough to walk away from the accident, you still need to have a physician check you out for common car accident injuries. Some injuries don’t show symptoms for hours or days after an accident, so it’s important to have documentation sooner than later. Car accidents can also cause emotional trauma, so visiting a mental health professional can also be a part of your medical treatment.
File an Insurance Claim Under Your PIP Policy
Florida is a no-fault insurance state, which requires those with registered vehicles to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. After a car accident, your first step to receiving compensation for losses related to your injuries is to file a claim under your PIP policy. You cannot step outside of the no-fault system until you meet or exceed your PIP policy limits, which isn’t difficult when a severe accident occurs.
Florida PIP insurance only covers 80 percent of medical expenses and 60 percent of lost wages up to the policy limit, and it doesn’t cover non-economic losses related to your injuries. This means those who suffer permanent disability or catastrophic injuries will quickly exhaust their PIP coverage.
File an Insurance Claim With the at-Fault Driver’s Insurance Carrier
After you’ve exceeded your PIP coverage limits, the next step in your car accident settlement is to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier with the hopes of them paying out under the driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) policy. If more than one other driver was involved, you will have to file a claim with each of their carriers. In the event, the driver(s) involved in the accident doesn’t have auto insurance or doesn’t have enough auto insurance, or the driver left the scene of the accident, you will need to file a claim with your carrier under your underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage if you have it.
Research Law Firms and Have Your Case Evaluated
If the at-fault driver’s insurance company approves your claim, your car accident settlement can go quickly. Yet, this is unlikely. Insurance companies don’t stay in business by paying out each claim which comes their way. It’s more likely they will make you an insultingly low offer or deny your claim.
In these cases, you need to consult a car accident attorney as soon as possible. Do your homework and find a reputable law firm or get a referral from a trusted friend, family member, or colleague. During a free consultation, the lawyer will evaluate the viability of your claim and advise you on the best course of action for your individual circumstances.
Negotiate With Insurance Companies
A big part, sometimes the longest part, of a car accident settlement is negotiating with insurance companies. Initial settlement offers are meant to entice you to sign away your right to sue for damages and prevent insurance companies from paying out a large amount later on. Instead of accepting the offer, it’s best to use it as a starting point for negotiations.
Your attorney can handle communication with the insurance companies involved in your case to demonstrate your seriousness and help get you more compensation for damages than you would likely get on your own. Negotiations with the insurance company can happen up to minutes before a civil trial. In the event you, with the help of your attorney, reach an agreeable settlement, the insurance company will cut a check. The money will go through your attorney to pay for any fees, and your car accident settlement will be complete.
Litigation When a Negotiated Settlement Isn’t an Option
Sometimes settling a car accident claim requires going to trial. The defense might contest the value of your claim or deny liability altogether. In any case, litigation includes a separate process that can take some time before your case is settled. Both sides have to share evidence and your lawyer will have to get witnesses, including eyewitnesses and experts, to testify on your behalf.
Once a trial is scheduled and the court hears your case, the jury will make a decision. If the court rules in your favor, you need to collect damages from the defendant or his or her insurance company. After you sign relevant documents, your car accident will officially be settled.
Factors That Impact the Length of Your Car Accident Settlement
Your car accident settlement might take as little as two or three months, but it can take as long as a year or more. Below are some reasons your car accident settlement can take longer than you hope.
Nature and Severity of Your Injuries
As you likely know, the more severe your injuries are, the longer they will take to heal. It’s not in your best interest to settle your car accident case before you have made a full recovery or reached your maximum medical improvement. Unless you’re fully recovered, it’s difficult for you to know the full scope of your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Placing an accurate value on your claim requires you know whether or not you need surgery, and your general long-term prognosis. If you need continued treatment or long-term nursing care, you will need to include these costs in your claim. You do, however, have to make sure you take legal action before Florida’s four-year statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuit runs out.
Insurance companies will spend time and resources to investigate your car accident and determine liability. In some cases, they might deny all liability and deny your claim, which requires you to take legal action and extends the time of your car accident settlement. In other situations, determining fault might be challenging. This means the insurance company and your attorney might have to consult with accident reconstruction specialists and other experts for opinions on the cause of the accident. Their availability and the speed at which this occurs can impact the length of your car accident settlement.
Number of Plaintiffs and Defendants
As soon as you add even one extra defendant or plaintiff to a lawsuit, the time it takes to settle can significantly increase. More people means more paperwork and more coordination, but the biggest issue lies with liability. In multi-vehicle car accidents, each party will attempt to shift some or all of the blame to another party. This makes it difficult for negotiations and determining liability can also be difficult.
Car accident cases that involve businesses can also have multiple defendants. Consider a sales representative driving a company car and causing an accident. Each case differs, but your attorney might have you name the driver, their insurance company, the business, and the business’s insurance carrier. Similarly, car accidents involving rideshare drivers from companies like Uber and Lyft can also extend the time of a car accident settlement because of multiple defendants.
Availability of Expert Witnesses
Sometimes insurance companies and lawyers need to consult with expert witnesses such as life care planners, medical experts, and accident reconstruction specialists. These witnesses need to provide statements and also might need to testify in court. If they are unavailable for a period of time due to personal or professional reasons, this can delay negotiations and litigation, extending the time it takes to settle your car accident.
Quality of Your Proof of Damages
Prevailing in a car accident claim or lawsuit means you must provide an adequate amount of quality evidence to support your case. Ultimately, you must prove the at-fault driver was negligent and that his or her negligence caused you harm. If you keep detailed records of your economic losses and document your pain and suffering and other non-economic losses, you can help speed up the car accident settlement process.
Yet, lack of quality evidence can hinder the process, forcing you and your attorney to spend more time gathering evidence to support your case. This might mean contacting eyewitnesses and taking statements as well as going back and detailing medical treatment costs and other losses. Gaps in your evidence can also cause delays. Some examples include unavailable eyewitnesses and missing accident reports.
Intentionally Difficult Defendant(s)
Defendants can cause all types of delays at different points in the settlement process. An at-fault driver might give false contact information or flee the state to avoid criminal or legal consequences, making it impossible for an insurance company to investigate an accident. Similarly, at-fault parties who lay low or leave the state can make it difficult for you to serve them legal papers.
In Florida, insurance companies must respond to a claim within 30 days. Yet, once you file a lawsuit, they can drag their feet during negotiations and stretch them out to the last possible minute, or decide to let the case go to trial. In many situations, you might need to go through a mediation process, which can take longer depending on the availability of the mediator and relevant parties.
Hiring a Clearwater, Florida Car Accident Lawyer
Some choose to go it alone after a car accident, which can be a mistake. Sometimes this means a quicker settlement, but it almost always means the claimant won’t get the compensation he or she deserves for damages and losses related to a car accident. In other cases, insurance companies don’t always take unrepresented victims seriously and play games to drag out the settlement process.
Hiring a car accident attorney who knows the ins and outs of the settlement process maximizes your chances of getting the most compensation for your injuries and losses. Insurance companies take lawyers seriously and are less likely to engage in questionable tactics.
In the long run, experienced attorneys understand the settlement process and know when to take necessary action to move through each step. Using a lawyer may increase your car accident settlement, and a lawyer can also help prevent your claim from stagnating for an unreasonable amount of time. To contact Dolman Law Group about a free consultation on your case either call our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.