Showing another Driver is at Fault for Your Accident
Imagine you’ve been in an accident with another driver. It seems clear to you the other driver is at fault because, as you tell your friends, “he hit me, I didn’t hit him.”
Of course, Florida is a no-fault insurance state so who-hit-who typically does not come into play when injuries are slight and you both drivers make a claim against their own mandatory personal injury protection (PIP) and Personal Damage Liability (PDL) coverage. But, the story changes when an accident causes severe injury and you choose to take legal action against the other driver for the medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages not covered by no-fault insurance.
To succeed on that kind of a claim, your lawyer must prove the other driver’s fault to the satisfaction of the other driver’s insurance company or, if necessary, to a judge and jury. Insurance companies, of course, stay in business by seeking to limit their liability for paying benefits as much as possible. Providing detailed evidence of fault to the carrier is how lawyers push back against a weak settlement offer from an insurance adjuster trying to keep costs low. This same detailed evidence comes in handy if the insurance company refuses to be convinced, and your lawyer must prove your claims in court.
This guide will discuss proving the other driver’s fault in Florida car accident injury cases and offer some tips on ways of gathering proof to show the other driver should bear legal liability for the damages you sustained in the accident.
Proving Fault in Florida Car Accident Injury Cases
When you sue the other driver for injuries sustained in a car accident, you must generally prove the other driver was “at fault.” One way to do this is to show the other driver intended for the accident to happen and tried to harm you. If you can prove this, then the other driver will be liable to you and, most likely, also headed to jail.
Most of the time, however, the other driver wasn’t trying to get into a wreck any more than you were. Instead, your lawyer’s job will be to show that the other driver is at fault because he was negligent. Florida courts, like those in other states, evaluate four criteria to ascertain whether someone acts negligently. These criteria apply to most types of personal injury cases, but here is the way they fit with a car accident injury or wrongful death case:
Duty of Care in a Car Accident Claim
The defendant must have a duty of care towards the plaintiff. In St. Petersburg, across Florida, and across the nation, drivers owe other motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. a reasonable duty of care. This is the idea that a driver won’t drive a vehicle in a way that might reasonably be expected to injure others. In other words, every driver owes every other driver a duty of care to drive safely, and that includes the other driver in your accident.
Breach of Duty in a Car Accident Claim
The defendant must have breached his or her duty of care towards the plaintiff. This means the other motorist drove in a manner that could reasonably be expected to cause you harm. A violation of traffic laws often serves as evidence of negligence in a car accident case, such as when drivers run red lights, speed, or drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Causation in a Car Accident Claim
The defendant’s breach of the duty of care must have been the “proximate cause” of the car accident that led to a plaintiff’s injuries. Lawyers have filled countless law books writing about what this phrase means, but the basic idea that is that the harm the accident, and to some degree, the plaintiff’s injuries in it, must have been a reasonably foreseeable outcome of the defendant’s breach of the duty of care.
Damages in a Car Accident Claim
The accident must have resulted in demonstrable damages. In other words, if you were a superhero driving an indestructible car, you would not have a claim against the other driver even if he breached a duty of care to you and caused an accident since neither you nor your car ended up damaged in the accident. Of course, that’s never the case, and car accident victims are entitled to recover compensation for injuries that include current and future medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering, and more.
Tips for Proving Another Driver Hit Your Car
If there’s a dispute over whether the other driver “hit you,” here are some tips to make sure you get the information you need to maximize the likelihood of proving the other driver’s fault:
Get a Copy of the Police Report for Your Car Accident
When car accidents are serious, police and first responders typically show up to the scene. Whether it is Florida State Patrol or St. Petersburg Police, at least one law enforcement agency at the accident scene will file an official report of the accident. Police reports are the written observations of the officer who came to the accident, conducted a preliminary investigation, spoke to witnesses, etc. Police reports often contain clues about liability, such as the presence of skid marks and if the other driver was cited for any traffic violations.
If it is a busy day, or ambulance transport wasn’t needed for the accident, there is a chance that police won’t show up at the scene of an accident. If that happens, you should call them or go to the nearest police station in St. Petersburg to file a report. The officer will take down your account of the accident and track down any witnesses to confirm what happened. Make sure to obtain a copy of the final report; if the other driver was at fault, the police report will be one of the best ways to prove liability.
Gather Evidence of Damage to Your Car
We’ve already discussed the importance of calling the police and getting a police report immediately after a car accident, but if you are physically able, you may also benefit from gathering evidence of vehicle damage to your car as proof that the other driver hit your car. Take the time to get the names of witnesses who saw the accident occur and their contact information. Also, use your cell phone to take videos or pictures of vehicle damage to both cars. You should take pictures of the entire scene, including any debris that fell off of the vehicles.
When insurance adjusters and investigators look at your vehicle damage and pictures, not only are they able to see that your damage came from another vehicle, but they might also be able to prove liability. For instance:
- Rear-end collisions: If a car hits your vehicle from behind, the rear-end collision will almost never be your fault, even if you were stopped in the middle of the road. Driving safely requires leaving enough time and distance between the front of your car and the vehicle in front of you, so you have ample time to stop if the car in front of you makes a quick turn or sudden stop. When vehicles choose to follow too closely or not pay attention to the car in front of them, the law sides with the driver in front and finds the driver in back at fault. When a collision occurs, the back of one car and the front of the other car are both damaged leaving little to dispute about fault. Yet, there are some situations where you might share liability, such as your brake lights weren’t working.
- Left-turn collisions: When motor vehicles make a left turn, they have to yield to oncoming traffic. If an accident occurs, it is almost always the fault of the driver making the turn. Some rare exceptions to this rule occur when the car traveling straight was speeding or went through a red light. In left-turn accidents, the turning car’s passenger side is damaged, as well as the other car’s front end. Left-turn accidents might also occur when a driver makes a left turn into a car that is traveling in another lane without seeing them, causing damage to the drivers’ side of the oncoming vehicle. The location of the damage makes it difficult to dispute the way the accident occurred. Aside from the rare exception, the law will generally support the driver of the non-turning vehicle.
Use Traffic Laws to Support Your Case
Florida’s state traffic laws won’t directly prove that another driver hit your car, but they will help prove liability or fault in your car accident claim. When a driver has violated traffic regulations, assigning fault and proving negligence in a Florida car accident case is a much simpler task. If the police arrived at the scene of the accident, they might have already cited the other driver for traffic violations. In cases where the police did not show up at the scene, you will have to do a little research.
You can research Florida’s traffic laws online, or head to your local library or Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Violating traffic violations such as failure to yield, speeding, and more might have led to the accident or exacerbated injuries. Having a record of the law(s) that apply to your accident puts you in an opportune position when dealing with your insurance company or the other motorist’s carrier.
Comparative Negligence in Florida Car Accident Claims
Even if you, with the help of a qualified attorney, can present evidence of fault to an insurance company or a Florida court, it does not necessarily mean the other driver bears all of the fault. Florida applies a pure comparative negligence rule to personal injury cases, including those that involve car accidents. Comparative negligence is the notion of shared liability, meaning that you might be partially at fault for the accident. In any legal action for damages, the rule requires a court or jury to assign a percentage of fault to every party, whether it be 50 percent/50 percent, 100 percent/0 percent, or something in between. Any damages that the court awards to the plaintiff are reduced by the percentage that the court finds he or she contributed to the accident.
Consider the previously mentioned left-turn accident scenario for illustration. A car makes a left turn in front of you as you traveling down the road. You cannot avoid the accident, so a traffic accident happens. In most cases, the court would find the other driver 100 percent at fault in this scenario; however, you were speeding. The plaintiff argues that had you not been speeding, the accident might not have occurred or the impact would have been far less. The court finds that you are 20 percent at fault, or negligent, for the accident and your resulting injuries.
If you and your lawyer decided to sue for $1,000,000 based on losses incurred from your injury and the court gave a verdict in your favor, they reduce the award by 20 percent. This means you are barred from recovering more than $800,000 in damages. A skilled car accident attorney understands comparative negligence and will advocate getting the best possible outcome for your situation. Further, they anticipate the arguments that the defense will make to shift liability and reduce the value of your claim.
Contact a St. Petersburg Attorney to Prove Fault in Your Car Accident Claim
Sometimes car accident claims are simple and straightforward, but often times they are complex cases with multiple parties and insurance companies. Florida’s no-fault insurance laws and PIP coverage add another layer of complexity to car accident cases. We have discussed the things that you can do to prove fault in your car accident claim, but ultimately, the best decision is to hire an experienced personal injury attorney to lead you through the legal process and let you know the right time to escalate your insurance claim to a personal injury lawsuit.
If you have sustained injuries in a car accident in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County, contact our seasoned car accident attorneys at Dolman Law Group at (727) 222-6922 to schedule a free consultation to discuss the details of your case and learn about how we may be able to help you recover the compensation you deserve.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712