Getting The Full Value of a Car Accident Claim
Many drivers and passengers are not so fortunate as to escape from car accidents with scrapes and bruises. They suddenly find themselves confronted with life-altering health challenges and massive financial burdens they never expected, and which, in a significant number of cases, they did nothing to cause.
Innocent victims of car accidents may have rights under the law to recover substantial compensation from the individuals or entities whose actions led to a crash. In this blog post, our car accident attorneys discuss how those victims can obtain the most money possible for their injuries.
Sources of Compensation for Car Accident Victims
First off, you’re in good company—every day throughout Florida, from the Panhandle to the Keys, drivers and their passengers sustain catastrophic or fatal injuries in car accidents. In one recent year alone, Sunshine State roads saw just shy of 400,000 crashes that left 3,154 people dead and another 253,844 injured, according to state data. That’s around 1,100 crashes, nine deaths, and 700 injuries every day.
Virtually everyone understands the basic principle that if someone causes a car accident that leaves other people injured, that person should pay for the injuries the accident caused. In Florida, that principle applies, but with variations that may come as a surprise to some accident victims. Below, we discuss the ways someone hurt in a car accident caused by someone else’s poor choices or dangerous conduct can get money to compensate for injuries.
No-Fault Insurance Coverage
Anyone who registers a car in Florida must purchase no-fault auto insurance. As the name suggests, this insurance provides personal injury insurance coverage for a person injured in a car accident, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. The no-fault insurance coverage that Florida law requires drivers to carry is also known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. By law, drivers must carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP medical and disability benefits.
No-fault PIP coverage typically serves as the first (or primary) source of money for a person injured in a car accident. It covers the driver, his or her relatives who live in the same household, anyone who drives the driver’s car, passengers in the car (who do not have their own PIP coverage), and certain people struck by the car. After suffering a car accident injury, any of those people must turn to the applicable PIP coverage first, ahead of any other insurance coverage or another source of payment, to pay for the medical care and disabilities resulting from the accident.
Health Insurance and Long-Term Disability Coverage
In this age of skyrocketing healthcare costs, however, the minimum PIP coverage of $10,000 doesn’t go very far. Anything more than a truly minor car accident injury can easily cost more than $10,000 in medical bills and lost time at work. Once PIP benefits run out, car accident victims can also turn to other insurance policies, such as health insurance and long-term disability insurance, to pick up the costs that PIP covered. Of course, not everyone has these coverages, and they do not always cover every expense a car accident victim faces.
Individuals and Entities with Legal Liability (and Their Liability Insurance Coverage)
An accident victim who suffers severe injuries in a car accident that inflicts costs exceeding the victim’s PIP coverage limit can also seek to recover damages from anyone at fault for the accident. Florida law defines the types of injuries that give an accident victim the right to sue an at fault party as:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
- Wrongful Death.
Getting the most money from an at fault party as compensation for one of the types of injuries above usually requires the help of a skilled, experienced car accident injury attorney.
How Car Accident Victims Hold Others Financially Accountable
It is one thing to know that Florida law allows a car accident victim to obtain compensation for a serious injury from whomever caused the accident. It is another thing entirely to take the steps necessary to get the most money available. In almost all cases, the safest and smartest way to obtain maximum compensation for a car accident injury is to hire an experienced car accident attorney. The steps a lawyer takes to help a client get the most money possible for an accident typically include:
Thorough Investigation of Both the Accident and Injuries
A car accident victim cannot hope to recover the most money possible for a car accident without knowing exactly how the accident happened, exactly who is to blame for it, and exactly how much money is needed to compensate for the full extent of the victim’s injuries. Learning this information requires a diligent investigation by someone who knows what they are doing, like a car accident lawyer with years of experience.
Car accidents happen for a host of reasons. Victims of accidents rarely perceive all of the factors that contributed to the crash that injured them. If they remember the accident at all, they have only a sense that someone did something unsafe that led to the collision.
Experienced car accident lawyers, however, know that a car accident rarely results from just one bad decision or careless action. Oftentimes, a chain of circumstances, only some of them obvious, lead to a crash. A lawyer’s job is to follow that chain of decisions and actions wherever it leads, to identify one or more individuals or entities who may have a legal liability for causing the accident.
In a typical car accident, this may include:
- A driver of one of the vehicles involved in the crash, such as one who made the dangerous, reckless choice to drink-and-drive, text-and-drive, or to drive too fast for road conditions.
- An employer of the drive of a commercial vehicle involved in the accident. In many cases, employers have legal responsibility for the actions of their employees, and can also be held accountable for their failures to train employees or to send employees out on the road in safe vehicles.
- A manufacturer of a consumer product that caused an accident. This can include auto parts makers who sell defective products that fail, causing a crash.
- A road engineer who designs and builds a road that is not safe for the public to travel over. Sometimes, for example, engineers create dangerous intersections that prove too confusing for drivers to navigate safely, or that have poor sightlines that make it impossible for drivers to see approaching dangers.
This is only a partial list, of course. Every accident has its own unique facts and circumstances. An experienced car accident attorney’s job is to dig into the facts to find the party or parties with liability for a specific client’s injuries. There are no cookie-cutter car accident cases.
After identifying one or more parties with legal liability for a car accident victim’s injuries, a lawyer also needs to know the extent of harm those injuries caused. You cannot obtain full compensation from a car accident without understanding the full scope of your injuries: not just what it has already cost you in medical bills or lost wages, but also what it will cost you in the future, and how it has harmed your life in ways that are more difficult to translate into dollars and cents. Through diligent investigation and know-how, a car accident lawyer uncovers all of the ways a car accident harms its victims, to come up with an amount of money that reflects the entire range of damage.
Skilled and Reasoned Negotiation
By doing a thorough investigation, a car accident lawyer creates leverage for holding legally-liable parties accountable. Then it comes time to demand payment from those parties. Typically, the parties with liability (and their insurance carriers) hire their own lawyers, and the two sides enter into negotiations over whether the parties will pay the accident victim money, and if so, how much.
Lawyers engage in these negotiations every day, but there is nothing routine about them. They often play out like an intricate boxing match, with each side trading punches and counterpunches, looking for weaknesses in the other’s case. The goal for the car accident victim’s lawyer, of course, is to land a knock-out blow that convinces the other side to pay the most money available.
Accident victims sometimes imagine they can handle these sorts of negotiations on their own. That is virtually always a huge mistake. Negotiations over car accident settlements may seem like a simple back-and-forth over an amount of money, but they actually require an intricate understanding of how the law works in favor of one party or the other.
Do Not Deal With Insurance Offers Alone
Sometimes, insurance companies representing legally-liable parties try to sidestep dealing with an accident victim’s lawyer by approaching a victim right away with an offer to settle a claim immediately. For any number of reasons, victims may want to take the money offered. That, too, is almost always a bad idea, however.
The only reason insurance companies have for dealing with a car accident victim directly is that they believe it will give them a better chance of not paying the most money the accident victim deserves. In short, insurers want to take advantage of injured car accident victims. Having an experienced car accident lawyer on your side helps prevent that from happening.
Aggressive, Sophisticated Legal Action
In reality, most car accident cases settle out of court through the type of negotiation described above. In nearly every car accident case, however, getting the most money for a client requires showing the other side that you and your car accident lawyer are ready, willing, and able to take a case to trial.
A significant reason many of those cases settle for the most money available, however, is that the legally liable parties understand they face an uphill battle if the case ever ends up in front of a judge and jury. In other words, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, getting the most money from a car accident requires accident victims and their lawyers to speak softly and carry a big stick.
What does it take for the other side to fear they will lose a court fight? Two words: preparation and reputation. Car accident victims give themselves the best chance of getting the most money for their injuries when they hire a legal team that does the legwork necessary to build an ironclad case, and that has a track record in the legal community for winning big cases for big dollars. Of course, not every car accident case is a big dollar case. But every case does have a theoretical maximum amount of money available to the accident victims. The key to unlocking that money is often a relentless, sophisticated legal team that strikes fear in the heart of opposing attorneys and insurance adjusters.
Getting the Most Money Is Hard Work
Do not be fooled into thinking that just because you have sustained a serious injury in a Florida car accident that you can, without much effort, recover every penny you need and deserve. It takes skill, determination, careful planning, and legal know-how to get the most money out of a car accident. Most car accident victims do not have the capacity, time, or resources to carry out a legal battle plan on their own. They need the help of a legal team with years of experience getting results for car accident victims in and out of courts.
If serious car accident injuries have left you struggling physically, emotionally, and financially, then you may have the right to recover significant amounts of money from the parties at fault for the crash. An experienced car accident attorney can help you learn more about your rights, and help devise a strategy for moving forward following a car accident. To contact Sibley Dolman Gipe about your case you can either call our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.