Seeking Compensation for Car Accident Injuries
When you get injured in a car accident, your life gets complicated. It happens quickly. One minute you’re rolling down a scenic Florida highway on a sunny afternoon. An hour later you’re sitting in an emergency room wondering how you’ll pay the medical bills.
Getting the money you need to cover your medical and everyday expenses is often a major post-accident concern. If you’re unable to work, you can add food, electricity, and living expenses to your list of costs you can no longer afford. When you’re injured in an accident, you quickly learn that getting paid is often a complex, step-by-step process.
You Must Protect Your Interests
After an accident, you’ll deal with the other driver, his passengers, police officers, insurance companies, and many others. What you do and say can either enhance or diminish your chances of recovering damages for your injuries. Until you consult with a car accident attorney, it’s up to you to do what’s necessary to protect your legal interests. Your efforts begin the moment the vehicles involved in the accident come to rest in the middle of the street.
Never Admit Fault!
No matter how you feel about whatever occurred during the accident, never say you’re at fault. If the other driver, witnesses, police officers, or anyone else hears your admission, it will come back to haunt you. Even if you’re wrong, an admission of fault is often enough to jeopardize your liability claim against the other driver.
Some people automatically apologize for accidental occurrences, even when circumstances are out of their control. Whatever you do, don’t jump out of your car and say, “I’m sorry.” That’s almost as bad as admitting you’re at fault.
Document as Much as You Can
So many things change after an accident occurs and before the police arrive. It’s up to you to document what you can while you can. Use your cell phone camera to take close-up and distance photos of the involved vehicles and the overall accident scene. Get photos of the other driver’s license, license plate, and insurance card. Obtain contact data from witnesses and any other relevant information.
The information you document will help support your position on liability and simplify your damage claim. If you can’t do it yourself, get someone else to help or do what you can while you’re sitting in your car.
Seek Medical Attention if You’re Injured
Even if you’re in extreme pain, you still need a doctor to confirm your injury and validate your disability claim. If you seek treatment then fail to follow your doctor’s orders, it diminishes the credibility and the value of your injury claim.
Getting Paid From Your Insurance Company
Your insurance company has a duty to pay your covered claims regardless of fault. Your policy is a written agreement. When your insurer pays you, they’re simply keeping the agreement you made with them when you paid your premium.
Your policy also explains your responsibilities after an accident occurs. One of the most important requirements is that you must turn in a claim as soon as possible after an accident. This allows them to conduct a liability investigation and determine your legal responsibilities to the other driver. Your report also helps your insurer determine how much they owe you for your covered damages.
Personal Injury Protection Benefits
Florida statutes require that your auto insurance policy include Personal Injury Protection coverage. Insurers sometimes refer to PIP as “No-Fault” coverage because it pays your injury-related expenses regardless of fault. That’s important even if you believe that you’re entitled to receive a liability settlement from the other driver.
When you receive PIP benefits to cover your expenses, you don’t have to wait until a liability insurer approves your injury claim. The payments you receive help ease the financial burden of an accident-related injury.
PIP coverage pays:
- 80 percent of your medical bills
- Disability benefits totaling 60 percent of your lost income
- Necessary services provided on your behalf
- $5,000 death benefit
Florida statutes require that your insurance carrier pay your PIP benefits within 30 days after you provide claim documentation.
If you have collision coverage, your insurer will explain their process for evaluating and paying for your vehicle damages. Insurance company claim departments either schedule an inspection appointment at a claim center or send an appraiser to inspect your damaged car. The appraiser evaluates the damages. The claim representative uses the appraiser’s written assessment as the basis for paying your claim.
If your repair shop believes your car needs additional work, the appraiser follows up to review the work and advise the insurance company of any supplemental payments.
Uninsured Motorist and Uninsured Motorist Coverage
If you have UM coverage, it pays for damages caused by a driver who has no insurance, has invalid insurance or leaves an accident scene without identifying himself. UIM coverage pays when the other driver has insurance but not enough to cover your damages.
A UM or UIM settlement is based on the other driver’s liability for the accident. Your policy pays the damages a legally responsible party’s insurer would have paid had the other driver purchased liability insurance. Payment is also contingent upon your injury severity. To make a liability claim against another driver, your injuries must be serious enough to meet one of the Personal Injury Protection tort thresholds outlined in Florida 627.737.
If your accident qualifies you for a UM or UIM settlement, your insurance company negotiates directly with you or your legal representative. They treat you as though they were the other driver’s insurance carrier instead of yours.
Uninsured Motorist and Underinsured Motorist coverages are optional in Florida. Insurance companies must offer them when they issue your auto policy but you may reject them.
Getting Paid From the Other Driver’s Insurance Carrier
Your own insurance carrier pays your medical bills, lost wages and replacement services expenses. Everything gets more complicated when you believe that you’re entitled to a liability settlement from the other driver.
The Florida Legislature passed Personal Injury Protection statutes to reduce the number of liability claims and lawsuits. Before the law, injured people could make claims against responsible drivers even if they sustained only minor injuries and had minimal economic losses. If an injured person couldn’t reach a settlement with the other party’s liability insurance company, they filed a lawsuit to recover their damages.
When the Personal Injury Protection statutes went into effect, they changed the tort system and made it more difficult for an injured person to make a claim or file a suit.
- PIP requires that each driver carry $10,000 in PIP benefits to pay for their own medical and disability expenses.
- Each injured person must file a claim with their own insurance carrier even if the other driver is at fault.
- The injured person’s insurance company must pay their insured’s medical bills, lost wages and replacement service expenses.
- A liability insurance company doesn’t have to pay you and you can’t file a lawsuit against their insured unless your injuries meet one of the conditions defined in Florida Statutes, §627.737.
- The medical conditions that allow you to make a liability claim or file a lawsuit include: significant, permanent loss of an important bodily function; permanent injury, other than scarring or disfigurement; significant, permanent scarring or disfigurement; and death.
Presenting Your Claim Documentation
By the time you determine that you have the right to make a liability claim, the other driver’s insurance company will probably have decided its insured’s liability for your damages. Even if it determines that its insured is liable, the other driver’s insurer won’t simply give you a call and make a reasonable offer.
Often they leave it up to you or your legal representative to present your documentation and demand a settlement. If you don’t settle your claim or file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs, the other insurance carrier won’t have to pay you anything.
Settling Your Claim
The claim settlement process rarely goes smoothly. Regardless of your injury severity, insurance companies do what they can to save money when they settle a claim. They often undervalue injuries or dispute the medical procedures, treatments and doctor’s opinions that help substantiate your injury.
A liability insurer may deny that you sustained your injuries in the accident with their insured or try to prove that your actions contributed to the accident. If they prove that their insured wasn’t negligent at all, they may refuse to pay any of your damages and hope you’ll just go away.
If you or your lawyer conducted a site investigation, you can present your documentation to the other driver’s insurance company. If you have enough evidence, it sometimes forces a liability carrier to reconsider its decision. If it doesn’t offer you a settlement, you still have options.
Filing a Lawsuit
When the other driver’s insurance company denies liability for your accident, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will never receive a settlement. Once you prove you’ve met a tort threshold, you can file a lawsuit to recover your non-economic damages. The lawsuit your attorney files names you as the plaintiff and the responsible party as the defendant. If you are married, your spouse also becomes a plaintiff. If the defendant was driving someone else’s vehicle or jointly owns the vehicle with a spouse, these additional parties become defendants as well.
When you sue, you go through a far more complicated process than simply presenting a claim. Litigation is somewhat formal. All of the parties and their attorneys must follow a court-designated schedule, comply with a judge’s orders, and participate in formal discovery.
- As a plaintiff, defendants usually require you to give a deposition upon request. During a deposition, you answer questions about the accident, your injuries, and your personal life, all while under oath. Videographers sometimes record your testimony.
- You’ll have to produce all of your medical records.
- The other insurance company may request an independent medical examination to confirm your injuries.
Settlement conferences. Judges usually insist that plaintiffs and defendants settle their cases so they participate in court-ordered settlement conferences. You, your attorney and the defendant and their attorney get together to discuss settlement. These sessions are most beneficial when you’re already close to an agreement. If the plaintiffs, defendants, and their attorneys can’t reach an agreement on who should pay what to whom, the judge may recommend a future settlement conference. Courts may also mandate mediation and other alternative dispute resolution procedures.
Mediation. During a mediation, the same parties get together for less formal negotiations in a neutral, non-courtroom setting. An Insurance company representative with the authority to pay a claim usually attends. Otherwise, they’re available by phone. The mediator encourages plaintiffs and defendants to share facts about their liability and damage positions. Disputing parties don’t always resolve lawsuits during mediation. The process does often brings the parties closer and sometimes opens the door to settlement.
Trial. As judges encourage settlement, very few cases make it to trial. When your lawyer tries your case, the law firm presents evidence before the court in a formal hearing. In a bench trial, your attorney presents your evidence and a judge decides who is legally responsible and how much they must pay. In a jury trial, the attorneys chose jurors and present their case. The judge provides legal guidance and instructions and the jury ultimately issues a decision explaining their assessment of liability and damages.
To finalize the court’s decision, your attorney reviews the defendant’s settlement agreement and releases and helps you properly execute them. Your attorney then exchanges your settlement documents for a settlement check in the judgment amount. Your attorney prepares a case dismissal and files it with the court once all parties conclude their part in the settlement.
Do You Need an Attorney?
It’s difficult to successfully negotiate a car accident settlement without legal assistance. A personal injury attorney understands the legal system and all of its complications. Attorneys have experience evaluating auto accident issues and serious injury claims. They understand the complex issues involved in presenting your case to adverse parties and they protect your legal rights throughout the process.
When you discuss your case with an attorney, you simply share your story. The attorney gives you feedback about your case and talks about your legal options.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765