When you’re injured in a car accident while a passenger in someone’s car, you need answers to your questions. You need to know who will pay your doctor bills and prescription costs. You wonder how you’ll pay your household bills if you can’t work. Who will feed your family when your money runs out? If you endure an extended disability period, will your financial problems increase over time? To answer these and other serious questions, you need to know how much money you can get and who will pay.
In Florida, car accident injury claims involve complex issues. Laws in the state restrict people with minor injuries from recovering anything more than out-of-pocket expenses. If you’re seriously injured, you often jump through legal hoops to recover your damages. If you meet the legal tests that allow you to make a liability claim, there’s a strong possibility that the negligent driver who injured you was uninsured at the time.
Address these issues as quickly as possible after you sustain injuries. Working with a car accident lawyer is usually the most efficient way to get the answers you need.
How Much Money Will I Get for Medical Bills and Lost Wages?
That’s one of the easiest questions to answer. You receive up to $10,000 in benefits to pay for your injury-related expenses via Florida’s mandatory PIP coverage.
Florida is one of the few remaining no-fault states in the country. It’s a system that provides immediate economic benefits when you’re injured in an auto accident. You don’t have to make a liability claim or sue a negligent driver to get the money you need for out-of-pocket expenses. As long as you seek medical treatment within 14 days from the accident, Personal Injury Protection coverage pays your bills and expenses.
Each vehicle owner must purchase an auto policy that includes PIP coverage with a minimum $10,000 limit. The auto insurer pays per-accident benefits up to the PIP limit.
- 80 percent for your medical bills
- 60 percent of your lost wages
- Costs for services
- $5,000 death benefit
Whose PIP Insurance Applies When You’re a Passenger?
Florida Statutes, Title Title XXXVII, §627.736, “Required personal injury protection benefits,” explains the requisite benefits and payment priorities. If you own a vehicle and you live in Florida, you must purchase PIP coverage. When you’re injured in an accident, even as someone else’s passenger, your insurance is primary.
If you have no vehicle and no PIP coverage, you sometimes receive PIP benefits through other vehicle owners in your home. If a resident relative (by blood or marriage) has a vehicle and PIP coverage, that coverage pays your benefits. If you have access to no other PIP benefits, the insurance company for the vehicle in which you were a passenger becomes primary.
What Can I Recover for Pain, Suffering, and Other Damages?
In cases where PIP is insufficient to cover the extent of your losses (very common following a serious accident), you may need to pursue additional compensation via a claim against the at-fault driver. Although settlements vary in dollar amounts, any settlement you receive over and above your out-of-pocket expenses considers your injury severity, current or potential future disabilities, and other health issues.
Your lifestyle is another important factor. When you’re a successful businessman with a wife and family, claim evaluators assess damages as having a higher value than an unemployed single guy with no assets.
Damage settlements consider what you can and can’t do when you’re injured. When you live a full life, you have a long list of missed opportunities so your claim has a higher value.
Ultimately, you negotiate settlement values for these and other non-economic/general damages.
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Diminishment of spousal and family relationships
- Permanent disabilities
- Scars and disfigurement
Before you receive a settlement based on general damages, the involved insurers and responsible parties must work through the relevant issues.
Who Caused the Accident?
Insurance companies investigate to determine who caused an accident. They obtain formal reports from police departments and emergency personnel. They inspect the accident scene and take photographs. They review the vehicle damage to assess how the impact relates to the claimed injury. They get statements from witnesses, drivers and other people with first-hand information. As you were a passenger, they take your witness statement but they consider you a biased witness.
Once an insurance company completes an investigation they decide if their insured is legally liable for your injuries. Because Florida is a comparative negligence state, those assessing liability often divide the negligence among two or more drivers. That means that insurers for both the other driver and the driver of the vehicle in which you were a passenger must eventually agree that one or both should settle your claim. Assuming that they reach an agreement to share liability, they must then decide on who caused the accident.
Are Your Injuries Serious Enough to Qualify for a Tort Exemption?
Florida’s lawmakers designed the no-fault statute to prevent people with minor injuries from making claims via lawsuits. Under current state laws, only people with serious injuries can file a claim or lawsuit against a negligent party.
Until your injury meets or exceeds one of these thresholds, you have no legal right to collect general damages.
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- Permanent injury based on medical probability
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
If you sustained only minor injuries, you receive only the medical bills, wage losses, and expenses payable by the applicable Personal Injury Protection coverage insurer.
There Is No Standard Bodily Injury Settlement
If you know someone who settled an auto injury claim, you probably realize that there’s no such thing as a standard settlement amount. Bodily injury settlements are complicated because there are no set guidelines. While one insurer feels generous about paying $20,000 for an injury claim, another feels justified in paying half as much, or none at all.
Until you file a lawsuit, insurers work within a system where they are accountable only to themselves. Their contractual relationships with their insurers allow them to make liability decisions on their behalf. As long as they comply with the state’s Unfair Claim Practices Act, insurers have the flexibility to settle cases or refuse to settle cases.
Insurers Develop Their Own Settlement Guidelines
You’ll find little consistency among insurance company claim departments. Each insurance company develops its own investigative techniques and procedures. Each trains their claim handlers in different ways. Some smaller insurers use only independent claim agencies or contractors.
Large commercial corporations are often a wild card as they sometimes self-insure their liability exposures. They often hire their own claim staff to pay their own liability claims. When you negotiate with a self-insured entity, you are often negotiating with the company whose employee caused your injuries.
Your claim’s value is supposed to be personal to you and your lifestyle. More often it’s simply the end result of the twists and turns of the claim handling process. Insurance companies hold to a diversity of claim policies, settlement styles, work experiences, and defense strategies. These ultimately control any settlement offers you receive from the responsible party’s insurer.
Claims Representatives Often Have Little Control
Claim representatives handle claims according to their employer’s guidelines. To maintain claim consistency among inexperienced and experienced claim handlers, some insurers implement automated evaluation software such as Colussus. The claim investigator collects data, inputs it and waits for the results. They negotiate cases based on values generated by a computer with limited personal consideration for the injured person’s uniqueness. Some claim handlers still rely on formulas while others evaluate injury claims based on gut-reaction and experience.
When you negotiate a settlement for serious or catastrophic injuries, it’s often you against multiple people. You talk to one claim person but that person takes direction from a management team. The person negotiating the claim makes the offers. If you finalize a settlement, that person sends out the final releases, but throughout the process, management usually choreographs every offer or counter-offer.
You Decide How Much Your Claim Is Worth
When you conduct your own negotiations, it puts you in charge of the settlement process. You decide how much your claim is worth. You negotiate with the insurers and you reach a final agreement. Even so, unless you’ve had prior injury negotiation experience or formal legal training, the process often causes a lot of stress.
Once your damages meet the tort exemption threshold, both drivers owe for your damages based on their personal negligence percentages. That means that the two drivers’ insurers must eventually come to an agreement with you on value. They must also decide on an equitable split of the damages.
That doesn’t always happen the way it should. As a passenger, it places you in the middle of a process where you must negotiate liability and damages with more than one insurance carrier. If you can’t reach an agreement, it means you’ll have to walk away with nothing or file a lawsuit. Before you decide to file a suit, you should know the responsible parties’ liability limits. If you have access to only $50,000 in liability coverage, it sets the tone for your negotiations and influences any future legal actions.
It takes skillful negotiation to reach an effective agreement on damages and liability. When there are two liable parties and two insurers (or more), settlements become even more challenging. Legal representation usually makes a big difference. When you represent yourself, insurance companies realize that you probably don’t know the issues. They know that you might not fully appreciate your case’s value, and that encourages them to push for a low-dollar settlement. The playing field shifts and the dialogue changes when they’re dealing with an attorney.
Sometimes You Have to File a Lawsuit
It’s not unusual to become frustrated with the negotiation process, even if your demand is reasonable. Insurers often approach negotiations with the idea of wearing you down. Early during their investigation, they set a dollar reserve that establishes a maximum payout for every injury claim. They increase their reserves as time goes on or if your injury is worse than anticipated. Despite their reserves, they negotiate to save money wherever possible. If you feel frustrated by the games they play, you still have options.
Even if you hesitate to call an attorney during the early stages of your claim, an attorney is invaluable if you can’t resolve your claim informally. An attorney reviews your case and advises you whether or not he should continue negotiations on your behalf or file suit immediately.
What if the Other Driver Has No Insurance?
Uninsured Motorist coverage is available in Florida but it isn’t mandatory. It becomes critical when you’re in an accident with a driver who has no liability insurance. Based on statistics compiled by the Insurance Research Council, that’s a real possibility in Florida. Their research determined that 26.7 percent of Florida drivers had no liability insurance.
When the policy under which you’re seeking PIP benefits has UM coverage, it pays bodily injury damages owed by a negligent party who is uninsured or underinsured.
Auto policies define the person who caused your injuries as uninsured or underinsured based on these traditional definitions.
- A driver who has no bodily injury liability coverage or bond providing coverage on the accident date
- A driver who has BI liability coverage with a lower limit than legally required
- A hit-and-run driver who leaves the scene unidentified
- A driver who’s insurance company denies coverage or becomes insolvent
When you meet the definition of an insured under your policy, a resident relative’s auto policy or the policy that covers the vehicle in which you are a passenger, UM and/or UIM coverage applies. You then negotiate your injury claim with your own company instead of the responsible party or their insurer.
Consult a Car Accident Lawyer
When you sustain injuries while a passenger in someone else’s car, you must resolve liability, damage, and coverage issues as soon as possible. You shouldn’t handle these challenges alone. When you consult with a personal injury law firm soon after your accident, you have someone representing you every step of the way.
Personal injury lawyers identify responsible parties and place them on notice. They evaluate their clients’ injuries, helping them establish fair settlement demands, and negotiate their claims to conclusion. When they reach an impasse during negotiations, they should be ready and willing to continue the fight in court.
When you consult a car accident attorney, you don’t have to make a commitment to take action right then and there. You simply discuss your case, the attorney reviews your legal options, and you may proceed together only when you’re ready. You should not, however, delay too long—the law limits the time you have to take action, and a delay can make your case much harder to pursue, so call a car accident lawyer now.
Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765