Getting Compensation For Pedestrian Accidents
Walking across or along a street should never put someone’s life in danger. In Florida, however, that is not always the case. According to official data, 9,628 motor vehicle crashes involving a pedestrian happened on Florida roads. 708 people died as a result of these accidents, and another 7,863 sustained injuries; an injury/fatality rate of 89 percent, among the highest (along with bicycle and motorcycle collisions) of any type of motor vehicle accident.
Because roughly nine out of 10 pedestrians involved in accidents with motor vehicles sustain injuries, they and their families need to understand who covers the medical expenses they incur. In this blog post, we cover the ins and outs of Florida insurance and personal injury laws to help victims of pedestrian accidents understand their options for paying for medical care they need as a result of the accident.
Florida No-Fault Insurance and Pedestrian Accidents
Any discussion about paying for injuries resulting from a motor vehicle accident in Florida must always begin with an explanation of the Sunshine State’s no-fault auto insurance laws. That is especially true when it comes to pedestrians injured as a result of getting hit by a car, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle.
The Basics of Florida No-Fault Auto Insurance
Here are the basics. Under Florida law, all registered owners of a motor vehicle must purchase a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage. This so-called no-fault insurance covers the insured motorist against medical costs (and other expenses) arising out of a crash, regardless of who was at fault for the crash. In other words, a Florida driver who gets hurt in a collision turns to his own no-fault PIP coverage first to pay medical bills arising out of the crash, even if the other driver caused the accident.
No-fault insurance is what is known as primary insurance coverage. It is the insurance anyone covered by such a policy turns to first, before any other type of insurance (such as health insurance) and before taking legal action (see below). Injured accident victims can only turn to other sources of coverage or payment once applicable PIP coverage runs out; that is, once the costs covered by the policy exceed the policy’s (usually $10,000) limit.
No-Fault Coverage of Pedestrians
The registered car owner is not the only person his or her PIP coverage insures, however. That owner’s PIP insurance also covers:
- Passengers in the owner’s car who get hurt in a crash;
- Relatives who live with the owner who get hurt in any crash;
- Anyone who borrows the owner’s car who then gets hurt in the crash; and (importantly for this blog post)
- A pedestrian struck by the owner’s car.
So, in a collision between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian, the vehicle owner’s PIP insurance should cover the pedestrian’s medical costs, so long as the pedestrian resides in Florida, with one crucial exception: If the pedestrian also happens to have his or her own, or someone else’s, PIP insurance, then the pedestrian’s own PIP insurance, not the car owner’s, pays for medical care resulting from the accident.
Confused yet? You are not alone. Florida’s no-fault insurance laws have, for years, constituted a tangle of seemingly-oddball requirements that leave many Floridians scratching their heads.
As simply as we can state it, here is what those rules boil down to for injured pedestrians. In a collision between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian in Florida:
- The vehicle owner’s PIP coverage pays the pedestrian’s medical expenses; unless
- If the pedestrian is already covered by his or her own, or someone else’s PIP coverage, then that PIP coverage pays the medical expenses; or
- If the pedestrian is not a Florida resident, then the pedestrian has no rights to have the driver’s PIP coverage pay medical costs.
Sources of Payment When No-Fault Coverage Runs out or Does Not Apply
The minimum no-fault PIP coverage required under Florida law is just $10,000. In this age of exploding medical costs, $10,000 does not go very far. Who pays an injured pedestrian’s benefits when PIP benefits (either under the vehicle owner’s policy or the pedestrians own) runs out? Similarly, who pays for medical care for a non-Florida resident pedestrian injured in an accident who has no rights to PIP benefits?
Paying for Medical Care When PIP Benefits Run Out
Florida-resident pedestrians injured in a collision with a car can turn to their own insurance (typically health or long-term disability coverage, if they have it) to pay for medical care if the costs exceed the available PIP coverage. However, even those coverages have limits, and not all people have that insurance, to begin with. Also, health/disability insurance does not necessarily cover all of the medical costs potentially associated with recovering from a pedestrian accident.
If an accident causes any of the following harms to a pedestrian, then, after exhausting no-fault PIP benefits, the pedestrian (or his or her family members) may also have the right to seek compensation from the at-fault party via a Florida lawsuit.
- 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.
Many pedestrian accidents cause these types of severe, life-altering injuries.
Paying for Medical Care When PIP Coverage Does Not Apply
Non-Florida resident pedestrians injured in a collision with a motor vehicle have, in some senses, a more straightforward (but not necessarily easier) path to paying for medical care. Like others, these pedestrians may turn to their own health or long-term disability insurance, or perhaps even auto insurance they carry in their state’s of residence, to pay for medical care resulting from a collision with a vehicle in Florida.
These pedestrians may also seek compensation from the at-fault party in the accident by taking legal action. Unlike Florida-resident pedestrians, non-Florida resident pedestrians injured in accidents can seek this compensation even if their injuries do not qualify as one of the serious conditions listed above.
Pedestrian Legal Actions Against At-Fault Parties
So, to summarize what we have covered so far, Florida-resident pedestrians who sustain serious injuries in accidents with motor vehicles, and all non-Florida resident pedestrians who get injured in that type of collision, have potential rights to take legal action against at-fault parties.
Potential At-Fault Parties
Who might those at-fault parties be? In a typical pedestrian accident scenario, experienced personal injury attorneys often look to the following usual suspects:
- The driver of the vehicle that struck the pedestrian. All drivers have an obligation to take care not to strike a pedestrian, even if the pedestrian has taken an unsafe action like jaywalking or walking on the shoulder of a busy road at night.
- The employer of the driver, if a commercial vehicle struck the pedestrian. Florida employers generally have legal responsibility for the careless or reckless actions of employees acting within the scope of their employment.
- The manufacturer of a vehicle or vehicle part that had a defect that made it unreasonably dangerous, and that caused the collision between the vehicle and the pedestrian.
- The engineer or construction professional responsible for designing or building a road or intersection with an unreasonably dangerous condition or feature caused the collision.
This is just a sampling of the parties who could have legal liability for causing a motor vehicle to strike a pedestrian. Every Florida pedestrian accident has its own unique facts and circumstances. Hiring an experienced Florida pedestrian accident attorney is the best way to pinpoint any and all parties who have potential legal liability for your pedestrian accident.
Proving Fault and Damages
It is one thing to identify parties whose actions may have caused a collision between a vehicle and a pedestrian. It is another thing entirely, however, to prove those parties’ fault and the damages they owe to an injured pedestrian.
As a general matter, proving fault entails collecting and presenting evidence that shows:
- A party had a legal duty of care not to act (or fail to act) in a way that would put others in danger;
- That party breached the duty of care through action or omission; and
- The actions or omissions constituting the breach of a duty of care caused the pedestrian accident and injuries.
Proving these elements of a claim against an at-fault party requires careful investigation and preparation on the part of an experienced Florida pedestrian accident attorney. It is not enough for the pedestrian accident victim to point at a driver and say “He did it!” Lawyers instead try to collect a deep and wide body of evidence that shows exactly how the accident occurs, and how it could have, should have, been prevented.
Experienced Florida pedestrian accident lawyers also take care to compile evidence of the harm that the accident caused their client, the accident victim. The costs of past and future medical care often constitute a significant part of this harm. In this day and age, emergency medical treatment for catastrophic injuries like those often sustained in a pedestrian accident can run into the hundreds-of-thousands, even millions, of dollars. Many accident victims do not carry enough insurance to pay those costs, particularly when an injury is likely to leave a victim with a lifetime of medical needs. A lawyer’s job, in part, is to generate firm, well-supported estimates of these costs that support the lawyer’s demand for compensation from the at-fault parties.
What Pedestrian Accident Victims Can Do
Sustaining severe injuries in a pedestrian accident turns a person’s life upside-down. It is not realistic to expect those victims to do much to help themselves after an accident leaves them hospitalized and fighting for their lives. There are some basic steps they, and their families, can take, however, that will help them to protect their legal rights.
Keep Records of Medical Care
Do not throw anything you receive from a doctor or insurance company away. No matter how confusing or downright incomprehensible the information contained in these records may seem, it could prove critical to recovering compensation to pay for medical costs. In addition to records you receive, keep your own records of your care, such as notes of conversations with doctors, and a journal or diary of the ups-and-downs of your injuries and recovery. These, too, may help your lawyer illustrate the impact of the injury on your life, which is an important component of calculating the damages you deserve to receive.
Beware of Insurance Companies
Most pedestrians injured in a vehicle collision will have no choice but to notify their own insurance company—be it a PIP, health insurance, or long-term disability insurance carrier—about the accident. Most insurance policies require this kind of notice. In giving notice, just take care not to say more than necessary. Stick to the facts of the accident and injury, and do not offer interpretations of who might have the fault. Stray comments like “I’m okay now” or “I should have seen the car coming” could harm your legal rights. In fact, you’re better off hiring a pedestrian accident lawyer to handle these communications.
Pedestrian accident victims and their families should proceed with extreme caution, however, when interacting with someone else’s insurance company after a collision. The only reason someone else’s insurer has to reach out to you after an accident is to try to minimize its financial exposure to your injuries. Anything you say to a representative of someone else’s insurance company will be used against you, if at all possible. The best course of action is to refuse to speak with any such representative and to let your attorney take it from there.
Seek Experienced Legal Help Right Away
Florida law does not make it easy to figure out who pays your medical costs after a pedestrian accident. Experienced pedestrian accident injury lawyers, however, have the know-how to guide injured pedestrians through the legal thicket toward the maximum compensation they deserve. Do not wait to protect your rights after a pedestrian accident leaves you or a family member badly injured.