As personal injury litigation is among the most common civil litigation seen in Florida courts each year, Florida, along with many states, has had to find a way to deal with this dilemma. Most personal injury cases settle before they proceed to trial, but they remain on the court’s calendar and contribute to the judicial caseload. Accordingly, Florida law has set a “threshold” for personal injury recovery, meaning that your injuries must meet certain qualifications if you wish to sue the owner/driver of a motor vehicle that injured you in a car accident. A simple bruise to the knee is not going to do it, but damage to the tendons in your knee requiring extensive physical therapy might qualify.
Under Florida’s personal injury liability law, you are not liable for another’s personal injuries – even if you caused the car accident – unless those injuries meet a certain medical threshold. If the injuries do not meet this threshold, then the injured person may not recover for the injuries themselves or the pain, suffering, mental anguish, or inconvenience experienced as the result of those injuries. Such thresholds are generally applicable only in no-fault states such as Florida, where drivers are required to carry $10,000 in personal injury coverage to pay for medical expenses that arise out of car accidents. This coverage is “primary” regardless of who is at fault for the accident. The no-fault insurer is required to cover all your medical expenses up to the limits of your selected policy, but it will also reimburse you for lost wages, travel expenses, and other out-of-pocket expenses, such as childcare for doctor’s appointments. Even if you do not have medical insurance, no-fault insurance will act in its place after a car accident.
Unfortunately, the downfall of no-fault states is that your recovery for injuries is often limited, as Florida assumes much of your compensation will be covered by your no-fault policy. Because states with larger populations, such as Florida and New York, are inundated with personal injury claims from car accidents, the no-fault law is designed to reduce litigation by “guaranteeing” you some form of compensation regardless of who is at fault for the accident. As a result, if you wish to recover damages beyond mere economic damages incurred, e.g., medical bills, lost wages, and transportation expenses, your injury has to be serious enough to merit recovery for “pain and suffering.”
There are four categorizations of injuries in Florida that meet the “threshold” standard that would allow you to seek compensation above that paid out by your no-fault carrier:
There is no more detail than what is indicated by the statute, but Florida courts have provided some insight into what injuries do and do not meet these thresholds. For example, broken bones will generally push you over the threshold, while a sprained ankle or bruised elbow will not, even if it causes you great pain. This is because a broken bone, no matter where it is located, will generally seriously impair an important function, such as walking, writing, lifting, or carrying. It does not have to permanently disable that function but merely impair it for an extended period of time. However, a bruised elbow will likely not cause significant or permanent impairment of your daily functions even if it causes you discomfort and pain.
The rule in Florida is not black and white, as the same injury may affect two people in very different ways. For example, if Debby is a triathlete who experiences “whiplash” as a result of an accident because the tendons in her neck are strong and exercise can aid in recovery, the injury may not serious impair her or her daily activities of living for an extended period of time. In her case, the injuries she suffered in the accident might not push her over the threshold. However, if Tom, an 88-year-old man, suffers the exact same injury because his body is already in a weakened state, the added pain and inability to move freely as the result of the whiplash may seriously affect what little function he had left. Tom, therefore, may be able to recover for his pain and suffering.
Generally, a skilled Florida personal injury attorney will file litigation in Florida courts even if it is not clear whether you meet the threshold. Before trial, the defendant – the party liable for your injuries – may ask the court to consider whether your injuries meet the threshold, and both parties will present evidence tending to show whether the injuries qualify under the statute. Your attorney may present the court with expert witnesses who can testify to the nature and extent of your injuries and how they have impacted your life. Expert medical testimony is especially important in these cases, as the judge and jury will need to rely on such evidence if the seriousness of your injury is questioned. Sometimes this is a non-issue because certain serious injuries such as broken bones, coma, and paralysis clearly qualify. Other times, whether your injury meets threshold will come down to whether your attorney presents evidence about how that injury personally impacted your life and function.
Florida, along with the minority of states with no-fault and threshold laws, has a system of personal injury litigation that is different from the rest of the United States. As such, it is important to contact a local personal injury attorney familiar with the case law, judges, and injuries that meet the threshold in the state of Florida. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group can help you get the compensation you deserve after a car accident even if the insurance company tries to argue that you don’t qualify for relief. They are your premier personal injury lawyers in the greater Tampa Bay area, and they are here to fight for your right to compensation. Contact them today at (727) 451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation about your car accident.