Since personal injury litigation is among the most common civil litigation seen in Florida courts, our state—along with many states—has had to find a way to deal with this volume of cases. 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 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.
Florida Serious Injury Threshold
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 their injuries, 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 (for example, medical bills, lost wages, and transportation expenses) your injury has to be serious enough to merit recovery for “pain and suffering.”
Categories of Serious Injuries in Florida
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. Those threshold standards are:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability;
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; or
How do they decide if an injury is serious enough?
The written law doesn’t go into any more detail than these simple four points. However, past cases 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.
Same Injury, Different People
The rule in Florida is not black and white, as the same injury may affect two people in very different ways.
For example, if a triathlete experiences “whiplash” during an accident, the injury may not seriously impair her daily activities for an extended period of time because the tendons in her neck are strong and will recover quickly with exercise. In this case, the injuries she suffered in the accident might not push her over the threshold. However, if an 88-year-old man suffers the exact same injury, the pain and inability to move freely as the result of the whiplash may seriously affect what little function he has left. Because of the extremely different circumstances, the 88-year-old man may be able to recover for his pain and suffering.
This same logic can be applied to many different threshold standard cases. One must look at all the aspects of a case in order to accurately make a judgement about whether or not an injury is serious, or whether it will impair a person’s life.
Arguing “Threshold” in Florida Courts
Generally, a skilled Florida personal injury attorney will file litigation in Florida courts even if it’s not clear whether the threshold is met. 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 to make or refute this claim. 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 sufficient evidence about how that injury personally impacted your life and function.
How do I file a personal injury case?
If you’re not sure whether your injury meets Florida’s threshold for a serious injury, then you should consider contacting a personal injury attorney who can help you evaluate your case. If you decide not to hire an attorney, then your next step is to make a claim with your insurance company and a third-party claim with the other driver’s insurance. If these negotiations do not get you the outcome you want, then it’s time consider filing a lawsuit against the at-fault party(s). If you do decide to hire a personal injury attorney, they will contact the insurance companies on your behalf and begin negotiations for your claim. This is done on a contingency fee basis, meaning the client agrees to pay the attorney a portion of the final payout.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Attorney with Experience Arguing for Threshold
Florida, along with the other 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’s 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 Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 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. We are your personal injury lawyers in the greater Tampa Bay area, and we are here to fight for your right to compensation. Contact us today at (727) 451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation about your car accident.