Florida Truck Accident Claims and Uninsured Drivers
All Florida drivers are required to have auto insurance, and big truck drivers are no exception. When a truck is registered in Florida, the amount of liability insurance the state requires its owner to carry varies depending on the type of cargo the truck hauls, and can range from between $300,000 to a million dollars. In addition to Florida requirements, all trucks must carry insurance in accordance with rules set forth by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which requires liability coverage amounts between $750,000 and $5 million.
Despite these regulations, unscrupulous truck drivers do not always carry the insurance the law requires. When uninsured truck drivers get into accidents with passenger vehicles, the results can be devastating. The difference in size alone between trucks and passenger cars virtually ensures that the passenger car and its occupants will both be more severely damaged than the trucker and his truck. It’s not uncommon for passenger cars involved in accidents with trucks to be completely totaled. Truck accident victims may have to deal with the effects of their truck accident injuries for the rest of their lives. Physical pain may never fully subside.
In addition to physical pain victims suffer in truck accidents, they are often forced to deal with the financial pain of steep medical bills they simply have no way to pay. And the longer the injury lasts, the longer the financial pain persists.
In Florida, victims of truck accidents may file a personal injury lawsuit with the help of a truck accident lawyer against the driver who injured them. If filed within four years of the date of the accident (the statute of limitations), a personal injury suit may allow victims to recover compensation in the form of monetary damages for their injuries and the long-lasting consequences of the accident.
Most personal injury lawsuits involve the negligent driver’s insurance company, and truck accidents are no exception. But what about if the driver who hurt you was uninsured? Are you just out of luck? Fortunately, the law says no.
After an Uninsured Truck Accident
When you’ve been in an accident with an uninsured truck driver, there are several steps to take to ensure that you receive as much compensation as possible following a claim. Your injuries may make it impossible for you to do some of these things right away, but start as soon as you can, or enlist someone to help.
File Your Insurance Claim
If you have a licensed Florida vehicle, you are required to carry auto insurance with personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Florida is a no-fault state, which means that your insurance plan pays you for damages you suffer from a car accident in the form of reimbursement of medical costs and disability benefits (basically lost wages) without regard to who was at fault. Family members can also receive death benefits if their loved one was fatally injured in a wreck.
The legislature sets minimum coverage amounts for all three types of benefits – $10,000 for medical, $10,000 for disability, and $5,000 for death benefits. Drivers can elect to have higher maximum coverage amounts and the policy maximums affect the driver’s monthly premium. It’s worth remembering, though, that PIP insurance doesn’t pay for 100 percent of medical costs or lost wages. It reimburses 80 percent of medical costs up to the maximum plan benefit and 60 percent of wages up to the max.
Even though your PIP coverage may fall way short of covering all of your costs, particularly if you require an extended hospital stay, are a high wage earner, or require extensive therapy or rehabilitation, you are required to file a claim and be compensated by your plan before you seek other remedies.
Injured drivers must submit their PIP claims within a short 14 days of their accident or face having their claim denied in its entirety. Once submitted, insurance companies must pay claims within 30 days. The idea of PIP coverage is to help drivers get back on their feet to some degree and to do it quickly—you certainly will not receive a settlement from a personal injury suit in 30 days.
Hire a Truck Accident Attorney
It’s usually a bad idea for anyone to file a personal injury lawsuit without having retained an attorney to lead the process. These suits are complicated and involve teams of attorneys on the other side whose jobs are to do nothing but make sure their employers pay out the least amount possible to the injured. But it’s an especially bad idea if the truck driver who hurt you doesn’t have insurance.
That complicates the issue because your suit becomes more complex. It’s not a matter of simply going after the individual truck driver who hurt you. You will now likely have a claim against the trucking company that employed the driver.
Contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon as you can, or have someone you trust contact them on your behalf. Because there is additional work involved in a lawsuit where one party is uninsured, your attorney will need extra time to prepare your lawsuit. That four-year statute of limitations can pass in a hurry, and if you miss it, your suit will be dismissed out of hand—thrown out and not considered by the court—and you will likely be left with no recourse to recover compensation you are rightly entitled to (simply because you missed a deadline!).
Document Your Costs
From day one, you should be documenting all of the costs associated with diagnosing, treating, and recovering from your accident with an uninsured truck driver. Your PIP policy will not reimburse your medical costs without proof of what you have incurred, and in a personal injury lawsuit, you won’t recover medical costs you can’t prove from the other party.
It can certainly be daunting to see your mailbox flooded with bills, and it’s tempting to just toss them in the trash. Don’t: Open them all and keep them in a safe place.
It is also important to keep track of the time you have to miss work because of your injuries. Document the days/hours you have to be absent, as well as any other compensation you may miss such as tips, commissions, or retirement contributions.
You will have to submit documentation of your earnings to your insurance company to receive PIP disability benefits, but since PIP only covers 60 percent, be sure to document the difference between your full wage and that which PIP pays. Beyond the PIP disability benefit period, there will be no cushion to help you make it financially while you recover before you receive a settlement or award from your lawsuit, so keep meticulous records. This is especially important if you are an hourly employee.
Who Is Responsible for the Car Accident?
Legally, of course, the at-fault driver in an accident is responsible for injuries he or she causes anyone else on the road. Realistically, that usually means the driver’s insurance company—the point of carrying insurance is, in the first place, to pass the financial burden onto the insurance company. The reason the law requires people to have insurance coverage is because lawmakers have realized that very few people can afford to pay for injuries they cause from their own pockets.
When people break the law and don’t carry insurance, victims can be left without a legal means of compensation. The old saying “You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip” comes to mind. Even if you sue an uninsured driver and receive a financial award, if the person against whom you have the judgment can’t pay, you are likely not going to see compensation.
When employees are acting within the scope of their employment, their employer can be held legally liable for their actions. This is known as the doctrine respondeat superior or vicarious liability. Don’t let the Latin scare you. It’s a concept that goes back to the very beginning of English law, and simply means “let the master answer.” Employers, in other words, have a duty to make sure that when their employees act on their behalf that they do so in a non-negligent way.
So, if a truck driver is transporting cargo from one place to another and causes an accident, the trucking company has a legal obligation to answer for the negligence of the driver because the driver was acting in the scope of the duties required by and on behalf of his employer.
Going up against the trucking company, and by extension its insurance company, is not a task you want to take on by yourself. Neither the company nor its insurance carrier is going to lay down and open its coffers for you, no matter how legitimate your claims against them are. You need someone on your team who has experience fighting against employers and insurance companies to step in on your behalf, and see that you receive every bit of financial compensation you deserve.
Types of Damages
Each personal injury case is different, and requires its own evaluation and legal analysis by an experienced attorney. Florida law sets forth several types of monetary damages injured victims may recover through a personal injury lawsuit. Which type and how much of each type of damages a victim may be entitled to vary and turns heavily on the specific facts of the case.
Generally, the law breaks down recoverable damages into three broad categories—economic, non-economic, and punitive damages
- Economic damages – Economic damages seek to compensate an injured party for direct monetary loss—think of them as things you receive a bill for. Of course, the amount of these damages you may recover from the other party in your lawsuit is limited to expenses for which your PIP plan has not already reimbursed you. Economic damages include things like initial medical costs (ambulance transportation, emergency care, and your initial hospital stay), post-discharge costs such as follow up appointments with specialists or future surgeries, therapy (physical, occupational, or speech), rehabilitation (inpatient, or day treatment), the cost of any specialized medical equipment your injuries require you to use, the cost of paying someone perform household services you now cannot take on yourself, and lost wages – both those you’ve already lost and those which you may lose in the future (these can be calculated by an actuary by taking into account various factors specific to you and your life expectancy and earning potential).
- Non-economic damages – These damages are harder to prove, because they are not those for which you will receive a bill in the mail. But experts can be brought in to assist with assigning a dollar amount to these losses. You may recover for both physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and physical impairment. In addition, certain family members (typically a spouse) may include a claim at the time of your suit for loss of consortium, which seeks to compensate them for loss of companionship that resulted from your injuries.
- Punitive damages – Punitive damages are intended to punish defendants for their behavior and to serve as a deterrent to others who may do the same. In Florida, these damages are reserved for only the most egregious behavior (usually the intentional infliction of harm). They are rare in personal injury cases, but may apply depending on the facts of your case.
How to Hold Uninsured Drivers Accountable
Truck accidents are already complicated enough when the driver who hurt you was responsible enough to carry insurance. When he hasn’t, your case gets much more complicated—you are almost guaranteed to have to fight with the driver’s employer to receive justice in your case.
Holding negligent commercial truck drivers and their employers accountable for their actions is difficult, and often involves a sustained dispute with adverse parties, their representatives, attorneys, and insurers. One of the best ways to ensure your claim is successful is by consulting with an experienced truck accident attorney who can discuss your options, protect your rights, and devise the best plan for moving forward. To contact Dolman Law Group about a free consultation on your case either call our Clearwater office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.