Proving Negligence in a Car Accident Claim
According to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), more than 166,000 traffic accidents resulting in injury and almost 2,900 fatal crashes occurred on Florida’s roads and highways in 2018. These alarming numbers suggest that if you haven’t been involved in a Florida car accident during your life, you most likely will at some point. Car accidents resulting in severe injuries devastate accident victims and their families physically, emotionally, and financially. When the accident is a result of another party’s negligence, suing for damages might bring some financial and emotional stress relief.
This blog post provides in-depth information about types of car accident claims, the legal requirements for proving negligence, comparative negligence in Florida car accidents, and other considerations involved in proving a case for damages.
If you need immediate assistance to discuss the details of your case, then contact an experienced car accident attorney at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, or Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) for a free consultation.
Scenarios Leading to Car Accident Lawsuits
What you must prove to win your car accident lawsuit depends, at least in part, on how the accident happened. Even the process of proving a claim for damages can vary depending on the circumstances. Some common scenarios that lead to someone having legal liability for a car accident include:
- Another driver violates traffic laws.
- Another driver operates a vehicle under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
- A medical emergency resulting from medical malpractice leads to a car accident.
- A poorly maintained road with potholes, sinkholes, or another hazard leads to an accident.
- Malfunctioning traffic signals or train crossing signals lead to an accident.
- A defective motor vehicle or motor vehicle part causes an accident.
Proving Ordinary Negligence in a Florida Car Accident
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits, including those that involve car accidents, require proof of negligence for the plaintiff to win the case. A Florida court will only enter a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and award damages if he or she, with the help of a qualified attorney, has clearly established the four legal elements of negligence:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. All drivers owe a reasonable duty of care to others with whom they share the road. This duty includes driving safely to prevent accident and injury, as well as following traffic violations. More broadly, anyone who supplies driving equipment, designs roads, or takes actions affecting the safety of motorists has a duty not to act in a manner that will foreseeably result in injury to those motorists.
- The defendant breached the duty of care. Proving negligence requires a breach of the duty of care This might be obvious in some cases, especially those that involve speeding, distracted driving, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A city or county’s failure to maintain roads, a trucking company’s failure to maintain trucks, and a doctor’s failure to warn a patient about the dangers of driving after taking certain prescription medications, all could also constitute breaches of a duty of care.
- The breach of duty caused injury to the plaintiff. This “causal” element of negligence is the one that causes the most controversy in lawsuits. In order to win your car accident lawsuit, your attorney must prove that the breach of duty “proximately caused” the harm you suffered. Basically, this typically means that the harm you suffered must have been a “reasonably foreseeable” outcome of the breach of the duty of care, and can’t be so “distant” from the harm you suffered for it to be unfair to hold the person responsible. For example, if a person spills a box of nails on a road and doesn’t clean them up, you may be able to sue them if a nail pierces your tire and causes an accident a few minutes later, but you probably can’t sue if the nail gets embedded in your tire, you don’t remove it, and it only causes the tire to fail a year later. Spilling the box of nails and not cleaning it up is a breach of the duty of care, but one outcome was “proximate” and the other wasn’t.
- The plaintiff must have suffered damages: You have to be able to show the harm the accident caused you actually damaged you. In most car accident cases, this is easy – you get physically injured, and the costs and the pain you suffer are “damages.”
Evidence in Florida Car Accident Cases
Winning your Florida car accident claim requires your attorney to collect and present evidence to support your case. An attorney will usually investigate the facts of your case to ensure you have the best chances of recovering some or all of the losses related to your injury; but, you can help increase your chances of prevailing in a lawsuit by following the tips below after a car accident involving other vehicles:
- Seek medical attention. If you aren’t transported via ambulance from the scene of the accident, you still need to get checked out by a doctor. Some injuries don’t present symptoms right away. Further, being involved in an accident causes an adrenaline rush in your body that masks pain and injury. Visiting the nearest emergency room serves as evidence that the accident caused your injury, especially if you don’t experience symptoms for days or months.
- Gather information from other parties. If you are physically able, you should collect as much information as possible from other parties involved in the accident. This includes names, phone numbers, drivers’ license number, license plates, and e-mail. Although Florida is a no-fault insurance state, you should still get any other driver’s insurance information to share with your carrier when you file a claim. Much of this information will be on a police report, but it’s best to also get it yourself. Some parties might leave the accident before law enforcement arrives, offer a false identity to avoid liability, or the police might make an error in the report.
- Note conditions surrounding the accident. Use your smartphone to take notes or write down the time and location of the accident, as well as the weather and road conditions. Also, pay close attention to the behavior of any other drivers and record anything unusual or pertaining to the accident. For example, you might have noticed the driver was using his cell phone when you collided, or you might smell alcohol on a driver’s breath. While it’s rare, a driver might even admit fault.
- Talk to eyewitnesses. At the very least, you should gather contact information from any eyewitnesses to share with your lawyer. If the police haven’t arrived or witnesses seem eager to leave the scene of the accident, take an informal statement that can be verified later on. Keep in mind that law enforcement doesn’t always show up to an accident scene, especially if it’s not a fatal crash, but you still need to file a report. You can provide the police with eyewitness information, so they can include witness statements in the police report.
- Take photos at the scene. Use your cell phone to take pictures of property damage, road hazards, license plates, and anything else you think might be of interest to your attorney and helpful to your case. You should also take photos of any visible injuries resulting from the accident. This serves as more evidence of injuries. You should also take photos of your injuries every few days or weekly as you recover.
Comparative Negligence in Florida Car Accident Cases
Florida courts apply comparative negligence to most personal injury cases, including those involving car accidents. Comparative negligence, sometimes referred to as comparative fault, is the notion that the plaintiff may have partial responsibility for an accident. Even in car accidents that involve a drunk or distracted driver, a court can find a plaintiff partially negligent. Next, the court assesses the extent to which the plaintiff might have contributed to the accident and assigns a percentage portion of fault to each party named in the lawsuit. The court reduces the plaintiff’s award by the percentage fault he or she is assigned.
For example, a drunk driver causes an accident and you sustain severe injuries. You sue for $1,000,000, but the court finds you were 25 percent negligent because you were speeding. Had you not been speeding, your injuries might not have been as severe, and you might have avoided the accident altogether. In this example, Florida law bars you from collecting more than 75 percent, or $750,000 in damages. Comparative negligence is a common defense strategy which motivates liable parties to shift blame to the victim, making strong evidence to support your case imperative.
Negligence Per Se in Florida Car Accident Cases
Although it does not occur frequently, cases do exist where proving negligence is “automatic.” One such example is the application of negligence per se in a car accident case. In some cases, the at-fault party has committed a crime. Consider drunk driving. In this case, your attorney might argue the driver was negligent per se because the driver committed a crime. This means your attorney doesn’t have to prove each and every element of negligence, because the law treats negligence as automatically proven when someone drives drunk. All your attorney would need to prove in that case would be that the accident caused your injuries. You should also note that ordinary negligence and negligence per se are not mutually exclusive; your attorney might argue both.
For example, a drunk driver swings through the drive-thru at his favorite fast-food chain and grabs a burger. He drives away and eats his burger while driving. He drops the sandwich, reaches down to grab it, and swerves into your vehicle causing an accident. Eating while driving is not illegal, but it is a distraction that constitutes negligence when it results in an accident. In this example, your attorney can argue that the at-fault driver was negligent per se for driving under the influence and negligent for eating while driving.
Several driver actions might cause your attorney to make a negligence per se argument besides drunk driving to win your case, including:
- Running a stoplight or a stop sign
- Letting an unlicensed driver use a vehicle
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
- Blocking a road
- Drag racing on a public street
Strict Liability in Florida Car Accident Cases
When an at-fault party is strictly liable in a car accident case, you do not need to prove negligence. Strict liability is most often a factor in “product liability” claims. If your car accident was a result of a defective car or car part, Florida law holds that the manufacturer, and maybe even retailer, of your car strictly liable if the product defect caused your injury.
The law divides product liability cases into three types of defects: design defect, manufacturing defect, and a marketing or information defect. Any party involved in the chain of distribution of a motor vehicle might be held strictly liable under Florida law when a defect results in severe injury or fatality. To argue for the application of strict liability, you generally must prove that the defect occurred at some point before you took ownership of the vehicle and the defect caused your injury.
Contact an Experienced Florida Car Accident Lawyer Today
Winning your car accident lawsuit requires proving negligence, or making other arguments such as negligence per se and strict liability. That is not a job for a non-lawyer. You need to focus on rehabilitation and healing and let a skilled car accident injury attorney handle the details of your case, including investigating your accident, gathering evidence, and building the strongest case possible for your situation.
If you have been involved in a car accident, don’t try to win your case alone; hire an experienced lawyer to represent you and ensure the best chance to recover losses related to your accident and injury. With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or via email for a free consultation to discuss the ways in which our skilled legal team can assist you.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765