Car accidents can be minor incidents or major ones. If you were involved in a car accident in Florida, you should take the next five steps to ensure you have followed proper protocols and are protected:
1. Report the accident: If the motor vehicle accident involved injuries or property damages that totaled over $500, then the parties must report the accident. In order to report the accident, they must place a call to the nearest police department, sheriff’s department, or the Florida Highway Patrol. If the accident resulted in serious injuries or other highly dangerous situations (e.g., gas tanks are leaking), the parties involved in the accident should dial 911 immediately.
2. Ask for information: Be sure to get the contact information of anyone involved in the car accident. This includes their name, address, phone number, license plate number, motor vehicle make and model, and most importantly, their insurance information (e.g., carrier and policy number). Also, do not forget to ask for contact information from the passengers and/or any witnesses as well. This information will be useful if the accident leads to a future lawsuit.
3. File a claim with the insurance company: Immediately after an accident, the parties should file claims with their respective insurance companies as soon as possible. This is true even if a person feels they were not the ones responsible for causing the accident. The insurance company will then investigate the claims to determine useful information, such as fault and total damages.
If the party has any questions or concerns about their insurance coverage or benefits, they should ask their insurance carrier right away.
4. Seek medical treatment: Florida has special personal injury laws that will be discussed in further detail in the section below. Under these laws, drives must carry auto insurance with them at all times. This is to ensure that the driver’s own injuries and potential losses are covered in the event of an accident, regardless of whether or not the accident was the driver’s fault or the fault of another driver.
Passengers who are involved in a car accident should also seek medical treatment for injuries as soon as possible. Such medical records can be useful to show that they attempted to mitigate their damages in future lawsuits. Additionally, it should be noted that passengers who were traveling with a driver who possessed auto insurance will most likely be able to recover for their injuries under the driver’s insurance.
Again, as with the insurance company, drivers should ask their auto insurance and health insurance carriers any questions or concerns that they have on coverage and benefits included in their insurance policies.
5. Get a settlement offer from the insurance company: Finally, either one or both drivers’ insurance companies will assist in providing the party at fault with a settlement offer. The offer will indicate how much an insurance company will pay for property damage and/or injuries resulting from the accident.
If an insurance company’s offer is not enough to cover property damage and/or injuries, then the individual should try and negotiate a different settlement amount with the claims adjuster. Only after failing to negotiate with a claims adjuster, should drivers or others injured in the accident consult a local personal injury lawyer.
Are there any Specific Florida Car Accident Laws to Consider?
There are two special Florida car accident laws that both drivers and their passengers should be aware of: Personal Injury Protection (also known as “PIP” or “no fault”) auto insurance, and Florida’s statute of limitations.
According to Florida’s PIP laws, drivers are required to have auto insurance to ensure that their own injuries are recovered, even if the accident was not their fault. A driver who is injured in an auto accident must seek medical attention within fourteen days of the accident in order to receive any PIP benefits.
It is important to keep in mind that some injuries may not appear immediately, so a driver should at the very least consult their doctor for a quick check-up. If the driver’s injuries do not appear until after the fourteen days and they have not consulted a medical practitioner, then they can lose their opportunity to claim PIP benefits for their injuries.
Also, as briefly mentioned above, passengers who travel with drivers that have PIP auto insurance will also be able to recover PIP benefits. Thus, passengers should get checked out by their doctor as well if they believe they may have been injured in a car collision.
In general, a statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit on how long a plaintiff has to file a claim. Specifically, in Florida, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit for a car accident is four years. A plaintiff who fails to file within this time frame will be barred from filing a claim and thus will not be able to recover damages or other remedies resulting from the accident.
What Defenses Might the Other Side Raise?
Some potential defenses that the defendant may be able to raise against a claim include the following:
- Assumption of risk: If the driver who is suing knew of a certain risk (e.g., driving too fast in bad weather conditions) and continued to take an action that could have prevented the accident if they had stopped, then the defendant may be able to raise assumption of risk as a defense to potentially protect them against the amount of damages they will have to pay.
- Contributory or modified comparative negligence: Only a handful of states follow a full contributory negligence theory. In such states, if a plaintiff is even 1% at fault, they will be barred from recovering for their injuries. However, if the jurisdiction hearing the case follows a modified comparative negligence theory, the plaintiff will only be barred from recovering if they are 51% or greater at fault for the accident.
- It should be noted that Florida is a pure comparative fault jurisdiction and thus a plaintiff will be able to recover even if they are 99% at fault for the accident.
- Lack of proof or fault: If the plaintiff cannot prove that the defendant-driver caused the accident or that they were the ones at fault, then the defendant can raise this as an affirmative defense to the plaintiff’s claim. This can protect the defendant from being held liable for any resulting damages.
- Emergency conditions: If emergency conditions are what caused the accident to occur, then this may act as a defense to either reduce what the plaintiff can recover or could potentially help get the entire case against the defendant dismissed.
- Statute of limitations: As discussed above, when a plaintiff fails to file a claim before the statute of limitations expires, then they will be barred from bringing a lawsuit altogether.
- Failure to mitigate damages: If a plaintiff failed to seek medical attention or intentionally did nothing to prevent an injury from worsening, then a defendant can assert this as a defense to have the amount of damages they may be required to pay reduced.
What Remedies are Available in a Florida Car Accident Lawsuit?
Some remedies that may be available to plaintiffs in a Florida car accident lawsuit include the following:
- Economic damages: These types of damages involve out-of-pocket costs that a plaintiff may have had to pay to fix their injuries or damaged property, including medical expenses, mechanic bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, car dealership expenses, and so on.
- Non-economic damages: Non-economic damages are more likely to be connected to personal injury costs, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and reputational damages.
- Punitive damages: Florida happens to be one of the states that does recognize punitive damages in car accident lawsuits. The plaintiff must show that the other driver’s intentional misconduct or gross negligence caused the accident. The cap on punitive damages in Florida is three times the actual amount of damages.
Consult a Personal Injury Attorney
Car accident claims can sometimes result in highly complicated matters, but by consulting a local personal injury lawyer with experience in these types of cases, you will gain an invaluable resource; one that can protect your rights and assist you in recovering potential damages and other remedies.
Whether you are a driver, passenger, or pedestrian that was involved in the car crash, your lawyer can provide guidance to help you to determine the best course of action, collect evidence that supports your case, and can represent your best interests moving forward.
If you are located in Florida and are seeking relief from a car accident, then you should contact a Florida attorney as soon as possible. They can help you through the initial steps, assist you with preparing your case, speak with your insurance company, and provide representation in court on the matter.