What to Do If You Are in a Car Accident in Florida?

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 What to Do After a Car Accident in Florida?

Car accidents can be minor incidents or major ones. If a person is involved in a car accident in Florida, they should take the following five steps to ensure they have followed proper protocols and are protected:

  • Report the Accident to Law Enforcement: If the motor vehicle accident involves injuries or property damage that totals over $500, then the parties involved must report the accident to law enforcement.
    • In order to report the accident, the parties should place a call to the nearest police department, sheriff’s department, or the Florida Highway Patrol. If the accident results in serious injuries or other highly dangerous situations (e.g., leaking gas tanks), the parties involved in the accident should dial 911 immediately.
    • Of course, it can be difficult at the time of an accident to know exactly what the total damage may amount to, so to be on the safe side, if the accident is anything other than the most minor of incidents, a person should call for a response from law enforcement;
  • Ask for Information: A person wants to be sure to get the contact information of everyone involved in the car accident as well as everyone who may have witnessed the event.
    • 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). This information will be useful if the accident leads to a lawsuit or even negotiations for a settlement;
  • File a Claim with the Insurance Company: Immediately after an accident, each of the drivers involved should file claims with their respective insurance companies. This is true even if a person feels they were not the ones responsible for causing the accident.
    • This is because Florida is a no-fault insurance state. So, a person’s own auto insurance company should pay most of their auto accident claim up to a $10,000 limit, even if the person is not at fault. Then, if the other driver is at fault, that driver’s insurance company should pay to compensate the driver who is not at fault for any remaining injury or damage that exceeds the driver’s policy limits.
    • After claims are made, the insurance companies 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;
  • Seek Immediate Medical Treatment: Florida has special personal injury laws that will be discussed in further detail below. Under these laws, drivers must carry auto insurance at all times. This is to ensure that the driver’s own injuries and other 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. The medical records for these visits may be useful to show that they attempted to mitigate their damages in future lawsuits.
      • Additionally, it should be noted that passengers who travel with a driver who has auto insurance should be able to recover for their injuries from the driver’s insurance.
      • Again, 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;
  • Get a Settlement Offer from the Insurance Company: Finally, the drivers’ insurance companies should provide settlement offers consistent with their obligations under their policies and Florida law. The offer indicates how much an insurance company thinks it should pay to compensate all victims for their property damage and/or injuries resulting from the accident.
    • If a person has injuries or property damage that are significant, they want to consult a local personal injury lawyer before accepting any settlement offer. The lawyer can help the person analyze the offer and ensure it is enough to compensate the person for all of their losses.
    • If an insurance company’s offer is not enough to fully compensate a person for their property damage and/or injuries, then the lawyer can help a person negotiate a better settlement amount with the insurance claims adjuster.

Are There Any Specific Florida Car Accident Laws to Consider?

There are two special Florida car accident laws of which both drivers and their passengers should be aware: 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 compensation for their own injuries is covered, even if the accident was not their fault. A driver who is injured in an auto accident must seek medical attention within 14 days of the accident in order to receive any PIP benefits.

It is important to keep in mind that some injuries may not have symptoms immediately, so a driver should, at the very least, consult their doctor for a simple check-up. The driver’s injuries may not appear until after 14 days, and they may not have consulted a medical practitioner. If this is the case, they may not have an opportunity to claim PIP benefits for their injuries.

Also, as briefly mentioned above, under Florida personal injury laws, passengers who travel with drivers who have PIP insurance coverage are also able to recover PIP benefits from the driver’s PIP insurance carrier. 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 person has to file a lawsuit. Specifically, in Florida, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit for a car accident is four years. A victim 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 Happens if the Person At-Fault in an Accident Has No Insurance?

In Florida, all drivers are required to have car insurance in order to drive legally. Drivers who do not have the insurance coverage required by Florida law may have to pay for damage to another driver’s vehicle as well as for medical treatment for their injuries. In addition, they may even suffer criminal consequences for driving without the insurance required by law. Their driver’s license may even be revoked or suspended.

Specifically, in Florida, a person must have an insurance policy that covers the minimum liability, which includes the following:

  • $10,000 per person for bodily injury;
  • $10,000 for property damage;
  • $20,000 liability per accident.

Because Florida is a no-fault insurance state, a person’s own auto insurance company should pay the majority of any auto accident claim they have up to the $10,000 limit. If the other driver is at fault, that driver’s insurance company should cover the remaining damages.

If the other driver is uninsured, a person’s option is to file a personal injury lawsuit naming the uninsured driver as the defendant. The at-fault driver should pay to cover a person’s financial losses.

The problem is that the at-fault driver may not have the money or other assets needed to compensate the other driver for any or all of their losses. This may be true, especially if the accident was a serious one.

However, if this is a person’s only option, they may pursue a personal injury lawsuit. If they get a judgment in their favor, they can pursue the at-fault driver for the money they owe as follows:

  • Place a lien on a non-homestead property;
  • Garnish their wages;
  • Garnish their bank accounts;
  • Seize personal property with a levy.

The person may also try to have the state suspend the uninsured motorist’s driver’s license until any judgment or negotiated settlement is completely paid. Again, a Florida attorney should be able to guide a person through this process.

What Defenses Might the Other Side Raise?

Some potential defenses that a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit may be able to raise against liability for a car accident 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 action that, if stopped, could have prevented the accident, then the defendant may be able to raise assumption of risk as a defense to their liability;
  • Contributory or Modified Comparative Negligence: Only a handful of states follow a full contributory negligence theory. In these states, if a victim is even 1% at fault, they will be barred from recovering from their injuries. However, if the state in which a case is filed follows a modified comparative negligence theory, the victim is barred only from recovering if they are 51% or more at fault for an accident.
    • It should be noted that Florida is a pure comparative fault state, so a victim is able to recover compensation for all of their damages even if they are 99% at fault for an accident;
  • Lack of Proof or Fault: If the victim cannot prove that the defendant-driver caused the accident or that they were at fault, then the defendant can raise this as an affirmative defense to the victim’s claim. This can protect the defendant from being liable for any resulting damages;
  • Emergency Conditions: If emergency conditions caused the accident, then this may act as a defense to reduce what the victim can recover. Or it may result in the dismissal of the entire case against the defendant;
  • Failure to Mitigate Damages: If a victim failed to seek medical attention or intentionally did nothing to prevent an injury from worsening, then a defendant can assert this as a defense. It would have the effect of reducing the amount of damages that the defendant might be required to pay.

What Remedies Are Available in a Florida Car Accident Lawsuit?

Some remedies that may be available to victims in a Florida car accident lawsuit include the following:

  • Economic Damages: These damages compensate a victim for the costs of medical treatment for their injuries or repairing damaged property, such as doctor bills, car mechanic bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and the like.
  • 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: In order to recover punitive damages in Florida, the victim must show that the other driver engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence, which caused the accident. The cap on punitive damages in Florida is three times the amount of actual compensatory damages.

Do I Need a Lawyer After a Car Accident in Florida?

If you have been involved in a car accident in Florida, you want to consult a Florida car accident lawyer with experience in these types of cases. LegalMatch.com can quickly connect you to an experienced lawyer who will prove to be an invaluable resource who can protect your rights and assist you in recovering potential damages and other remedies.

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