Serious collisions can leave the people involved with permanent losses and devastating injuries, resulting in expenses that are impossible to pay. But as far as pursuing justice and compensation for injuries in Florida is concerned, what you might be eligible for will be based on whether or not you meet the definition of a serious injury. So what is deemed a serious injury in an accident? We explain this in this blog.
The Definition of Serious Injury Under Florida Personal Injury Law
Most Florida auto accident lawsuits or claims are resolved under the no-fault law. Florida is among the few states that have adopted the no-fault system. This system requires that all motorists possess insurance that can cover their injuries in the event of a crash, irrespective of fault. However, there are various noteworthy exceptions. When you have been hurt in a collision, you want to understand the "tort threshold" or "serious injury threshold."
Florida personal injury law requires that you demonstrate you suffered an injury that satisfies the "tort threshold" or "serious injury threshold" criteria for your personal injury claim or suit to be considered viable. That is, you need to prove you suffered an injury that meets the definition of a severe injury under Florida law.
Per Florida Statute (Fla.Stat) 627.737, a serious injury causes:
- Permanent and significant loss of an essential bodily function.
- Permanent and significant disfigurement or scarring.
- Permanent injury.
- A reasonable extent of medical probability of death.
Should you experience scarring or disfigurement, lose an essential body part, or be partially or wholly disabled for ninety or more days, you might be eligible. A victim must also suffer an injury that was a direct outcome of the liable party's action and must have resulted from the collision. The Florida serious injury threshold is inapplicable to economic damages suffered as a direct consequence of the collision.
Common Types of Injuries Considered Serious
There are several types of accidents; therefore, the possible resulting injuries vary. Prevalent examples of serious injuries resulting from an auto crash include:
Severe Spine Injury
As part of the central nervous system, our spines collaborate with our brains. The brain can be thought of as the body's command center. Besides conveying signals to the body, the spine also permits the brain to transmit signals back to the body.
Keeping the spine healthy is critical for physical and cognitive functioning. In an automobile accident, the spinal cord is highly likely to sustain injuries in several areas. Various factors can negatively affect the vertebrae, spinal column discs, and ligaments.
Spinal damage can permanently alter a person's strength and sensing abilities. A spinal cord injury is graded depending on its effect on the victim. Spine-related injuries can be categorized into various degrees of seriousness. A complete spine injury happens when someone cannot control their physical movement under the injury area. The following could happen after a spine injury:
- Muscle spasms.
- Diminished or loss of mobility.
- Weakening or loss of sensation.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Difficulty breathing.
Severe Extremity Injuries (Amputation or Limb Loss)
An unexpected impact may lead to a leg striking the dashboard, door, or front seats if a vehicle has little legroom. Accidents such as these can result in damaged joints and broken bones. The impact may cause a victim to throw their shoulder against the vehicle's door, suffering similar results. Limb amputation may be required in extreme-case scenarios.
An amputation refers to losing a limb (arm, leg, toe, finger, or hand) during a car crash and entails dismembering the injured digit or limb. Despite being fairly rare, vehicle accidents result in amputations regularly. Collisions cause considerable damage. In case of an accident, all cars are made of sharp metal and glass, so the victim's body parts could be easily amputated or cut.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
TBIs are common in vehicle accidents. High-speed accident victims may knock their heads against windshields, side windows, and steering wheels. An unexpected jolt on the head could result in closed-head injuries like a concussion, potentially leading to more permanent brain damage. TBIs cause the deaths of many people every year. Many others end up with long-term disabilities.
A front-seat passenger's or driver's chest could be injured during a collision if it hits the car's dashboard or steering wheel. This may lead to broken ribs too. Additionally, passengers or drivers may be suddenly shoved against their shoulder harness or seat belt, resulting in severe contusions.
Other injuries described as severe are broken bones, severe burns, internal bleeding, disfigurement or permanent scarring, and organ damage or internal injuries.
The seriousness and type of injury sustained in an accident can be assessed by analyzing various factors, such as:
- Were the parties in the accident wearing seat belts?
- The direction the car occupants’ bodies and heads were facing when the collision occurred. That is, were they facing a particular direction or straight ahead?
- What type of collision or impact was involved?
- Did the automobile involved in the collision have airbags, and did they deploy?
- The speed at which the collision occurred (was it a high-speed or low-speed crash)?
If you have been involved in an accident and are wondering whether your injury is severe, consult a personal injury lawyer. You will also want to seek prompt medical attention.
Damages You Can Recover Due To Severe Injuries
If your injury meets or surpasses the definition of a serious injury, your personal injury claim will fall outside the no-fault system. That means you will also recover non-economic damages in addition to economic damages. By suing the party liable for your collision or filing a claim, you may recover damages like, among others:
- Medical costs for immediate medical attention, like short-term stays at the hospital due to your accident.
- Longer-term medical bills, like ongoing doctor check-ups, rehabilitation, medication, physical therapy services, general medical care, and operations.
- Lost consortium for spouses of crash victims whose romantic or physical relationship has been negatively impacted by injuries.
- Pain and suffering damages, like emotional trauma and mental anguish resulting from the accident, for example, PTSD.
Other Common Minor Injuries
If you suffered an injury that is not considered serious, you will use your insurance to pursue damages through Florida's no-fault law.
Per Fla.Stat. 672.7407, the state's no-fault system means every motorist in Florida is lawfully required to have a minimum PIP (Personal Injury Protection) insurance coverage of ten thousand dollars. This is meant to cover compensation for individuals involved in more minor collisions, irrespective of whether they were to blame.
Some motorists opt to purchase more extensive insurance coverage. But with the stipulated minimum PIP insurance coverage, you could recover the following:
- 80 percent of medical expenses capped at eight thousand dollars.
- 60 percent of lost income.
- Up to two thousand five hundred for more minor injuries.
- Five thousand dollars in wrongful death benefits, for example, burial costs and funeral expenses if the policyholder is a wrongful death victim.
Examples of injuries that are considered less severe include:
- Soft tissue injury— it is intentionally vague to refer to them as "soft tissue injury." Soft tissue-related injuries resulting from a collision can impact any muscle, tendon, or ligament. An example of an injury to the soft tissue is ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury.
- Fractured bones— even though some fractures to the bone could be life-altering, most are deemed minor injuries. Slight fractures can still be extremely painful compared to more catastrophic bone fractures. Often, treating broken bones that are not immediately noticeable or have not broken the skin is much easier.
- Scrapes and cuts— large lacerations can be deadly. However, most accident victims emerge from collisions with slight injuries like scrapes and cuts. Ensure you care properly for these injuries and, if necessary, seek medical care. If left untreated, a wound may become more severe or infected.
- Whiplash— Whiplash refers to neck-related injuries. Head movements that happen too violently or rapidly cause whiplash. Whiplash victims frequently feel their necks crack when they suffer injuries. Many victims recover faster after suffering whiplash. Other people might experience chronic neck-related pain their entire lives.
Proving Severe Injury
If you sustained a severe injury, you must demonstrate that your condition meets the serious injury threshold; therefore, you are eligible to recover general damages in your claim. The evidence required to demonstrate this successfully includes the following:
- A medical professional's statement,
- Records of medical treatment,
- Expert medical testimony, et cetera.
To obtain this evidence, you will need to follow certain steps. You will need to:
Obtain a Medical Diagnosis or Opinion
An opinion or diagnosis by a healthcare professional is the primary way to prove your injuries are serious. You should obtain this information for bodily injuries and any mental injuries. The standards for satisfying the serious injury definition are vague. They do not detail the specific injuries that might be eligible and those that are not. Injuries vary across people who sustain them, and the same injury may have devastating repercussions for one party but not the other. Thus, a diagnosis by a medical professional will be critical as far as proving the degree of any injuries and how they have affected your life.
You also want to keep all the medical records explaining your expenses. These records will assist you in calculating the appropriate amount of compensation you ought to recover. These medical records include medical testing, doctors' reports, surgeries, X-rays, and ongoing medical care.
Visit a Doctor Within Fourteen Days
Per Fla.Stat. 627.736, a healthcare professional must assess you within fourteen days of your accident if you aim to pursue damages for a severe injury. If you fail to seek medical attention, the at-fault party could argue that you failed to do so because your injury was likely not serious enough to satisfy the severe injury threshold.
Consequently, always book a doctor's appointment or go to the hospital immediately after an auto accident. A medical professional will ensure there are no gaps in your treatment. Occasionally, an injury can take days to manifest. They may also be concealed by your body's adrenaline or the mere fact that your body might still be in shock. Thus, it is always ideal to obtain medical care, whether or not you feel perfect after being involved in an auto crash.
Keep Track of Your Expenses and Injuries
Whereas you will require a medical professional's statement to corroborate the seriousness of your injury or injuries, always ensure to keep further documentation for yourself. Scheduling regular doctor's appointments will enable you to monitor your injuries' progress and record how they impact your life. Ensure you follow your medical professional's recommendations and store your records securely.
Also, it could take several months or years to settle your claim or lawsuit. Thus, you want to take ongoing videos and photos of your injuries, especially any bodily damage like scarring and bruising. The pictures and videos will come in handy when proving how severe your injuries are.
Apart from medical records, save any other documentation associated with the crash, as you may require the information as evidence in court. Examples of documentation you should save are police reports, witness contact details, receipts for the services associated with the crash, bills associated with medical care, and photos of the collision scene.
Maintain copies of correspondence with your employer to demonstrate the number of workdays you missed because of your injury. The other people involved in the accident may also contact you based on the facts surrounding the accident. Generally, the contact will be through email, phone calls, or letters from their insurer and yours. Keep these records.
Available Benefits for Serious Injury Victims
When a serious injury results in a disability, the victim may file additional benefits claims with various bodies, like the Social Security Administration. Once you claim disability benefits after being in a personal injury collision, those records might help prove that you suffered a permanent injury. Similarly, if you cannot return to work because of your injury and claim unemployment benefits, these records might support your personal injury case.
Contact a Skilled Jacksonville Car Accident Lawyer Near Me
Florida's laws regarding what is and is not a serious injury can be confusing. Consequently, when it comes to auto accident claims, insurance providers frequently take advantage and shut down victims who cannot tell the difference while seeking compensation.
At Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney, we can help explain a serious injury and determine how your car insurance policy and Florida laws apply to your case. We can also help you collect the necessary evidence to prove the liable party's responsibility and pursue the damages you deserve. Contact us today at 904-800-7557 for a complimentary consultation and case evaluation with our skilled lawyers.