An auto accident can occur anywhere. Some accidents cause minor injuries, whereas others result in severe and life-changing consequences. On top of facing an extended recovery time, you could also incur hefty medical expenses or be unable to return to work. Fortunately, if a negligent party injured you, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. A successful lawsuit will compensate you for both economic and non-economic losses incurred. However, to realize this, you need a proficient attorney like the Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney on your side.
How Liability Works Following an Auto Accident in Florida: No-Fault Rule
The first thing you need to understand is that Florida follows the no-fault vehicle insurance rule. That means after a vehicle accident, the insurance coverage pays all losses of those insured by personal injury protection (PIP) up the policy limit irrespective of who is at fault.
It is worth noting that a personal injury protection claim has a limit as far as compensation for pain and suffering originating from the auto accident is concerned.
However, you can file a claim against the liable party and receive compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, as long as your injuries are serious. For your injury to be considered severe, you should experience at least one of the following due to the accident:
- Bone fracture
- Significant disfigurement
- Permanent limitation to use a body member or organ
- Substantial restriction to use a body system or function
- Significantly full disability for ninety days
A personal injury claim in Florida is based on negligence. Typically, negligence occurs when the at-fault party's conduct falls below the standard of a reasonable individual and hurts you. To show negligence, you must prove the elements below:
- That the defendant owed you a duty of care
- The defendant acted carelessly or didn't uphold that duty
- The negligence played a significant role in hurting you
The phrase duty of care can be defined as the fact that persons are lawfully supposed to stop foreseeable injuries to others when it's reasonable for them to do so. For instance, a driver has a lawful duty of care to operate their car with caution and while not under the influence of alcohol.
Understanding Comparative Negligence in Auto Accident Claims
If the other motorist was entirely responsible for the accident, the personal injury claim outcome is predictable. The motorist through their insurance provider will compensate you for lost income, medical expenses, and other losses you have incurred. So, what takes place if you were partially liable for the car accident?
The Sunshine State uses a pure comparative fault system when multiple parties are responsible for the crash. In this case, the jury will calculate each party's percentage of liability and the total amount of the victim's damages based on the evidence presented. Under this rule, the damages award will be reduced by a percentage equivalent to the plaintiff's portion of the blame.
For example, the judge may decide the total amount of your damages is $200,000, and you are fifty percent accountable for the car accident. Following the pure comparative fault system, you will receive $100,000 or fifty percent of the two hundred thousand dollars.
With the pure negligence rule, you will receive compensation even when you're found to be more accountable for the crash than other parties involved. For example, you technically have a right to receive ten percent of the total damages, if the judge decides you were ninety percent responsible.
Pure negligence rule also guides an insurance adjuster when evaluating your claim. The insurance adjuster will make a decision based on what is likely to take place in a court of law. However, that should not stop you from filing a lawsuit. Instead, speak to a competent lawyer about the situation and the way forward.
Steps to Take After an Auto Accident
When a car accident occurs, emotions could be high and injuries severe. Nevertheless, there are essential steps you need to take at the accident scene and soon after. They include:
- Staying at the Accident Scene
Do not leave the scene of the accident until it is suitable to do so. If you do, especially when a person is severely injured or has died, you risk being charged with hit and run.
Before assessing how your car has been damaged, ensure every person involved in the crash is okay. Obtain medical care for those who require it. If an individual has been injured in the back or neck or is unconscious, do not move them until medical practitioners arrive.
- Call Law Enforcers
If there is substantial physical injury, property damage, or even death, you should contact the police. Make sure that the police fill a police report. Remember to take note of the responding cop's name and their badge number.
- Exchange Contact Details
Obtain the name, address, license plate numbers, driver's license number, insurance details, among other necessary information of all parties involved. When talking to the liable driver, be cooperative and cordial.
However, you should not apologize at the accident scene. For instance, using the term "sorry" could be taken as an admission of legal accountability for what occurred. Often, it is not clear who caused the accident immediately after the crash.
- Talk to the Witnesses
Ask all the witnesses what they saw. If possible, obtain their names and contact information.
You can also ask residents if they have ever witnessed any other car accident in the same area.
- Seek Medical Attention
Seeking medical care is an essential step that should not wait. Medical care is critical because you have to mitigate your damages. Take note of all medical practitioners who treated you as well as medical providers who referred you to other medical caregivers. Make sure you keep account of the medications and treatments you receive. Additionally, get copies of medical expenses and reports. They will come in handy when proving your medical bills later.
While medical bills are simple to document, it is tricky to prove pain and suffering. Therefore, you need to keep a record of how the injuries have affected your life. In your records, include all activities you cannot perform, describe how your injuries have impacted your family life, and all missed workdays.
- Retain a Competent Personal Injury Attorney
Sunshine State is a tricky state as far as personal injury law is concerned. Therefore, you should engage an attorney who is experienced and well-versed in personal injury matters.
Your attorney should assist you in maximizing the recovery if injured as well as defend you if you are at fault.
- Notify the Insurance Firm
It is also essential to notify your insurer about the accident. Tell the insurer the truth as well as the level of the injuries sustained. Make sure you explain the accident's facts clearly. Get and review the police report so that you can highlight who caused the accident.
- Take Photographs
Take photos of any damage to your car immediately after the collision. Also, take pictures of all the visible injuries you have sustained. The photographs will assist the insurance adjuster in determining how much you should recover.
- Be Cautious when Talking about the Auto Accident
Do not discuss the accident with any person apart from your personal injury attorney, the police, and your insurance provider. Do not speak with representatives from another insurer without your lawyer's knowledge. If the other insurer contacts you, ask them politely to reach your attorney, who will make arrangements for an interview.
Also, avoid recording statements with the insurer at all costs. The statement could be used against you.
- Be Careful with Initial Settlement Offers
Be cautious when an insurance firm offers you a settlement offer. Make sure all the physical injuries are treated. Treatment is necessary because some injuries manifest or appear after a couple of days, weeks, or months.
Also, make sure you consult your lawyer before signing settlement documents.
Personal Injury Claim Process
Personal injury claims in Jacksonville start with a demand letter where the plaintiff requests compensation for the losses incurred from the liable party. If the insurer denies the claim or a settlement is not reached, your case will go to trial.
Sending the Demand Letter
When you are confident that you are entitled to compensation, it is time to get the process started. You will be required to submit a demand letter, which is the focal point of the personal injury lawsuit. In the demand letter, you will lay out your arguments to the insurer why they ought to compensate you. The reasons consist of:
- The reason the liable party is accountable
- An overview of injuries
- How much wages you have lost due to time off your work
- Necessary medical treatments and their costs
- Other damages suffered such as pain and suffering
The insurer will review your claim and then decide whether to deny or pay the claim. Common reasons why insurance firms deny claims include:
- They think the crash was the plaintiff's fault
- Absence of evidence
- They believe the injuries are not due to the car accident
If the insurance provider fails to compensate you or offers an unsatisfactory amount, then your personal injury attorney should help you file a complaint, which is the next step.
Filing a Complaint
This step notifies the liable party and the court that you will be filing a claim. Although most formal complaints are filed against insurance companies, a complaint can be brought against a government entity, individual, or business.
Your formal complaint should include:
- Parties involved
- Court jurisdiction over your case
- Liable party's legal claims
- Evidence and facts that support the claim
- Demand for judgment that states how much you are seeking
After filing the complaint, you have thirty days to serve the defendant with the complaint. The delivery should be done in person via a process server. Using a process server will help you have proof of receipt.
After the liable party has been notified that a claim has been brought, they have thirty days to answer your complaint. Failure to respond, the court of law will rule a judgment in your favor. If the insurer responds, your case will go to the next step.
Discovery is a necessary process where information about your case is discovered. During discovery, both your attorney and the defendant's attorney will collect evidence, talk to witnesses, question all parties involved, and investigate your claim.
The questioning of all parties involved is called deposition. Depending on the case's circumstances, it can take the form of an Examination Under Oath.
The lawyers will also collect the police report, your income information, insurance reports, and medical reports.
The information collected will assist in understanding what took place as well as calculate the total amount of damages you are owed.
Moreover, it is during this stage that either party can bring a motion in a court. The motion could be brought when trying to have your case delayed, dismissed, or to have a judgment reached.
Many personal injury claims do not reach this point. They are settled through planned negotiations known as mediation before trial.
A settlement refers to the agreement between two (2) parties to close a case founded on specific arrangements. Usually, you will agree to drop your case in return for compensation. After the compensation amount is agreed upon, it is put in writing, and a settlement is reached. Then the court reviews this information, and it becomes a lawfully binding contract.
The contract could have stipulations such as:
- An agreement not to seek any other compensation in the future, and
- An agreement to not reveal the settlement amount
Should you fail to settle, your case will proceed to trial. The judge will listen to both parties and then make a decision. The judge will decide either:
- The accused is accountable for your injuries as well as how much they should pay you, or
- The defendant isn't answerable and then dismiss your case
Trials are time-consuming and expensive. That is why most cases are settled beforehand.
After a judgment is made, each party has limited time to file an appeal or admit the decision.
Statute of Limitations
Like most states, Sunshine State has set a deadline for the amount of time a victim has to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party. The period is known as the statute of limitations.
In Jacksonville, you have four (4) years after the date of the crash to bring a lawsuit. If you fail to file a case within this time-frame, the judge will most likely refuse to listen to your case. Sometimes victims may not realize that they have sustained injuries for some time after the accident. In that instance, the filing window will be extended.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim against a Government Agency
If a Florida state government entity caused your accident, you should notify the responsible agency as well as the Department of Financial Services about your claim within three (3) years after the date of the accident. The notice should be in writing. Also, no lawsuit should be brought until the investigation period is over (it takes 180 days), unless your claim is denied.
You can use any of the optional claim forms from the Florida Division of Risk Management or a letter that describes the accident's date, circumstances, and losses incurred. The claim notice should be provided on paper.
If your claim is denied, you should file a personal injury lawsuit against the government authority within three (3) years from the injury's date. However, if your claim is a wrongful death claim, you have two years.
Different Damages Awarded in Personal Injury Claims
If your personal injury lawsuit is successful, you will collect damages or financial compensation from the liable party. Damages are tailored to put you back to the position you would have been in should the car accident not taken place.
Although the types of damages awarded depend on the plaintiff's injury, common damages in Florida include:
- Economic Damages
As the name goes, economic damages seek to compensate for the costs incurred due to the injury. Also known as special compensatory damages, they vary significantly from one person to another.
They cover all losses or expenses related to an injury.
Discussed below are various types of economic damages:
If you are undergoing treatment or testing, you should receive medical attention of different kinds like physical therapy or hospital stays. Medical expenses can be costly, particularly if the plaintiff has been disabled permanently and will require lifelong nursing attention or adaptive devices. As a result, the defendant should reimburse medical expenses.
The medical expenses damages should include all bills you have incurred while receiving treatment as well as your future treatment costs.
Another damage awarded is lost income or lost wages. It entails compensation for work days you missed due to the injury; you are also entitled to compensation if you were unable to take sick time or go on a vacation.
If you are permanently unable to return to work as a result of the accident, the defendant should compensate you for the income you would have made throughout your lifetime. Your disability reduces your future earning capacity, even if it is for some time.
- Non-Economic Damages
Also referred to as to general damages, non-economic damages are intended to compensate for non-monetary losses incurred due to the accident. Common types of non-economic damages include:
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering can be either emotional or physical. Physical pain and suffering is the pain you experience from the actual physical injuries. Emotional pain and suffering, on the other hand, stems from being physically injured.
How Pain and Suffering Damages are Calculated in Jacksonville
It is hard to measure pain and suffering damages. The damage is subjective and does not have a standard of measurement. The judge is instructed to use their judgment in determining the value of damages a plaintiff should recover. As a result, the judge will use the following factors when assigning the value of the damages in question:
- The severity of the injury
- Plaintiff's age
- Whether the plaintiff had a pre-existing condition
- The total amount of economic losses incurred
Sometimes a multiplier method is used to get the value of the damage. Usually, your attorney will multiply your economic damages by a given number, between 1 and 5. For instance, if you have incurred $40,000 in medical expenses, your personal injury lawyer could argue that you are entitled to five times that amount (two hundred thousand dollars) for pain and suffering.
It is worth noting that the state of Florida doesn't have a cap on pain and suffering damages in car accidents.
Sometimes an auto accident can have an emotional impact on a victim. Usually, emotional distress should be proven using a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder or psychiatric records.
Loss of Consortium
Your loved ones should be awarded loss of consortium damages if the injuries have altered you significantly. The goal is to compensate for the loss of companionship, affection, love, or ability to perform household chores.
- Punitive Damages
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for acting egregiously. These damages are awarded on top of the compensatory amount.
In Florida, punitive damages are limited to three times the total value of your compensatory damages.
Getting Legal Representation Near Me
Being involved in an auto accident can be traumatic irrespective of whether the accident was severe or a fender bender. The accident could include property damage, physical injuries, or even death. Moving forward following the crash can also be hard in the face of physical trauma and insurance providers. As a result, you should consult an experienced personal injury attorney who will guide you on the steps to take. At Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney, we can help you fully assess your damages, identify who caused the accident, and recover fair compensation. For more information, contact us at 904-800-7557.