Stories by car accident victims paint a grim picture of the pain and suffering they have to endure. Cases of severe bodily injury and death are some of the changes most accident victims face in the wake of a drunk driving car accident. Drunk driving is an offense in Florida, and there are laws set in place to curb the vice. Offenders get their day in court thanks to the team of prosecutors in Florida. The victims, however, suffer from their new painful reality without full compensation. Drunk drivers must pay for the suffering caused to the victims.
Our team at the Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney helps car accident victims seek justice for their losses. The consequences of the accident may not be undone. However, you can use the legal system to elevate the pain and injuries caused by drunk driving accidents.
What to Do When Involved In a Car Accident
Consider taking the following actions if you are involved in a car accident. You can also have another person take these steps on your behalf if you cannot do so.
- Notify the Police
A simple task, such as calling the police, is crucial. You may not be in a position to recall the events that transpired before the accident, but recording a statement with them helps have all the information recorded. Their task is to gather much information about the crash from the victims, eyewitnesses, and the drunk driver. Their reports will be beneficial when you seek compensation for your injuries and losses.
- Cooperate with the Authorities
Car crashes are incredibly emotional and intense moments. It is easy to be enraged or to panic. In spite of these challenges, it is advisable to remain calm and follow the instructions offered by the authorities. Be sure to give an honest account of the events before, during, and after the accident.
- Get the Driver's Information
This information pertains to the drunk driver's insurance details and contacts. You should also get the contact information of potential witnesses. Be sure also to take photos of the scene and any visible injuries.
- Seek Medical Assistance
There is an adrenaline rush that flows when in shock or intense situations such as a car accident. The downside of this energy surge is that you are not immediately aware of your injuries. Seeking medical help will be ideal in finding and treating your injuries. Be sure to get a report on the medical treatment they provided.
You will also need to hire a reliable personal injury attorney that will walk with you through all the steps of filing an injury claim and hold the other party liable for your damages.
Understanding the Elements in Drunk Driving Personal Injury Matters
Florida criminalizes driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. One will be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) if they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. If arrested, criminal proceedings may be brought against them, matters that are handled by the district attorneys in Florida.
The cap of 0.08 percent BAC level is in place to prevent drunk driving. The criminal system further helps punish offenders as a preventive measure in the fight against drunk driving. However, the civil process is a legal option available to the victims in drunk driving accidents to seek compensation for serious bodily injury. You can file a legal suit, a personal injury case, against a drunk driver through a personal injury attorney.
Knowing your legal options is based on your understanding of the legal process, which starts by understanding the following elements in drunk driving accident cases.
No-Fault Insurance Claim
Before following the suit process, you can file a claim with your insurance company. The request is often referred to as Personal Injury Protection claim (PIP).
Florida is a no-fault state. What this means to you is that as the victim in the car accident is that your insurance policy should foot the bill for the losses that you incurred after the accident, such as medical expenses. Your insurance company should also foot for lost income as well under the personal injury protection section of your policy. You can, however, avoid the insurance policy claim and seek legal redress. This option is only available if your injury meets the serious injury threshold. Your injury should be:
- Disfigurement, or permanent scarring,
- Significant and one that led to a permanent loss of bodily function.
While it is true that not all accidents are clear-cut as to who is responsible, some attorneys will exploit the comparative negligence law to defend drunk drivers. In their argument, they will try to prove that you too bear a portion of the blame for the accident. They may introduce eyewitness accounts, traffic camera footage, among other evidence in support of their argument. If they can prove it, the amount you were to receive, as compensation from the at-fault driver will be reduced. So how is negligence determined?
Two conditions have to be met to establish negligence.
- The drunk driver had a duty of care, which means that they should not put you, themselves, or any other motorist, including pedestrians, in harm's way. However, their actions breached the legal duty of care and caused you harm. The same duty of care is extended to you. Your actions should have in no way put other motorists, including yourself in danger.
- The breach of duty of care is the direct cause of your injuries and losses.
If it is proven that you bear a portion of the blame for the accident, the amount of compensation will be determined through the pure negligence rule. The rule stipulates that your benefits should be reduced by your degree of blame for the accident. For example, if it is determined that your actions contributed to 20 percent of the accident, the defendant is only obligated to pay you 80 percent of the total compensation determined by the court.
Liability is critical in winning a fair settlement in the personal injury matter. Liability is defined as a fault in personal injury matters. In the lawsuit, it should be clear which party is at fault with the aim focused on finding fault in the drunk driver's actions. Fault links the Driver's negligence to the injury you sustained. If it is proven that the accident was the Driver'sfault, the Driver'sinsurance company has little chance of opposing the settlement. Eyewitness accounts, car cameras, and police reports all serve as evidence sources that can offer a lead as to who is liable in the accident.
It is worth noting that most personal injury matters such as car accidents involving drunk drivers are settled in the absence of the court process. Personal injury attorneys are well equipped to ensure you get the maximum sum from your claims. However, should the out-of-court process fail, or is not viable, you can utilize the court process. Your attorney should help you maneuver through the process.
The matter of liability may be extended to bar owners under the Dram Shop Law, Florida’s Statute 768.125. Florida’s Dram Shop law states that any individual selling alcoholic beverages to another of legal age is not liable for any damage or injury that results from the actions of a drunk driver. However, the owner or the party selling the alcoholic beverage is responsible for a drunk driver's actions if the drunk driver was a minor or an alcohol addict and they willfully sold alcohol to the said minor. Social hosts at a private party are also not liable for the actions of a drunk driver who was served alcohol at the party. This principle holds even if the host was aware that the driver was an addict. However, the hosts can be held liable if the drunk driver from the party was a minor and was served alcohol at the event.
Stages in a Personal Injury Case
The court system has its benefits. Courts award higher settlements for accident victims than the out-of-court process. It is the reason why drunk drivers, through their attorneys, prefer the out-of-court process. Should you opt for the court route, it is best to familiarize yourself with the several steps to take when filing for a personal injury case. The following is a summary that will help you in that process.
Meeting a Personal Injury Attorney
Start by identifying a personal injury attorney. During the meeting, be sure to give them all the information that relates to the accident over and above any other information they may request. Attorneys use such details to gauge the merits of the case, and the probability of success should the matter proceed to trial. They will be particularly interested in the medical reports from the accident and information about your insurance coverage. Further, the details are helpful when the attorney’s team carries out its independent investigations.
Filling a Personal Injury Claim
If your attorney is satisfied that they have a case against the drunk driver, they will begin the trial process. The process starts with filing a claim with the civil courts. Florida Statute 95.11 (3) sets four years as the statute of limitations for a personal injury matter. It means that you can only file the case in civil court within four years after the date of the accident.
Your attorney files a complaint as the first legal document in the personal injury matter. The complaint will detail the facts that give rise to the claims. It will also contain a section titled Prayer for Relief or Demand For Judgment. Details of what you want from the courts such as damages will be stipulated under the Demand for Judgment section. The courts will then issue summons detailing when and where the matter will be litigated.
Fact-finding and Discovery
This stage involves gathering facts and the circumstances in the case. Your attorney will depose the defendant. The possibility of a strong case or lack thereof will be determined at this stage.
It is at this stage that you can exercise your rights by demanding a jury trial. A grant of this request by the judge opens the door to the jury selection process. Both the defense and you the plaintiff, through your attorneys, get to question jurors to determine if they are fit for the case. Once completed, the case proceeds to trial.
At the end of a trial, the court must pronounce itself on what damages you ought to be paid for the injuries sustained. The courts will further state the sums you should receive all based on the circumstances and the facts in the case.
Types of Damages Courts Award
The court process pays out damages in two forms, general or special damages. As the name suggests, special damages are paid for specific harm that you face. They include lost wages, medical expenses, car repair costs, lost economic opportunities due to your injury, or damage to your property. On the other hand, general damages cater for non-economic losses. Such losses are inclusive of:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Emotional distress
- Physical disability
- Mental anguish
Whereas it may be easy to quantify the value of specific damages, it is not so for general damages. General damages are subjective in their very nature, in that the value of damages stated for the same injury is different in people's eyes. It thus makes it difficult to quantify the actual value in general damages. In practice, the amount awarded for general damages, especially pain and suffering, is pegged on specified circumstances. They include:
- The severity of the injuries sustained
- The time needed to recover from the injuries
- Sums claimed in special damages
- Possible consequences of the injury
One method used by several attorneys to calculate the sums due to the pain and suffering is the multiplier method. It involves using a multiplier on the special damages awarded. In doing so, serious injuries are easily quantifiable and the less severe injuries, which are often difficult to quantify, are catered for.
In their analysis, the courts are specific about what injuries they consider for compensation. It is crucial to have a preview of the said injuries.
Car Accident Injuries Catered for by the Compensation Paid
Car accident dynamics vary, and so do the injuries. There are common injuries to which are used as the basis of the compensation payout. They include:
Chest and Neck Injuries
You can suffer both soft tissue and deep tissue neck injury depending on the severity of the accident. Whiplash, as an example of a neck soft tissue injury, results when the impact of the crash causes your head to snap fiercely backward and forward. Such an injury is common in rear-end accidents. Whiplash is also referred to as cervical strain, hyperextension injury, or cervical sprain. Such harm often leads to dizziness, headaches, memory problems, neck stiffness, difficulty in concentrating, or problems with balancing.
Chest injuries too are grave. Some victims end up sustaining broken ribs, internal organ failure, collapsed lungs, internal bleeding, and traumatic cardiac arrests. The compensation packages should take care of the medical costs in handling such consequences.
Back and Head Injuries
Head and back injuries result in long-lasting problems. With a head injury, you may suffer from cognitive issues, vision and hearing loss or their brain injuries. Back injuries too could lead to life-changing effects such as paralysis, loss of hand and feet function as well as nerve damage.
Other Related Injuries
These are other injuries that are not classified in the above categories. Such bodily harm is categorized under mental distress. They include emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorders. As seen from above, compensation is also paid for emotional scarring.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against a Drunk Driver
Accidents have two possible outcomes in personal injury cases. They can result in either injuries or death. If the victim in the car crash dies, the immediate family members or dependents can sue the drunk driver under a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death lawsuits seek to find drunk drivers culpable for their recklessness. A successful suit compensates the victim’s loved ones in damages that help cater to medical and funeral expenses. Further, the sums also pay for lost wages owing to the fatality to cushion them against financial instability. In summary, therefore, the compensation sums help loved ones cope with the new post-death reality.
Compensation in Florida is known as damages. A jury awards the sums, an amount the courts believe will be adequate in taking care of the financial needs of the family as they mourn the loss of their loved one. However, these sums can be agreed upon and paid to the victim’s family or dependents in out-of-court negotiations.
Florida Statutes, Section 768.21 details various compensations you or your loved ones can claim in a wrongful death case. They include:
- Compensation for survivors for the value of support and services they lost as a result of the wrongful death. This package is inclusive of future losses and interests.
- Compensation for the surviving spouse for their emotional pain as well as suffering. The damages awarded should also cater for lost companionship and protection.
- Damages awarded to minors to cater for lost parental instruction, companionship, and guidance. Pain and suffering are too included in this payout.
- Any survivors will have their medical bills catered for in full. Further, in the case of death, the compensation should provide for the funeral expenses.
- The representatives of the victims can recover wages, income, and earnings lost because of the death of their loved ones.
- Creditors or any other person owed by the victim in the accident can claim for a sum to have their debt recovered. However, this claim is honored under the discretion of the courts and subject to them meeting the conditions of the probate law with regards to the claims.
Please note, when you are involved in a car accident, the at-fault Driver's insurance provider will pressure you into an early settlement. Accepting such a settlement without fully analyzing your medical situation, as well as all other post-accident effects puts you at a disadvantage. The compensation you receive will not be commensurate to the impact of the accident, however minor.
It is common practice for the insurance provider to pressure the victims of an accident into signing a release liability document upon agreeing on a settlement. Once you append your signature on the agreement, you deny yourself any chances of seeking compensation for an injury later. Therefore, prudence dictates that you seek medical treatment, stabilize, and document your financial losses. These actions will ensure that you are not denied the amount you deserve in the compensation payout.
Insurance firms would rather avoid a jury or a judge trial. The sums awarded in such cases are higher than they are willing to pay for. It is thus possible to seek for higher sums during negotiations. It is also common practice that the insurance the sums in the claim are not paid in full. There is a limit as to the amounts they can pay, especially if there are several victims in the case. All victims will have to share the amounts offered by the insurance company.
Find a Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
When you are the victim in a car accident through the actions of a drunk driver, you have much to deal with. Your recovery from your injuries, the financial losses you have to handle, as well as the pain and suffering that comes with facing a traumatic event. The matter is further complicated when you have to deal with the loss of a loved one. You need a personal injury attorney to help you navigate the legal process, get you the compensation you need as you focus on stabilizing and recovering from your injuries or dealing with the loss of your loved one. If you need help on personal injury matters in Jacksonville, get in touch with the Jacksonville Personal Injury Attorney at 904-800-7557. We are ready to hold the drunk driver responsible and ensure you aren’t stressed further as you recuperate.