After an accident, people usually have many questions regarding their legal rights and responsibilities. Here are some of the more common questions those who have been in a car accident want answers to.
Do I Have a Legal Case?
There is no one size fits all answer; it will depend on the circumstances of your accident. If you have been seriously injured and/or your car has been seriously damaged, it is more likely you do have a case, but you may have a legal claim in many circumstances. It will depend on the extent of your injuries, whether you have any permanent injuries, if there is another driver at fault, if you have any comparative amount of negligence for the accident, and whether the driver of the other car has insurance. If you are not sure, many lawyers will give you a free legal consultation, and you can explore these issues during that consultation.
How Seriously Must I be Injured to Bring a Claim?
Florida law requires that for you to bring a lawsuit against a negligent party after an automobile accident, you must have either (1) significant and important loss of an important bodily function, (2) permanent injury to a reasonable degree of medical probability, (3) significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or (4) death. The second element; permanent injury to a reasonable degree of medical probability’ does not have to be a debilitating injury; it can be any injury to your body that will be permanent.
Isn’t Everyone Required to Have Insurance?
Everyone in Florida is required by law to drive with personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, but nobody in Florida is required to carry bodily injury liability insurance (which covers injuries to other people). Not requiring drivers to carry coverage for loss caused by their own negligence leaves many potential damages unrecoverable. Because of this, Florida law allows you to purchase your own insurance against the risk that a party who injures you will not carry liability insurance. This is called uninsured motorist coverage (UM), and we recommend you purchase it. If you get into an accident and the driver of the other car is at fault and does not carry liability insurance, you can make a claim under your own UM policy for your pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and other uncovered losses.
Is My Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Coverage Enough?
The easy answer to this is no, it is not. PIP insurance covers you only for your own medical expenses. It does cover a wide variety of expenses, from surgery, to x-ray, dental, and rehabilitative services, prosthetic devices, lab services, physical therapy, and massage therapy. Most people purchase PIP limits of coverage of $10,000, often with a $2,000 deductible. This simply is not enough in almost any case where injuries are sustained. Given that PIP coverage is for medical expenses and lost wages, and often is capped at $10,000, in many situations it is not enough coverage to make you whole again after an accident.
What if I was Partially at Fault for the Accident?
Florida is a pure comparative fault state. This means that if your fault in any way contributes to the accident, the amount of your award will be diminished by the percentage your own fault contributed. For example, if your damages are $5,000 from an accident with another driver, but you are found to be 15% at fault, your damage award will be reduced by 15%, or by $750, and you will only collect $4,250).
If there are more than two parties at fault, damages are apportioned to the degree to which each party is at fault, rather than based on the doctrine of joint and several liability. This means everyone is assigned their proportional share of the blame and resulting damage.
What Is My Case Worth?
Each case is different, and it is not possible to determine the value of a case without fully reviewing the facts and circumstances of your individual accident. Typically, if you bring a lawsuit for damages after an accident, you are entitled to seek compensation for all of your medical costs, including future medical costs and rehabilitative costs; lost wages, including lost future wages; lowered earning capacity as a result of a permanent injury; pain and suffering; and in extreme cases, punitive damages.
Will My Case Go to Court?
Your case is unlikely to be brought to trial, although you may need to file a lawsuit. Almost all personal injury cases resulting from automobile accidents are settled out of court, but not always before a lawsuit is filed. In the event you are not able to reach a reasonable settlement with the defendant or insurance company, it is possible you will need to pursue your rights in a trial, but it is likely you will reach a settlement before this happens. The stronger your case is, the less likely you are to file a lawsuit or ever go to trial. However, the weaker your case is, the less likely you are to prevail in a trial. This can become a complex line to walk, but if you are contemplating trial, your lawyer will provide you with all of your options.
Can I Afford to Hire an Attorney?
You most likely will not need to have any money up front to retain an attorney to represent you in your car accident claim. There are many attorneys that will take your case on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if you collect damages. The amounts the attorneys representing you are entitled to receive out of your damage recovery are governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct promulgated by the Florida Bar. According to the guidelines set out in these rules, you can enter into a contingency fee contract with a lawyer, who will then take the agreed upon percentage out of your settlement or verdict amount.