Car accident lawyers, how can they help? Being in an accident is something that nobody likes to think about, although many of us will be involved in at least one car accident as a driver or passenger at some point in our lives. If you live in or are a visitor to Orlando and you have been in a car accident, here is an overview of what you need to know.
Accident Rates in Florida
In 2014, 32,675 people were killed as a result of car accidents on roadways throughout the United States, and an additional 2.3 million people were injured in car crashes. Florida roads see their fair share of accidents, and through Thanksgiving, 2015 there were a total of 328,670 crashes and 213,913 people injured as a result. There have been over 2,000 traffic fatalities in 2015 as of this writing in Florida, as well as another almost 500 pedestrian fatalities and over 100 bicycle fatalities. Always be cautious when walking, biking, or driving in Orlando. Accidents do happen,
however, no matter how careful you are, so if you are in an accident, here are the steps you should take.
Immediately Following the Accident
Florida law imposes a duty to stop your vehicle immediately after being involved in an accident. Before getting out of the car, move your vehicle to the side of the road, in a place where it will not obstruct other motorists. If you cannot do this, call a tow truck as quickly as possible, and get out of harm’s way.
The most important thing to do after a car accident is to tend to anyone who may have been hurt. If somebody has been hurt, whether it is your passenger, somebody in another vehicle, or a pedestrian, you must attempt to immediately secure medical help. If that is not possible, you should try to take the injured person to receive help. If somebody is hurt and you have called for an ambulance, you must remain at the scene of the accident until help arrives. It is important you remain at the scene, as leaving the scene can result in criminal charges being brought against you, and you could also have your license suspended and be faced with administrative fines and penalties.
Everyone involved in an accident is required to provide their name, address, and registration to any other person involved in the accident, as well as to anyone else who requests the information at the scene, particularly law enforcement. The police also have the right to ask for your driver’s license, if they are called to the scene of an accident. If a pedestrian is involved and requests insurance information, you also are required to provide it.
When Should You Call the Police?
The best course of action is to insist on reporting any crash to the police, so that a law enforcement officer can complete the necessary forms. Negotiating any sort of payment arrangement for damages without an accident report from the police can result in a reduction of the compensation you receive for your damages. It can also expose you to personal liability, as no official report of the crash would exist. It is not enough to just call the police; you need to make sure the investigating officer makes a complete record of everybody’s insurance information on the incident report.
Even though it is best to report all accidents to law enforcement, only some are legally required to be reported. If an accident is severe enough, you must call the police. Florida law requires that the police are called after: (1) an accident in which somebody is seriously injured or dies; (2) any hit-and-run accident; (3) any accident with an inebriated driver; or (4) any accident that appears to have caused over $500 in property damage. Nobody should leave the scene until the police arrive in any of these circumstances. The investigating officers who arrive at the scene will draft an accident report for all accidents in which a person is injured or dies, and upon request in other circumstances. If the police determine fault or issue a citation to the at-fault driver at the scene, you should request that information be included in the accident report.
Accidents with Unoccupied Vehicles or Inanimate Objects
Anyone who has been in a parking lot at a crowded location has probably seen a vehicle “bump” an unoccupied vehicle, and then look around, unsure of what to do next. After reading this guide, you will know that if you are in an accident with a stationary object or unoccupied vehicle, you are legally required to inform the owner. If you cannot find the owner, you must leave your information on a note attached to the damage property or vehicle. That note must contain your name, address, and license plate number. You are also obligated to notify the police under these circumstances.
Automobile Insurance Requirements in Florida
All drivers in Florida must carry basic minimum insurance amounts. Failure to do so can result in a suspended license and an administrative fine. All Florida drivers are required to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage and $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) coverage. Florida is in the minority of states in not requiring drivers to have bodily injury liability coverage, which is the type of insurance coverage that pays the cost of injuries to others in the event of a car accident.
Orlando’s No Fault Insurance System
In car accident scenarios only, Florida follows a no-fault system. This means that after most traffic accidents in Florida, your own insurance company affords coverage for your medical expenses, regardless of whose fault the accident was. The other driver cannot be held liable after a car accident unless the “serious injury” threshold is met. Therefore, most minor accidents are handled through the no fault system, meaning your physical injuries are reimbursed through your own PIP coverage. The only way to step outside the no-fault system and file a liability claim against the driver who was at fault in a Florida accident is if as a result of the accident, you suffer from permanent injury, significant and permanent scarring, or disfigurement.
Limitations of the Florida PIP and No Fault System
As already mentioned, Florida law requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP insurance. This insurance covers up to 80 percent of the insured’s injuries and 60 percent of the insured’s lost wages that result from a car accident, regardless of whose fault the accident was. While this law was enacted in an attempt to reduce the number of lawsuits filed by Florida residents related to car accidents, as well as to lower insurance rates, it has had unintended consequences. For many injured drivers, this coverage might not be enough to cover the total costs of lost wages or medical bills. It also does not account for property damage, pain and suffering, and other damages. Since the PIP coverage only pays 80 percent of your medical costs and 60 percent of your lost wages, after a deductible of usually $1000 or $2000, it is conceivable that not all of your out of pocket costs will be covered if nothing other than PIP coverage is available.
Seeking Additional Damages
If you are in the position of having exhausted your PIP coverage, you are sometimes able to take legal action against the driver at fault for your accident. If you are seeking additional damages, you will need to retain an attorney, who will seek compensation to cover your remaining costs from the insurance company for the negligent driver. The insurance company for the driver who is at fault will then conduct an investigation of their own, if they have not already done so. Whether or not your claim succeeds depends on the strength of the evidence you can present to the opposing insurance company.
Types of Legal Claims That Can Arise From a Car Accident
There are several types of legal actions that can arise after a car accident. Sometimes, another driver is clearly at fault, and you might have a lawsuit based in negligence. Other times, there is a defect with the vehicle itself that caused the accident or injury, and a lawsuit against the car manufacturer arises. Or, there are road conditions that cause the accident in question, which can lead to a lawsuit based on road design.
Claims of Negligent Driving
The vast majority of lawsuits that arise out of car accidents are based on the legal theory of negligence. Negligence, in the case of a car accident, is one party’s failure to exercise a reasonable standard of care while operating a motor vehicle or using public roads. Negligence is proven with evidence that illustrates carelessness or violation of the law. To prevail in a negligence lawsuit, you must be able to show that the party you are suing did not exercise reasonable care, and this breach of duty was the proximate cause of your injuries. The defendant is not always another driver; sometimes it is a negligent, reckless, or intoxicated driver, and sometimes it is a passenger, a pedestrian, or even a bicyclist. In some cases, there is even more than one negligent party.
Claims Against the Manufacturer
Sometimes there is a defect to the vehicle you are driving that contributes to or causes the accident you were in. If this happens to you, you may have a claim against the manufacturer of your vehicle or of the part of the vehicle that malfunctioned. There are some circumstances under which the manufacturer will be liable regardless of negligence for injuries a plaintiff sustains as a direct result of design defect, faulty labeling, or manufacturing defect.
To win a case against a manufacturer, you must be able to prove the defect that occurred during the design, labeling, or manufacturing process, was the proximate cause of the injuries sustained. In cases with claims against a manufacturer, expert testimony is almost always needed to establish the point at which the defect manifested. To prevail, you must show that the faulty car or car part was unreasonably dangerous, and that the vehicle was being operated as it was intended to be operated at the time of the accident.
Claims Based on Road Design Defects
Some accidents are caused by faulty road construction, design, or maintenance. Sometimes there are embankments that are too steep or not properly elevated, which can lead to accidents. Sometimes barriers, guard rails, speed bumps, curbs, or medians, all things in place to positively influence driving, are poorly designed or placed, resulting in accidents. There are occasions when the surface of the road is altered, such as in the case of massive potholes, which drivers are not alerted to and result in an accident. Improperly placed or missing road signs can also lead to accidents, and road design defect claims. Improper placement and operation of traffic lights, stop and yield lights, and other lights used to regulate traffic flow also lead to lawsuits based on faulty road design.
Those who lose a loved one in a car accident might have grounds to seek compensation under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. In wrongful death suits, the family or survivors of the deceased must prove their loved one was killed due as a result of the negligence of another. In wrongful death cases, plaintiffs can be awarded economic and non-economic damages, as well as punitive damages where appropriately reckless or criminal conduct is involved.
Florida’s Comparative Negligence Law
In some cases, the party you are seeking to recover damages against for your injuries and/or property damage after a car accident may turn around and allege you are the party at fault for the accident. If you are at fault, even partially, it will affect the amount of money you can recover as damages from other people or businesses at fault. Florida follows a pure comparative negligence rule in cases where there is more than one party at fault for an accident. Under Florida’s comparative fault rule, your compensation is reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of your liability in the accident.
By way of example, assume you are in an accident with a driver who goes through a stop sign and hits you. You are crossing the intersection legally, but you are going over the speed limit by five miles per hour. If a court decides you were 10 percent to blame for the accident because you were exceeding the speed limit, the amount of damages you are entitled to from the driver who ran the stop sign will be reduced by 10 percent.
This means if your damages for your injuries and car repair total $10,000, you will only be allowed to collect $9,000 in compensation. Florida courts must follow this rule in cases where injury results from a car accident, so it is important to understand this concept before dealing with your own and the other party’s insurance company.
What are Serious Injuries under Florida Law?
Every accident is different, and the types and extent of injuries that are sustained vary in each case. Many times, however, the costs for treating the injuries incurred in the accident exhausts the available PIP coverage, leading to the need for additional negotiation or in some cases, litigation. Some injuries that qualify as serious injuries for which legal compensation can be sought against a negligent driver include paralysis, scars, burns, injuries to the spinal cord, loss of limb, head injuries, injuries to muscle, joints, back, neck or bones, whiplash, knee damage, permanent disability, and wrongful death.
Damages Available to Victims of Car Accidents
There are several categories of damages that victims of car accidents in Orlando can recover. First, there are economic damages, also known as compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are those damages that compensate you for monetary losses incurred as a result of the accident. Medical expenses are compensatory damages, including emergency room fees, hospital bills, and expenses related to surgery, assistive devices, and appointments with authorized medical professionals needed as a result of the accident. Future medical expenses are also considered economic damages. If you are able to prove that continued medical care will be needed as a result of the accident, those costs may also be recoverable.
Lost wages are another component of compensatory damages. This means Floridians injured in car accidents can recover compensation for wages lost from the time of the injury through the conclusion of the lawsuit or settlement. Even if you are unemployed at the time of your car accident, you may be able to recover lost wages if you can demonstrate your earning potential during the unemployed time period. Loss of earning capacity is another type of economic damage, if your ability to earn a living has been impacted as a result of an accident. Past wages are analyzed when determining the amount of compensation you are entitled to, but juries will also typically look at the amount you could have earned in the future had the car accident not occurred, and factor that into the calculation.
Non-economic damages are also available to compensate victims for non-financial losses incurred as a result of a car accident. These are extremely difficult damages to quantify, and are more often the subject of litigation than economic damages.
Pain and suffering damages are non-economic damages awarded to compensate accident victims for the physical pain they have suffered as a result of the injuries received in the car accident. Juries calculating pain and suffering damages look at the nature of the injury, the severity of the physical pain, and the length of time the accident victim will suffer with that pain. Insurance adjusters either use a multiplier or a per diem method of calculation to determine a pain and suffering figure.
Mental anguish is another category of non-economic losses for which victims can be awarded damages. Damages in this category are meant to compensate accident victims for nervousness, embarrassment, fright, worry, grief, or any other form of emotional distress suffered as a result of the car accident.
Loss of Consortium Damages and Punitive Damages
If a car accident lawsuit is successful, the spouse of the injured party might be able to receive compensation for loss of marital benefits. This includes loss of companionship, loss of sexual relations, loss of affection, and loss of comfort. In deciding the amount of money to award for loss of consortium claims, juries will look at the stability and longevity of the marriage, the life expectancy of the parties, the degree to which marital benefits have been affected, and the amount of care previously given to the uninjured spouse.
Sometimes the party at fault in a car accident acted maliciously, or with conduct so egregious that a jury is outraged. In such cases, juries may assess punitive damages against the defendant, intended to punish, as well as discourage repeat future behavior.