Helping You in Understanding Your Rights Following an Accident.
Why should I hire a personal injury lawyer after a crash?
Florida's auto accident and personal injury laws can be intricate, making the aftermath of a crash overwhelming for victims. Here are compelling reasons to consider hiring a personal injury lawyer after a collision in Florida:
Understanding of Florida's No-Fault Law: Florida operates under a "no-fault" insurance system. This means that regardless of who caused the accident, individuals turn first to their own insurance company for compensation for injuries up to the personal injury protection (PIP) limit. Navigating this system can be challenging, especially when determining if your injuries surpass the "serious injury" threshold to step outside of the no-fault system and pursue a claim against the at-fault driver.
Maximize Compensation: Lawyers are well-versed in identifying all potential sources of compensation. They can review your insurance policy, evaluate the circumstances of the crash, and pursue additional damages from at-fault parties if necessary, ensuring you receive the maximum compensation you deserve.
Negotiating with Insurance Companies: Insurance adjusters aim to minimize payouts. A skilled personal injury lawyer can effectively negotiate with these adjusters, ensuring you aren't short-changed or pressured into accepting a lowball offer.
Legal Expertise and Resources: Experienced lawyers are familiar with the legal procedures, paperwork, and tactics that might be used to hinder your claim. They have access to resources like expert witnesses, accident reconstruction specialists, and medical professionals that can bolster your case.
Objective Perspective: Following an accident, victims might be in pain, stressed, or emotionally distraught. A lawyer offers an objective perspective on your situation, making decisions grounded in facts and law rather than emotions.
Contingency Fee Basis: Most personal injury lawyers in Florida work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you only pay if they win your case. This aligns their interests with yours, motivating them to secure the best possible outcome for you.
Experience with Litigation: While many claims are settled outside of court, should your case go to trial, having a seasoned attorney representing you can be invaluable. They can build a strong case, ensuring your story is heard and your rights protected.
Time-Saving: Handling a personal injury claim can be time-consuming, especially with medical treatments, recovery, and personal obligations. An attorney manages all aspects of your claim, allowing you to focus on healing.
Peace of Mind: Knowing a competent professional is handling your claim can provide significant peace of mind during a challenging period.
In summary, while it's legally possible to represent yourself in an auto accident claim in Florida, the complexities of the law, coupled with the tactics insurance companies may employ, make hiring a personal injury lawyer a wise choice to ensure your rights are protected and you receive the compensation you're entitled to.
How do I know if I have a case?
- Injury Severity and the No-Fault Threshold: Florida's no-fault insurance system means that regardless of fault, individuals first turn to their own insurance for compensation under personal injury protection (PIP). To pursue a claim against another driver or party, your injuries must meet certain criteria that are considered "serious" under Florida law. This could include significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or death.
- Establishing Negligence: For a case outside of the no-fault system, it's crucial to prove another party's negligence caused the accident. Evidence such as accident reports, witness statements, photographs, and expert testimony can be instrumental in proving negligence.
- Extent of Damages: To have a case, there should be quantifiable damages. This includes medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, and more. If you've incurred significant costs or losses due to the accident, it strengthens the viability of your case.
- Timeline of the Accident: Florida has a statute of limitations for personal injury claims resulting from auto accidents. Typically, you have four years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file within this time frame, you might lose your right to pursue compensation.
- Comparative Negligence: Florida follows a pure comparative negligence rule. This means if you're found partially at fault for the accident, your compensation may be reduced by your percentage of fault. However, this doesn't bar recovery. For instance, if you're found 20% at fault and have $100,000 in damages, you can still potentially recover $80,000.
- Availability of Evidence: A strong case often depends on the evidence available. This might include photos of the accident scene, medical records, witness testimonies, and more. The more compelling and clear the evidence, the stronger your case may be.
- Consultation with a Personal Injury Attorney: One of the most definitive ways to determine if you have a case is to consult with a personal injury attorney familiar with Florida's auto accident laws. They can provide an expert assessment based on the specifics of your situation, the available evidence, and their knowledge of the legal landscape.
How do I obtain a copy of my traffic accident report?
After an auto accident in Florida, obtaining a copy of the traffic accident report can be crucial for insurance claims, legal actions, or personal records. Here's how you can get a copy of your report:
Wait for the Mandatory Filing Period: In Florida, law enforcement officers who respond to a traffic accident must complete and submit their report within 10 days of the incident.
Public Record Restrictions: Accident reports are not considered public records until 60 days after the accident. During this period, only certain parties (such as those involved in the crash, their attorneys, and insurance companies) can access the report.
Requesting from Local Law Enforcement:
- If your accident was investigated by a city police department, visit the department's records division. For accidents overseen by county sheriff’s departments, contact the respective county's records section.
- Bring a valid photo ID and any information you have about the accident (e.g., date, location, and involved parties).
- There might be a nominal fee for obtaining a copy.
Florida Highway Patrol (FHP):
- If the FHP investigated your accident, you can request a report directly from them. Visit the nearest FHP station or their main office.
- FHP also provides an online portal for purchasing and downloading crash reports. You'll need specific information like the report number, or the date and county of the accident.
Florida's Official Online Portal: The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) offers a portal where individuals can purchase and download accident reports. This service is especially useful after the 60-day period when reports become public records.
Mail Request: Some agencies allow you to request a report via mail. You'll likely need to provide a written request detailing the accident's specifics, a copy of your ID, and a check or money order for the report fee.
Hiring an Attorney: If you've hired a personal injury attorney, they can obtain the report on your behalf, leveraging their knowledge of the system and professional relationships.
Remember, while the report provides an official account of the accident from a law enforcement perspective, it might not include all details or may contain errors. Always review the report thoroughly and consult with an attorney if you believe there are discrepancies or inaccuracies that could affect your claim or case.
What will the accident report be used for?
- Insurance Claims: One of the primary uses of an accident report is for insurance claims. Insurance companies rely on these reports to determine the facts of the accident, which party may be at fault, and the extent of the damages. The report can play a crucial role in the claims process, affecting decisions like liability determination and compensation amounts.
- Legal Proceedings: If an accident leads to a lawsuit, the report becomes a vital piece of evidence. It provides an objective account from a law enforcement officer, which can be used to establish facts, determine negligence, and argue the merits of the case in court.
- Statistical Analysis: State and local government agencies use aggregated data from accident reports for statistical analysis. This helps in identifying high-risk areas, understanding accident trends, and making decisions about traffic safety measures, road maintenance, and infrastructure improvements.
- Driver's License Points: In Florida, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) may assign points to a driver's license based on violations noted in the accident report. Accumulating too many points in a specific timeframe can lead to license suspension.
- Personal Records: Individuals involved in the accident often obtain copies of the report for their personal records. Having a detailed account can be beneficial for recalling specifics of the event, especially if questions arise later.
- Attorney Review: If you hire a personal injury attorney, they will review the accident report to evaluate the merits of your case, determine potential areas of negligence, and craft a legal strategy.
- Disputes and Arbitration: In cases where there's a dispute about the accident's details or fault determination, the report serves as a reference point. It may be used in arbitration, mediation, or any informal negotiations between involved parties.
- Police Training and Review: Law enforcement agencies might use accident reports as part of ongoing training and review processes, helping officers understand accident dynamics and improve their investigative techniques.
What happens when I submit an insurance claim?
When you submit an insurance claim after an auto accident in Florida, a series of steps are initiated to assess, process, and settle the claim:
Claim Submission: Your first action after the accident (after ensuring safety and seeking any necessary medical attention) should be to notify your insurance company about the accident. You can typically do this by phone, online, or through a mobile app, depending on your insurer.
Claim Number Assignment: Once your claim is received, the insurance company assigns a claim number. This unique identifier is used for all future references and correspondence related to the claim.
Assignment of a Claims Adjuster: Your claim is assigned to a claims adjuster. This professional is responsible for investigating the claim, assessing the damages, determining fault (if applicable), and negotiating a settlement.
Investigation: The adjuster will start by reviewing the accident details. They'll assess:
- The accident report
- Your policy details (coverage limits, deductibles, etc.)
- Photos or videos of the accident scene and damages
- Witness statements
- Medical reports and bills, if injuries are involved
Statement Collection: The adjuster may request a statement from you about the accident's details. This can be written or verbal. It's crucial to be truthful and consistent in your account.
Vehicle Inspection: If there's damage to your car, the adjuster or an appraiser may inspect it, either at a repair facility or a location of your choosing, to determine repair costs.
Determination of Fault: In Florida, due to its no-fault insurance system, your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage pays for your injuries regardless of who was at fault. However, if damages exceed the PIP limits or meet the serious injury threshold, determining fault becomes essential for potential claims against the at-fault driver.
Settlement Offer: Once the investigation is complete, the adjuster will make a settlement offer. This could cover vehicle repairs, medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages, depending on your policy and the circumstances.
Negotiation: If you believe the offer is insufficient, you can negotiate. This is where having a personal injury attorney can be beneficial, as they can ensure you receive a fair settlement.
Payment: If you accept the offer, the insurance company will process the payment. It might be a direct payment to service providers (like auto repair shops or medical facilities) or a check issued to you.
Claim Closure: Once all payments are made, and all issues are addressed, the claim is officially closed.
Potential Subrogation: If another party was at fault, and your insurance company compensated you, they might pursue subrogation. This means they'll attempt to recover funds from the at-fault party's insurer.
Throughout this process, communication with your insurer is vital. Always keep copies of all correspondence, bills, and reports. If you feel the claim isn't being handled appropriately or fairly, consider consulting with a personal injury attorney familiar with Florida's insurance laws.
Should I accept an insurance company’s settlement offer?
- Adequacy of the Offer: Assess whether the settlement covers all your present and potential future expenses related to the accident. This includes medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and any other related costs. In Florida, especially given its no-fault system, it's essential to ensure your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits have been fully utilized before seeking damages from another driver.
- Potential Future Costs: Some injuries may have long-term consequences that aren't immediately apparent. For instance, you might require physical therapy or future surgeries. Ensure that the settlement accounts for these potential costs.
- Legal Advice: Before accepting any offer, it's highly recommended to consult with a personal injury attorney. They can provide valuable insights into the fairness of the offer, potential pitfalls, and the overall strengths and weaknesses of your case should you consider litigation.
- Finality of the Settlement: Remember that once you accept a settlement and sign the release, it's typically final. This means you can't go back and ask for more money later, even if unforeseen complications or costs arise.
- Insurance Company's Motivation: Insurance companies are in the business of making money. It's not uncommon for initial offers to be lower than what might be considered fair compensation. They anticipate that some claimants will accept these lower offers without negotiation.
- Negotiation: If you believe the offer is low or doesn't adequately cover your damages, you can (and often should) negotiate. A counter-offer backed by evidence like medical bills, repair estimates, and wage loss statements can bolster your position.
- Comparative Negligence in Florida: Florida operates under a comparative negligence system. This means that if you're found partially at fault, your compensation may be reduced by your percentage of fault. Be cautious if the insurance company attempts to attribute more fault to you than is accurate to decrease the settlement amount.
- Emotional Decision Making: It's natural to want a quick resolution after an accident, especially if you're facing medical bills and repair costs. However, avoid making hasty decisions based on emotions. Take the time to evaluate the offer critically.
- Statute of Limitations: In Florida, you typically have four years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit for personal injury. While it's important not to rush, also be aware of this timeline.
What should I expect when I file a lawsuit?
Filing a lawsuit can be a complex process, especially if it's your first time navigating the legal system. Here's an overview of what you can expect when you initiate a lawsuit, particularly in the context of personal injury claims in Florida:
Initial Consultation: Before filing a lawsuit, you'll usually meet with an attorney to discuss the merits of your case. They'll evaluate the evidence, potential damages, and likelihood of success.
Filing the Complaint: The lawsuit formally begins when your attorney files a "complaint" or "petition" with the appropriate court. This document outlines your claims, the facts supporting them, and the damages you're seeking.
Service of Process: After filing, the defendant (the person or entity you're suing) must be formally notified of the lawsuit. This is done through a "service of process," where they receive copies of the complaint and a summons to appear in court.
Defendant's Response: The defendant has a set period (typically 20 days in Florida) to respond to the complaint. They can file an "answer," admitting or denying the allegations, and possibly raising defenses or counterclaims.
Discovery Process: This is a phase where both sides gather evidence. It involves:
- Interrogatories: Written questions that one party sends to the other to answer.
- Depositions: Oral testimonies taken under oath, where witnesses and parties are questioned by attorneys.
- Requests for Production: Asking the other party to produce specific documents or evidence.
- Requests for Admissions: Asking the other party to admit or deny certain facts.
Motions: Throughout the lawsuit, either side can file motions. Common motions include "motion to dismiss" (asking the court to throw out the case) or "motion for summary judgment" (asking the court to decide the case based on undisputed facts).
Mediation and Settlement Negotiations: Before trial, parties often engage in mediation—a process where a neutral third party helps them try to reach a settlement. Many cases in Florida are resolved through mediation or direct settlement negotiations without going to trial.
Trial: If no settlement is reached, the case goes to trial. Personal injury trials in Florida can be before a judge (bench trial) or a jury. Both sides present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments. After deliberation, a verdict is rendered.
Post-Trial Motions and Appeals: After the trial, the losing party can file post-trial motions asking the court to overturn or alter the verdict. If unsuccessful, they might also consider appealing to a higher court.
Collection: If you win the lawsuit and are awarded damages, the next step is collecting. This might involve garnishing wages, placing liens on property, or other collection methods if the defendant doesn't willingly pay.
Time and Emotional Commitment: Lawsuits can be lengthy, often taking months to years to resolve. They can also be emotionally draining, requiring you to repeatedly revisit the accident or injury.
In conclusion, while the legal process can be intricate and demanding, it's essential for seeking justice and compensation. If you're considering filing a lawsuit in Florida, having an experienced attorney by your side can help navigate the complexities and advocate for your best interests.
What should I do if I was hurt in a hit & run car accident?
A hit & run accident is stressful and can leave victims feeling helpless. In Florida, where there are specific laws and protections for victims of such incidents, here are the steps you should take:
Prioritize Safety: Your immediate safety is paramount. If possible and safe, move your vehicle out of active traffic lanes to a safer spot, like a shoulder or parking lot.
Call 911: Report the accident to law enforcement immediately. A police report is vital in hit & run cases for documenting the incident and initiating an investigation.
Seek Medical Attention: Even if your injuries seem minor, it's essential to get a medical examination. Some injuries may not manifest symptoms immediately after the accident.
Gather Evidence: Collect as much information as possible:
- Vehicle Description: Make, model, color, license plate (even partial), and any distinguishing features.
- Driver Description: If you saw the person who hit you, try to remember details about their appearance.
- Witness Information: If anyone witnessed the accident, get their contact information and statements.
- Photos: Take pictures of the accident scene, your injuries, and vehicle damages.
Contact Your Insurance Company: Report the hit & run to your insurer as soon as possible. In Florida, drivers are required to have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance which will cover a portion of your medical bills and lost wages regardless of fault. If you have Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage, it may cover damages in a hit & run, as the fleeing driver is effectively treated as "uninsured."
Maintain Records: Keep all documentation related to the accident, including medical records, repair bills, and any correspondence with law enforcement or your insurance company.
Consult an Attorney: Given the complexities of hit & run cases in Florida, consider consulting a personal injury attorney. They can help navigate the insurance claim process, potentially identify the at-fault driver, and advise on any possible legal actions.
Cooperate with Law Enforcement: If the police are able to identify and locate the driver who fled the scene, they may face criminal charges. Be prepared to cooperate fully with the investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings.
Stay Vigilant: Sometimes, hit & run drivers are identified days or weeks after the incident. If you remember additional details or come across any information (like surveillance footage from nearby businesses), share it with the police.
Seek Support: Beyond the physical injuries, hit & run accidents can be emotionally traumatic. Consider seeking support from counseling or local support groups tailored for accident victims.
Remember, in Florida, leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death is a criminal offense. While the immediate aftermath of a hit & run can be overwhelming, following these steps can help ensure your rights and health are protected, and justice is pursued.