It's the weekend and you're going to Fort Lauderdale Beach, known as "The Venice of America," for some much-needed rays of sunshine. You pack the kids, the dog, and cooler in the car and head to the coast. Before you go, you realize you're out of sunscreen. Not to worry. There's a Walgreens at the intersection of East Sunrise Blvd. and Andrews Ave. When you arrive, you see plenty of traffic at the busy corner. Cars speeding by, people are on their cell phones. As you try to make your way across the intersection, you are rear-ended after a sudden stop. Your perfect Sunday just became a nightmare. What should you do? What should you expect? Here's some information to help guide you through what to do after a car accident in Fort Lauderdale.
What to do at the scene?
First, you must stop at the scene of the accident-whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. Florida state law requires drivers in a crash to stop and stay at the scene to exchange information or render reasonable assistance to the injured. If you leave, you can be charged with hit-and-run. Hit-and-run penalties are severe. Depending on the damage or injuries, you may be fined, sent to jail or both. You also could lose your driver's license.
Immediately seek medical attention following a car, motorcycle, or auto accident. Be sure to explain how the injuries occurred to your doctor or surgeon.
Call the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, the Florida Highway Patrol, or 911 as soon as possible. If you hit a car, truck or other vehicle that is parked with no one in it you must inform the owner. Leave a note with your name, address, and license plate number.
Try to remain calm and give the dispatcher the correct address of your emergency and your phone number. Make sure to stay on the phone until the dispatcher tells you to hang up. If the accident involves injuries, the Fort Lauderdale Fire-Rescue may also arrive.
An officer will respond to your location and take a report. This means assessing the damages and interviewing key witnesses to help determine the likely cause of the accident.
What information should I gather at the scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver-your name and driver's license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car's owner, the name and address of your insurance company and your insurance policy number. Make sure the investigating officer records complete insurance information on the crash report for all parties involved. Some other information you may want to collect includes:
- The names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance companies of the other car's legal and registered owners (if the driver does not own the car).
- The names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Ask them to stay to talk to the police. If they insist on leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw and write everything down.
- The name and badge number of the police officer who comes to the scene. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of any accident report. You will need it for insurance purposes.
- Make note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene if you are able. Take photographs if you can.
Liability: Who is really at fault?
Automobile accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.
It's also important to not volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. You may think you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are. You should first talk to your insurance agent, your lawyer or both. Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later. Also, don't agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Your insurance company or lawyer will handle the rest. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
State Insurance Level Requirements
Florida is one of twelve states that have no-fault insurance laws. Florida insurance laws are very specific. As a driver, you are required to carry minimum amounts of two types of coverage: Personal Injury Protection: (PIP) and Property Damage Liability: (PDL). According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the insurance coverage minimums are:
- $10,000 in personal injury protection
- $10,000 in property damage liability
Florida residents who live at least 90 days out of the year in the state are required to carry PIP insurance on their vehicles. It is also required of any driver whose car is registered in the state.
After the Crash: Dealing with Insurance Companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Many insurance companies require you to report a crash within 24 hours. Your carrier will open an investigation of your matter. A claims adjuster will contact you and do any or all of the following:
- Request a copy of the police report;
- Take photographs of your car;Contact the other driver(s);
- Talk to any witnesses;
- Ask you to sign a medical release form to review your records;
- Contact your medical provider;
- Request for you to get estimates on vehicle damage.
After an investigation, the insurance company will most likely attempt to reach a settlement agreement with you depending on the type of damages you are claiming such as personal injury or property. You are not required to accept any settlements from an insurance carrier.
If you can't reach an agreement with the adjuster, you may have other options, such as taking your appeal to the adjuster's supervisor or initiating a lawsuit.
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement of your case is considered a "win" and you will most likely need to pay your lawyer's fees.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. However, generally speaking if you are involved in meditation, arbitration, or a civil case in Broward County, you will likely appear in one of the following divisions:
County Civil Division: All cases actions in which the controversy does not exceed $15,000 and small claims matters.
Circuit Civil Division: All civil cases including automobile negligence matters.
Car Accident in Fort Lauderdale? Talk to an Injury Law Attorney
Figuring out what to do after a car accident in Fort Lauderdale is stressful for everyone involved. Just remember to remain calm and make safety your primary concern. Once you are through the initial trauma of an auto accident, you have a lot to think about -- especially if you have been injured and/or the other driver doesn't have insurance. Consider speaking with a local personal injury attorney.