Your Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 21, 2017
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You thought you were checking into a local hospital to recover from your injuries, but a week later, doctors are prescribing wide spectrum antibiotics to combat the infection they caused and shoving release forms in your face. The human body is fragile, and injuries can come from the most unexpected sources, and completely change your life in a moment. When can you get back to work? Who will pay the hospital bills? What if the injury leads to permanent damage? Personal injury law is more complicated than you’d think, so here is some general information about Fort Lauderdale personal injury cases.
How to Begin a Lawsuit
A personal injury lawsuit begins when one files a complaint at the local courthouse. A complaint briefly describes the injury causing incident, names the parties involved, and requests damages.
Suits can be filed at the Broward County Courthouse, located at 201 S.E. 6th Street, though there are also regional courthouses located in Deerfield Beach, Plantation and Hollywood. If a claim is worth less than $5,000 one should consider filing in the small claims division instead.
You must file your lawsuit within four years from the date of the injury. Florida’s statute of limitations eliminates your right to recover once too much time has passed, in order to prevent ancient lawsuits after memories have dimmed and evidence disappeared. There is an even shorter two-year time limit for medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuits.
These technical rules are a perfect demonstration of the value an experienced lawyer can bring to your case. Anyone who is injured may want to consider scheduling a free consultation with an attorney. Personal injury attorneys almost always work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your settlement. Yes, that means they don’t get paid until (and unless) you win.
Types of Lawsuits
Negligence is the most common lawsuit following an injury. The law of negligence governs accidentally inflicted injuries such as car crashes, premise liability and medical malpractice. Negligence is a relatively common type of suit because you don’t need to prove intent, just that the other party failed to exercise the reasonable care required by law under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injury.
Related to negligence, medical malpractice lawsuits apply when the injury was accidentally inflicted by a medical professional, for example through misdiagnosis, unreasonable delay in treatment, or leaving a foreign object inside your body during surgery.
If the defendant injured you on purpose, the law of intentional torts permits you to sue under assault or battery theory.
If injured by a defective product, you can sue the business that created the injury-causing product in a products liability lawsuit. In these cases, you must point out a design or manufacturing defect that caused your injury in a surprising way. These cases are usually very technical, so expert witnesses in the applicable field play a key role.
When someone dies due to a personal injury, any lawsuit they would have had survives for their family members as a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the unfair costs borne by the deceased individual’s family members, such as lost wages, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
The monetary sum of harm you have suffered are called "damages." Damages are traditionally split into economic and non-economic categories. Economic damages are typically straightforward because they directly relate to monetary expenditures and losses, such as:
- medical expenses;
- lost future income;
- loss of property;
- costs to repair or replace property; and
- loss of employment opportunities.
Non-economic damages are sometimes referred to as "pain and suffering" damages because they serve to compensate you for the physical pain and mental anguish that resulted from the injury. Courts will consider pain, or course, but also loss of enjoyment of life, fear and anxiety, sleeplessness, scarring and disfigurement.
Florida has a complicated sliding scale damage limitation for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases: for most cases, a plaintiff will be unable to recover more than $500,000 in non-economic damages unless they suffered a "catastrophic injury."
In many cases, the plaintiff contributed slightly to their own injury, such as an auto accident where the speeding plaintiff was swiped by a drunken reckless driver. These cases are governed by Florida’s comparative fault law. Under the comparative negligence doctrine, fault is assigned to each party as a percentile, and the plaintiff’s ultimate recovery is diminished by the percent he or she is responsible for. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Significantly, Florida is one of 13 states that uses a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the injury was 99% your fault you can still recover 1%.
If you were injured at your place of work you may not need to file a lawsuit at all. In Florida any business with four or more employees must carry workers compensation insurance. This insurance pays out benefits to injured employees, including compensation for medical bills, temporary and permanent disability benefits and disfigurement benefits.
The first step to recovery is reporting the injury to your employer. You must report the accident within 30 days or else you risk forfeiting your benefits. Your employer should automatically report your claim to the Division of Workers Compensation.
As can be seen from all the information above, personal injury law is varied and complicated. If you have questions about a particular case, you may wish to talk to a local attorney specializing in personal injury law for specific information about the case and laws.
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