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Your Jacksonville Car Accident: The Basics

First Coast roads may not be as hectic as our southern neighbors, but that is little comfort to the poor sap stranded where Southside meets Baymeadows. Florida has about a quarter million car crashes every year, so chances are you'll be in at least once accident in your lifetime. Whether you caused the crash or are the innocent victim, it is important to know your legal rights and responsibilities. To help you pick up the pieces in the aftermath of a wreck, here is some general information about Jacksonville car accidents.

What Should I Do Immediately After the Crash?

One: Don't leave the scene. If you drive away without pulling over to exchange information you could be criminally prosecuted as a hit-and-run driver (or worse if you caused injury or death). Smart drivers pull their vehicle over to the shoulder to not block traffic and avoid the risk of another accident. Also, seek emergency medical assistance if necessary.

Two: Exchange information with all other drivers involved in the accident. Specifically, you must provide your name, address and vehicle registration number to everyone involved. If you hit an unattended vehicle you must inform the owner by leaving a note with your name, address and license plate number.

Three: Report the accident to authorities. Florida law requires you to report any accident that involves injuries or property damage over $500. Contact either the Florida highway patrol or the Jacksonville Sherriff's Office.

Four: Gather evidence. Jot down as many details as you can while the incident is fresh in your mind. Include road or weather conditions if they matter. If any neutral witnesses are present, get their contact info. Also, a picture is worth a thousand words so snap a couple photos of the accident scene and vehicle damage with your camera phone.

Five: Watch what you say. Generally, you should avoid admitting responsibility or apologizing for the accident. These statements could be used against you later in court, otherwise.

This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out this helpful checklist to store in your glovebox just in case?

Will Insurance Cover It?

Florida is somewhat rare among US states in that no-fault insurance is mandatory for all drivers. Florida law splits auto insurance coverage into two categories, property damage liability and personal injury protection.

Property damage liability, or PDL, insurance is the more traditional type of auto insurance. It covers any damage that you, a family member or other covered individual driving your vehicle cause to someone else's property while driving when you are at fault for the accident. However, PDL does not cover damage to your own vehicle, hence the term "liability." Florida doesn't require you to carry coverage that insures your own vehicle, although it's certainly recommended. All Florida drivers must carry a minimum of $10,000 in PDL coverage.

The unique aspect of Florida's insurance law is the required personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage. PIP is called "no-fault" insurance because it will pay medical expenses for you, your family members and individuals riding in your car in the event of an injury causing crash, regardless of who is to blame for the accident. That's right, instead of collecting from the at fault driver's insurance you just collect from your own insurance coverage. Everyone who owns a vehicle must carry a PIP policy with minimum coverage of $10,000.

How Do I File a Lawsuit?

One of the first things to consider when deciding to file is lawsuit is whether you should talk to an attorney. Significantly, attorneys in this field typically give free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your recovery after you win. That means you pay them nothing up front, and they have a strong incentive to maximize your settlement.

Regardless of who files the lawsuit, it's important not to wait too long, for it grows stale four years after the date of the injury. Florida's statute of limitations eliminates your right to recovery once too much time has passed; if you try to file an ancient lawsuit, the judge may dismiss it without even considering its merits.

Your personal injury lawsuit begins when you file a complaint at your local courthouse. A complaint briefly describes the incident, names the parties involved and requests compensation. Send a copy of the filed complaint, summons and civil cover sheet to all defendants. You should use certified return-receipt mail so you can prove the defendants actually received the envelope should they fail to appear.

The best place to file your lawsuit is the Duval County Courthouse located on 501 W. Adams Street. The Circuit Court handles lawsuits worth more than $15,000, while the County Court handles smaller cases. Consider filing in small claims court for relaxed procedural rules if your case is worth $5,000 or less.

What is Negligence?

The most common lawsuit following an auto accident is negligence. Negligence governs accidentally caused injuries. You must show that the other party was not exercising a reasonable level of care under the circumstances.

If both drivers are partially responsible for the accident, Florida's comparative fault law will assign fault to each party and diminishes the plaintiff's recover 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 have specific questions about a case, you may want to contact a local attorney specializing in car accident law.

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