You are cruising west on Colonial Drive when your worst nightmares come true -- a truck pulls out right in front of you. You slam on the brakes and try to veer away but it's too late; you have just been in a car accident. Injured and in a state of shock, you exit your vehicle to a gathering crowd of onlookers. Who was at fault? Was the other guy hurt? You just don't know, all you know is that you need to get to a hospital right away.
The rest of the night is a blur of flashing lights and doctors, and by morning you are still in pain but at least in control of your senses. More than 30,000 people die and 1.5 million are injured each year in car accidents. Even a small accident can be a terrifying experience, while a major one can be life altering. It does not help you must brave the Florida legal system to recover compensation. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to expect from your Orlando car accident.
After a bad accident it can be difficult to remain calm, but there are some initial steps you can take to protect yourself against a future lawsuit or preserve your ability to receive compensation. First, Florida law requires any driver involved in an accident to remain at the scene until all responsibilities related to the incident have been settled. If you do not stop and wait you could face serious criminal charges as a "hit-and-run" driver, especially if the accident resulted in injury or death. Also, it never hurts to lend a helping hand to any injured individuals, or call for medical attention is necessary.
Florida law requires you to report any accidents involving damages exceeding $500 to the police. If you have doubts about the severity of the accident, err on the side of reporting.
Next, it is important to preserve the scene of the accident at much as possible. While you should move vehicles that are obstructing traffic or presenting a danger to others, it will help your case if you take careful note of their position. Taking photographs is even better.
Finally, each driver must provide their name, address, vehicle registration number and driver's license to all parties involved, as well as provide the police officer with any information needed to determine the cause of the accident. However, it is better for your case if you do not volunteer any additional details until talking to a lawyer. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that you caused the crash.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist and store it in your glove box for that rainy day?
No Fault Auto Insurance
Florida has made an effort to reduce the number of personal injury lawsuits and the price of auto insurance by requiring all drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection insurance, which will compensate you for injuries and lost wages after an accident regardless of fault. Florida is one of only ten states that has enacted no fault legislation.
However, Personal Injury Protection insurance will not compensate you for pain and suffering or property damage, and medical bills exceeding $10,000 will not be reimbursed. It is critical to note that you must seek medical attention within two weeks of the accident if you want to collect the benefits of your Personal Injury Protection insurance. Additionally, you will only receive up to $2,500 unless you are treated for an "emergency medical condition," an injury where the absence of immediate medical attention puts your health in serious jeopardy.
The great thing about the Personal Injury Protection law is that you will be compensated for your medical bills without having to file a lawsuit at all. Instead you simply make a claim to your insurance company. However, if you have suffered severe injuries requiring more than $10,000 in medical care, or you wish to be compensated for damage to property and pain and suffering, you will need to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit
The Florida statute of limitations protects people from being sued for very old injuries, after evidence has disappeared and memories have faded. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations for filing is four years from the day that the injuries were incurred. If you do not file your lawsuit within four years of the accident, you will be forever unable to recover regardless of the strength of your case.
There are three different courts in which to file your lawsuit, which depends entirely on the potential recovery value. If your lawsuit is worth less than $15,000 the proper venue is County Court, while if your lawsuit exceeds $15,000 you should file in Circuit Court. Additionally, if your lawsuit is worth $5,000 or less, you can file your claim in small claims court. Regardless of the amount in controversy you can file your lawsuit at the Orange County Courthouse or one of its many branches.
Types of Lawsuits
Most car accident lawsuits will be based on a negligence claim, where you must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws or intoxicated.
Florida has adopted a comparative negligence rule for assigning fault. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party.
Additionally, in grievous accidents where a close relative has died, the surviving family members have a right to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship and funeral expenses.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the vehicle manufacturer if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. These types of claims typically require the analysis of an automotive expert, and are often based on defective tires, seatbelts, airbags, accelerators, brakes or engines. Successful lawsuits require you to prove:
- the defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous;"
- the vehicle was being operated as intended; and
- the vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.
Finally, in some circumstances you can sue the Florida state government for a poorly designed roadway, intersection, or means of controlling traffic. The governmental agency responsible for the design and maintenance of the roadway could be liable for poorly designed road signs and barriers or an improperly maintained road surface.
As you can see from the examples above, the law surrounding accidents and injuries can be complicated. In many circumstances and for many types of cases, you may wish to enlist the aid of a qualified local attorney who may be best equipped to guide your next steps.