Unfortunately, vehicle accidents occur at an alarming rate on Florida roads. In one recent year, the last year for which Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has complete statistics, the state had over 17,000,000 licensed drivers and nearly as many registered vehicles. That year 402,385 car accidents resulted in over 254,000 injuries and 3,100 fatalities. And people aren’t dying only in car-to-car accidents. In fact, over 1,300 people were killed in accidents involving a motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian, or other type of non-motorist.
Victims of car accidents often suffer severe injuries that cause lifelong pain and extreme financial hardship. Even with “good” insurance, victims can be left with a pile of bills that feels insurmountable due to deductibles and coinsurance payments. And a hospital stay of only a week can quickly devour any maximum plan benefit of a policy.
And if victims have no insurance? Financial catastrophe. They are held responsible for every cent of care they receive. Bill collectors call, bills come in the mail, collections actions can be started, and civil judgments may be issued by courts if the bills go unpaid long enough. You only have to know that medical bills are the number one reason why people in the United States file bankruptcy to understand how financially devastating a car accident injury can be.
But there is hope for victims suffocating under the weight of medical bills caused by an accident resulting from the fault of another driver. Florida law allows those who have been injured by the bad acts of another to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover monetary damages for the injuries they have suffered.
These types of suits must be filed within four years of the date of the accident. This is called the statute of limitations and is a hard deadline. Failing to file your personal injury lawsuit within four years will cause it to be dismissed (kicked out) by the court and your claims will not be considered regardless of how valid and legally sound they are or the extent of your injuries.
While you may think four years is a long time, it can fly by when you are focused on your recovery. It is in your best interest to contact a car accident attorney as soon as you can, or to have someone contact an attorney on your behalf.
Personal injury suits are complex both legally and factually and require a team of dedicated individuals working hard to get you the best possible result so it is a good idea to give them as much time as possible to prepare your suit. In addition, the sooner you contact an attorney and begin the process of seeking the damages you are entitled to, the sooner you may receive compensation to relieve your financial stress.
You can bet that bill collectors will not wait four years to seek their most drastic remedy so it is smart to get started as soon as possible to head off the worst case scenario. Avoiding bankruptcy and judgments against you may be possible if you file your suit soon enough after your accident.
How a Car Accident Attorney Can Help
While you may be tempted to file your lawsuit without the assistance of an attorney, it is extremely unwise to do so. There is no doubt that the people on the other side will have attorneys of their own. If insurance companies are involved, they have teams of attorneys whose only job is to ensure that their employers pay you the least amount of money possible. And it is almost guaranteed that the other driver will lawyer up.
Don’t go it alone. Retain an attorney who will fight hard for you, who understands the law, and who will not back down when pressured by other attorneys. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied into taking a low settlement offer because you simply do not understand how the game is played.
Filing Your Suit
Who should you bring your suit against? It sounds like a simple question, but it can get complicated rather quickly. Depending on the facts of your case, there may be multiple other parties (defendants) involved. It is almost certain that the other driver will be a defendant, but should your or their insurance company be involved? Almost certainly. What if the driver was working at the time of the accident and driving a company vehicle? Should their employer also be sued? Maybe.
An attorney can help you figure out exactly who should be on the other side of your suit and make sure that those parties are properly served and that the claims against them are properly set forth in your lawsuit.
Just as not filing your lawsuit on time can get it dismissed, if you sue the wrong defendant the court will throw out your suit. Then you are left back at square one, trying to determine who the proper defendant is and what claims you have against them. Nothing like redoing the whole thing to make you bump up against or possibly miss the statute of limitations.
Personal injury lawsuits are not one-man jobs. They almost always require the work of an investigator who can interview witnesses, visit the scene of the accident and pour over police reports and other records in your case. As your case progresses, information may be discovered that can help your negotiating position and make the other party willing to part with more cash to make your suit go away. A good investigator can make a case, and a good law firm will have one at the ready to assist on your case.
Most personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court and never make it before a jury in a courtroom. That means you need someone in your corner who knows the negotiating tricks the other side will try to pull on you. You need someone who understands when to push hard and when to back off. Someone who can evaluate an offer and give you an informed opinion as to whether or not it is a good offer or whether you should push for more or ultimately take your case to court.
Settlements can occur at any time in a case before the jury getting it for deliberation. Yes, even after the trial has started. That’s why it is always a good idea to leave the door open for future negotiation and almost always a bad one to walk away from the negotiating table completely.
Taking Your Case To Trial
The decision about whether or not to accept a settlement offer or take your case to trial rests solely in your hands. It is your life that the resolution of your case will affect and you have the ultimate right to decide where that resolution will take place. Your attorney has a legal obligation to bring all offers to you and will of course offer you advice about whether or not she feels it is a good offer based on the facts of your case, but the decision is yours to make.
When selecting an attorney to handle your case, inquire as to whether or not she has taken car accident cases to trial. Litigation requires skills that not all attorneys have, and perfectly that’s fine—unless you need someone to litigate on your behalf. A good litigator knows how to select and speak to a jury, how to question witnesses, and how to break down complicated medical terminology into plain English that jurors can understand. Your trial attorney must have a strong understanding of the law, the rules of civil procedure, and the practices of the jurisdiction in which your case is being tried.
Just as you would not trust a podiatrist to operate on your heart, you should not trust your personal injury legal matters to an attorney who does not have a broad range of experience in personal injury law.
While no two cases are alike and each requires its own legal analysis, certain monetary damages are typically at issue in personal injury lawsuits. They are economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
As you may guess from the name, economic damages are intended to compensate victims for those costs they have incurred that have a tangible financial value attached to them. Think of them as things you receive bills for or that are easily calculable.
- Medical expenses: This includes expenses you incur both as a result of your initial hospital stay and any follow on care such as therapy or rehabilitation. Your ambulance ride, charges from the hospital, lab work, x-rays, diagnostic testing, surgeries, doctors fees are all included. Once you leave, you may have prescription costs, therapy (occupational, speech, physical, or mental health), rehab costs, or be required to use medical devices or equipment such as wheelchairs or canes.
- Lost wages: Many people must miss work due to car accident injuries. This includes right after the initial injury and after they’ve returned to work but are forced to miss for various appointments or subsequent procedures.
- Future wages: Sometimes an injury may be so severe that a person cannot earn a living at all. Other times, the victim may do some type of work, but not the work they did before the accident due to physical or mental disabilities, and be forced to take a lower-paying job. While lost future wages are more difficult to calculate than the wages you have already lost, it is possible to do so. Your attorney will likely bring in an actuary who can calculate this amount by considering your current age, education and professional training, the possibility of advancement, life expectancy, and the time value of money.
Because economic damages compensate for actual monetary losses, it is important that you carefully document all of these costs. If you can’t prove you paid for it, you can’t seek compensation for it. That means opening all the bills (scary, yes, but necessary), keeping all receipts, and meticulously tracking your time off from work. When considering the amount of income you lose due to your injury, be sure to track not only your actual wages, but also any tips, commissions, or retirement contributions you miss out on by missing work.
The law recognizes that not all injuries people suffer come with a price tag attached. The purpose of non-economic damages to compensate you for those damages that are intangible, yet very real. Depending on the facts of your case, you may receive damages for physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, physical impairment, or loss of enjoyment of life.
If you are married, your spouse may file a claim for loss of consortium at the time you file your lawsuit to compensate them for the loss of the relationship you previously enjoyed. Possible damages include compensation for losing the ability to engage in sexual relations or loss of companionship.
Punitive damages are rarely awarded in Florida personal injury lawsuits, but the facts of your case may merit seeking them. They are intended to punish offenders for especially egregious behavior and to deter similar behavior from others in the future.
Contact a Florida Car Accident Attorney
Being injured in a car accident is scary. Beyond the physical pain you no doubt suffer, the financial pain can be off the pain scale too. But you do not have to suffer in silence. While you recover from your physical injuries, a Florida car accident attorney can work to help you recover from your financial injuries. You deserve an attorney fighting for you who cares about your case and will zealously pursue all legal remedies available to you.