Personal Injury FAQ
An accident can take you by surprise. It can leave you confused, angry, and at a loss for what to do. At Viles and Beckman, we believe that one of the best ways to make it through an accident is to understand what comes next and know your rights. If you have been involved in an accident, a Florida personal injury attorney can help you recover damages and begin to move on with your life. Here are a few of the most common questions we get at Viles and Beckman.
What is a personal injury?
A personal injury claim is a legal action taken to obtain compensation for injuries you sustained because of someone else’s negligence or wrongful conduct. It is not the same as a criminal prosecution.
The success of a personal injury claim depends upon whether you (the “plaintiff”) can prove that the party who acted negligently or wrongfully (the “defendant”) violated a legal duty and, in so doing, caused you harm. Let’s look at a car accident for example. Whenever you get in your car, you have a legal duty to other drivers to follow traffic laws and drive safely. If you hit another vehicle with yours, the driver of the other vehicle may claim that you violated your duty. If that driver suffered injuries in the accident, you may have legal liability for damages.
But personal injury claims cover far more than car accidents. Any time you sustain an injury or loss because of someone else’s negligent or wrongful actions, you may have the right to pursue a personal injury claim.
Do I need an attorney?
Let’s begin by saying that you are never required to hire a personal injury attorney. The choice to hire a personal injury attorney is one that only you can make. That said, it is never a bad idea to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney after sustaining an injury that wasn’t your fault.
An experienced personal injury attorney helps you navigate interactions with insurance companies, particularly an insurer of the person who harmed you. Insurance companies have one thing in mind—profits. When it comes down to it, these companies will try to resolve your case as quickly and inexpensively as possible. In most cases, this means that they will not offer you the compensation you deserve off-the-bat. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you negotiate with insurance companies to achieve a more favorable outcome or, if necessary, to take legal action to assert your rights to fair compensation.
How much will a personal injury attorney cost?
Most personal injury attorneys handle cases on a contingency basis. In other words, we only get paid if you get paid. In these arrangements, the attorney and the client agree at the beginning of the case that the attorney will receive a percentage of any final monetary recovery.
I was injured in an accident. How do I pay my bills?
One of the scariest parts of an accident is worrying about how you are going to pay your bills. The thing about accidents is nobody plans for them. Medical bills can add up quickly and unless you have money set aside for unexpected medical costs or have great medical insurance, the thought of paying for these expenses can cause an enormous amount of stress. Thankfully, there are many resources available to help with medical costs. These include:
- Personal injury protection coverage (PIP): PIP is part of your auto insurance policy. In the event of a car or truck accident, PIP helps pay for your medical costs. PIP will only cover 80 percent of your costs meaning you will still be responsible for a 20 percent copay.
- Worker’s comp: If you are injured on the job your employer’s worker’s compensation insurance should cover the cost of any medical treatment. If you are in a car accident while on the job, your worker’s compensation insurance will help manage your care.
- Private health insurance: Being in an accident does not preclude you from using your private healthcare insurance to pay for medical expenses (although in many cases, your health insurer will require you to resort first to your PIP coverage).
What is PIP?
In Florida, the law requires all drivers to carry personal injury protection, more commonly known as PIP. This insurance can help cover medical bills and lost wages in the event of a motor vehicle accident. The law requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 PIP coverage.
Florida is a so-called “no-fault” state. That means your own PIP coverage covers your initial medical expenses resulting from an accident, regardless of who is at fault. Your PIP insurance will cover your injuries while the other driver’s PIP will cover their injuries. If you have passengers in your car your PIP benefits may extend to them as well. Your PIP insurance will also cover you if you are a pedestrian involved in an accident. If you exceed the limits of your PIP coverage, depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may also have the right to pursue a claim against the at-fault party.
To receive benefits under your PIP policy, you must visit a qualified medical professional within 14 days of your accident. If you miss this window, you will not be able to use any of your PIP benefits, and you may lose the ability to use other insurance also. To qualify for the entire $10,000 limit you must be diagnosed with an emergency medical condition. If you are not diagnosed with an emergency medical condition you will only be able to use $2,500 of your PIP coverage.
Keep in mind that PIP is a form of insurance specific to car accidents. As we said above, personal injury law covers many other types of accidents that have nothing to do with motor vehicles. In those cases, your options for seeking compensation from at-fault parties will differ from those in the car accident context.
What should I do if I am in a car accident?
Car accidents are some of the most common types of personal injury cases we see at Viles and Beckman. In 2018, the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles department reported over 400,000 car accidents, with over half involving injuries. If you are in a car accident, the way you respond to the accident can make all the difference in your case. Here are a few things you should do if you are in an accident:
- Stay at the scene: It goes without saying, do not leave the scene of an accident. Not only is it illegal to leave the scene of an accident, but doing so can make it difficult to prove your case and impossible to file a personal injury claim. After an accident, move your car out of the path of traffic if you can safely do so.
- Check for injuries: If you are able, check all passengers in your car for injuries and check on the driver of the other car. If anyone has serious injuries, call 911 right away.
- Report the accident: State law requires drivers to file an accident report for any accident involving an injury or death or damages of at least $500. If the police show up to the scene, the reporting officer will file a report. Otherwise, you will need to file one with the DMV.
- Exchange information: It is very important to get the other driver’s personal information before you leave the scene. This includes their name, phone number, and insurance information. The best way to document the insurance information is to take a picture of both sides of the driver’s insurance card. If this is not possible, be sure to write down the name of the company, the policy number, and the contact number for the insurance company.
- Gather evidence: Evidence is important in proving fault in an accident. Even if the other driver admits full responsibility, the insurance company may try to manipulate the facts of your case. If you can safely do so, take pictures of the scene of the accident. This includes all cars involved in the accident, paying close attention to the damaged areas. Be sure to include pictures of the other car’s license plate as well as any evidence of property damage or skid marks. If there are any witnesses to the accident, write down their contact information.
- Contact an attorney: If you were injured in the accident, contact a personal injury attorney. Your injuries matter. Sometimes the effects of an accident can last months or years after the initial injury. When this happens, you deserve full compensation.
The insurance company called me. Should I talk to them?
You were recently in an accident that was obviously someone else’s fault. You have pictures, the other party apologized, and you just want to get your settlement and move on. There’s no harm in talking to the insurance company, right? Wrong.
No matter how straightforward your case is, insurance companies will use an array of tactics to try to discredit your case. They’ll look for inconsistencies in your story, try to get you to admit some fault, and bring up your medical history. If an insurance agent contacts you, refer them to your attorney. If the other party’s insurance company calls you and you have not hired an attorney, you can refer them to your insurance company.
The same logic goes to overtures from the at-fault party’s attorney. It is their job to save the insurance company money. If you have hired your own attorney, the law prohibits other attorneys involved in the case from contacting you.
What type of compensation can I recover?
Every case is different. The damages you will be able to recover will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. Some of the most common damages for personal injury cases include:
- Medical costs
- Lost wages
- Vocational retraining
- Home modifications
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of consortium
I’m partially to blame for my own injuries. Can I still sue?
The short answer is, yes. Being partially at fault does not bar you from filing a personal injury lawsuit in Florida.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
Florida’s statute of limitations outlines how long victims have to file a lawsuit after they have been injured in an accident. The amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit depends on what type of injury they sustained. That’s why it’s always important to talk to a lawyer if you are planning on making a personal injury claim. For most personal injury claims, including auto accidents, the statute of limitations in Florida is four years from the date of the accident (statutes of limitation vary from state-to-state). But, for cases of medical malpractice or wrongful death in Florida, a plaintiff only has two years to file a lawsuit.
Will I have to go to court?
Most personal injury claims are settled outside of court. But not all of them. You want a personal injury law firm that is prepared to take your case to court and aggressively fight for the compensation you deserve. But of course, the decision of when to settle and when to go to court is always yours.
Finding the Right Personal Injury Attorney
Choosing the right personal injury attorney can make all the difference when it comes to your personal injury claim. Look for someone who believes that your recovery is the number one priority. You want a personal injury lawyer who knows the tactics that insurance companies use to try to get out of paying you a fair settlement, and the experience to make sure your injuries are taken seriously.
If you still have questions regarding your personal injury claim, an experienced Florida personal injury attorney can help you learn more about your rights.