More than 400,000 traffic accidents occurred on Florida’s roads and highways in one recent year, resulting in approximately 254,000 injuries, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Florida is one of around a dozen states that have no-fault insurance laws. This means that when you have a minor fender bender or injury as a result of a car accident, your mandatory no-fault coverage will kick in to reimburse you for damages, regardless of who caused the accident.
Unfortunately, the damage and injuries resulting from many car accidents far exceed the limits of no-fault coverage, requiring accident injury victims to step outside of Florida’s no-fault insurance system and file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, which can result in a settlement or going to trial.
The steps you take after a severe car accident, especially when it wasn’t your fault, play a large role in whether or not you will prevail in your accident injury claim. We provide this guide so that you can make the best choices if you fall victim to a car accident or if you’ve already suffered injuries in a Florida car accident. Also, we are empathetic to the fact that you may not be able to take some of these steps because of physical limitations as a result of your injuries. In fact, you might be reading this guide because you are a friend or family member looking to help your loved one who is incapacitated after an accident.
In any case, this guide outlines the things you should ideally do after a car accident that wasn’t your fault, with the caveat that you, or a loved one on your behalf, should do as much as you can to maximize the chances of a positive outcome on your car accident claim.
Seek Medical Treatment as Soon as Possible
When a severe accident occurs, especially in high traffic areas, it’s likely that emergency services, including ambulances, local police, the fire department, and the Florida Highway Patrol will arrive at the scene of the accident. Drivers and occupants who are unconscious or have suffered immobilizing injuries almost always get a ride in an ambulance to the nearest emergency room after paramedics do their best to administer first aid and field medicine. Those who are lucky enough to walk away from an accident sometimes assume they don’t need to be checked out by a doctor. They discount their bumps and bruises and soreness as minor injuries and reject medical treatment. This is a mistake for two reasons.
First, you need to put your health and safety first, and just because you cannot visibly detect an injury does not mean you haven’t suffered one. Car accidents are a traumatic event that often induces an adrenaline rush in the human body. Adrenaline masks pain, so some accident injury victims might not feel the full impact of the crash for hours or even days after it occurs. Common injuries, which can be fatal if left untreated, include internal organ damage, internal bleeding, and traumatic brain injuries. It’s in your best interest to let a physician examine you for common car accident injuries. You might be hospitalized, given restrictions, or cleared for normal activity.
Second, when you file an insurance claim or take legal action against the at-fault driver, insurance companies and legal defense teams will aggressively try to attack your claims, and may argue that the car accident did not lead to your injuries. Medical documentation of your injuries serves as valuable evidence for insurance companies and the court, making it far more difficult for the other side to claim that your injuries were pre-existing or were caused by another event. Your medical records also provide leverage for your attorney to negotiate a better settlement or ask for more damages in a lawsuit.
Gather Driver, Occupant, and Witness Information
Local police or the Florida Highway Patrol will gather relevant information for an accident report when they arrive at the scene of a car accident. Yet, it’s in your best interest to gather information yourself, if you are physically able. Law enforcement can make mistakes or forget to record important information. Additionally, when you gather information about an accident immediately after it happens, you protect yourself from dishonest drivers who might try to leave the scene of the accident to avoid interacting with the police.
After a car accident that isn’t your fault, remember to keep your emotions in check. Speak with the other driver if possible and record their name, address, phone, email, insurance information, vehicle identification number, make and model, and license plate. You should also try to get contact information from any eyewitnesses who stopped at the scene. Make sure you avoid discussing the specifics of the accident and how it occurred. Anything you say might come back to haunt you later. You can be sure that insurance adjusters and the defense will try to twist your words to their advantage and use them to devalue your claim.
Use Your Smartphone to Take Photos
Once road crews come to clean the scene of an accident, loads of valuable evidence will be lost forever. You can preserve this evidence by using your cell phone, provided it made it through the accident unscathed, to take video and/or pictures after the accident. Insurance companies and courts prefer photo evidence because it is more reliable than law enforcement’s interpretation of how a car accident occurred. Your attorney, the defense attorney, and associated insurance carriers can use these photos to determine liability, which is especially important when the accident wasn’t your fault.
Take pictures of anything you think might be relevant, but definitely include photos of the entire accident scene, any property damage, visible injuries, road hazards that might have contributed to the accident, and road conditions. If you didn’t write down license plate information, you can also snap photos of all license plates of the vehicles involved in the collision.
Get a Copy of the Accident Report
Eventually, you need to get a copy of the final crash report that law enforcement submits to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). You will likely have to wait a week or two before the officer completes the report and uploads it to the FLHSMV system. You can order a copy online through FLHSMV for $10 plus an additional $2 convenience fee.
They will send you a link for immediate access once you pay, and you need to download your copy within 48 hours. If you don’t have internet access or prefer to request the final crash report in person, visit the nearest Florida Highway Patrol Troop Station, where you can fill out the necessary paperwork and pay the fee.
File an Insurance Claim Under Your Florida PIP Policy
Florida requires those who register a vehicle to carry a minimum of $10,000 each in property damage liability and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to comply with the state’s no-fault insurance laws. Regardless of the severity of your accident and injuries, your first step to get reimbursed for some of your economic damages is to file an insurance claim with your PIP insurance carrier. Florida PIP coverage typically pays for 80 percent of medical treatment and 60 percent of lost wages as a result of missing work due to your car accident and injury.
Once you meet or exceed your PIP policy limits, you must look elsewhere to recover the full amount of damages you deserve. In most cases, your best course of action is to contact a car accident attorney to help you file a claim against the at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability insurance policy, and perhaps a personal injury lawsuit when an insurance settlement is not an option.
Keep All Receipts, Bills, and Payroll Information
Severe car accident injuries can be costly, especially when considering medical costs and lost wages. Prevailing in an insurance claim or lawsuit requires you to prove all of your economic losses related to the accident and accompanying injuries; if you cannot prove your losses, you won’t be able to claim them. This includes bills for ambulance and emergency services, doctor’s visits, diagnostic imaging, hospitalization, surgery, and medication, as well as gas receipts for travel to and from the hospital or clinic for treatment or follow-up care. You might also accrue expenses for rehabilitation costs such as visits to physical therapists or occupational therapists.
Other economic losses include the cost of replacement services, long-term health care, and expenses to make your home accessible, such as installing a wheelchair ramp or handrails. Replacement services include things like a lawn care service, a handyman, a cleaning service, or a childcare provider. If you are involved in a car accident that isn’t your fault, you must keep every bill and receipt related to your accident and injury to provide documentation of your losses. You also must provide your attorney with your salary information in the form of pay stubs. Your income before your injuries will help determine your lost and future income, as well as any paid time off you had to use as a consequence of injury.
Document Your Injuries in a Journal
Florida PIP insurance does not cover any non-economic losses an accident injury victim might experience. But if you file a lawsuit against the driver who caused you harm, the amount of damages you ask for will factor non-economic losses into the equation; however, these loses are not easy to quantify. If or when you can physically do so, you should start a daily journal describing your symptoms and recovery process. This can provide insight into how your recovery is progressing from a mental and emotional standpoint.
The details of your journal can give your doctor information about your symptoms, making it easier for them to treat all of your injuries or conditions. When a severe car accident causes visible injuries, you can also enter photos into your journal to document your recovery progress or lack thereof. Your attorney can use the information you keep in a journal to place a more accurate value on your claim.
Don’t Discuss Your Claim With Others
You can be sure that an adjuster from the at-fault driver’s insurance company will thoroughly investigate your car accident claim. If you file a lawsuit, it’s not uncommon for the defense’s legal team to also hire an investigator. Insurance adjusters are not your friends, even though they might try to pretend they are, especially when you are not the policyholder. They will listen carefully to everything and anything you say and use your comments against you to deny or devalue your claim.
Insurance adjusters and investigators also speak with friends and family members in some cases. Your well-meaning loved ones might say something that ends up hurting you, as well. It’s in your best interest to only discuss your claim with your attorney and keep friends and family out of the loop until your case has been settled or litigated.
See if a Skilled Florida Car Accident Attorney Can Help
After being involved in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you will almost always benefit from consulting with a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can investigate the circumstances of your accident to uncover facts to support your case and give you the best chance of recovering damages. Additionally, your attorney can gather relevant documents, interview witnesses, and handle paperwork and other minutia related to your car accident claim.
Most importantly, a skilled lawyer will handle communication with the insurance companies involved in the claim or lawsuit. This can protect you from inadvertently saying anything that might hurt your case. Qualified lawyers are also trained negotiators, so if an insurance company offers you a quick settlement, they know how to negotiate to get the best payout possible in your particular case. Severe car accident injuries require weeks, months, or longer for recovery. If you hire a lawyer, you can focus on healing while your attorney advocates for your rights and fights to get you the compensation you deserve.
Fort Myers, FL 33919