For most Florida residents, driving is an everyday occurrence. Florida is also a popular vacation destination, welcoming nearly 113 million visitors in 2016. That means there are lots of people driving on unfamiliar roads. For several years, Florida has appeared at or near the top of the list for the worst state in the country in which to drive. In 2019, Florida was part of a three-way tie for fourth place.
In the United States, there were more than 37,150 car accident fatalities in 2017. Florida reported a total of 402,385 accidents in 2017. This number included 254,310 injuries and 2,924 fatalities. This is an improvement over the previous year. Motor vehicle crashes happen for all kinds of reasons. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study reported that vehicles caused two percent of accidents, two percent by the environment and another two percent by “unknown” causes. Driver error caused the remaining 94 percent.
Sadly, car accidents happen frequently, and we see the wreckage as we drive past. Nobody ever expects to be in an accident. However, no matter how responsibly you drive or how careful you are, there is a good chance that you will be involved in a car accident sooner or later. Insurance industry experts estimate that the average driver will be in a collision about once every 17.9 years. Even if you were not at fault, even a minor accident could leave you shocked, traumatized, and unsure what to do next.
Seven Steps to Take After a Car Accident
1. Assess the situation. After an accident, your adrenaline is pumping, and we are in fight or flight mode. Some people even hyperventilate or go into shock. You must remain calm and alert for your safety and that of others involved in the accident. However, that is not easy. Take some deep, soothing breaths. After you have calmed your nerves a little, assess the situation. Are you injured? Is anyone in the car with you injured? How about anyone else involved in the accident? You may feel angry with the other driver, but this is a time to protect everyone’s safety.
If anyone is injured, call an ambulance right away. Keep in mind that others may appear to be unharmed, but many people experience shock following an accident, which is potentially serious. If anyone is experiencing neck or back pain, avoid movement unless a medical provider tells you to, or unless the person is in danger. Moving someone with neck or back injuries can cause further damage. Remember that some injuries do not become obvious until hours or even days after the accident, so it is always a good idea to seek medical attention.
Once you have checked on yourself and others, take a look at what happened. Did you hit something? Where did your car come to rest? Are there dangers such as downed power lines? If so, remain in the vehicle until help arrives. But if the car is smoking or burning, get everybody out of the vehicle and to a safe area quickly.
2. Move to a safe area. Accident scenes may also be dangerous. If possible, move to the side of the road or another safe place. If you are unable to move the car, leave it, and get yourself and others to safety. Turn on your hazard lights and if possible, place warning devices around the accident scene. No matter how upset you are, don’t drive off. Fleeing an accident scene is against the law in every state. If the other driver leaves the scene of the accident, stay, and report the incident.
3. Call the police. Even if it was a minor accident, call 911. The other driver may not want you to report the accident because the other driver may have problems with their driver’s license, car insurance, an outstanding warrant, a stolen vehicle, or one of many other reasons. However, you must call. Information contained in the police report will help your insurance claim or future legal action, particularly when the accident was not your fault. When the police arrive, answer the officer’s questions as simply and clearly as possible. If you do not know the answer, say so, rather than making something up. If you have been in a serious car accident, you must report the crash to the authorities. Even in the case of a minor accident, it is probably in your best interest to report it, in case you need to file an insurance claim or lawsuit.
4. Exchange information. Everyone involved in the accident should exchange information, including:
- Names, addresses, phone numbers;
- Driver license numbers;
- License plate numbers;
- The vehicle makes, models, and years;
- Car insurance information;
- Location of the accident.
5. Gather evidence. While you are still at the scene, collect as much evidence as possible. Make sure you get contact information for any witnesses. Take pictures of all the cars, from several angles, including the interior. Take photos of the accident scene, including any signs, traffic signals, or debris in the area. The other driver’s version of what happened may change later, so these details will help establish the facts.
6. Do not discuss fault. Immediately following an accident, individuals tend to feel shaken, agitated, or defensive. Even those who are not to blame sometimes apologize or declare themselves at fault. In the excitement, do not discuss the accident on social media. It is best to avoid discussing fault when talking with others at the scene or in conversation with an insurance representative. The police and insurance claims representatives will investigate the facts and determine fault.
7. Consult a personal injury attorney. It is important to consult an attorney before discussing the accident with other parties, including representatives of an insurance company, or signing any papers or release forms.
Common Car Accident Injuries
Many car accidents are fatal, but even if you survive, an accident may leave you with severe or permanent injuries. You may require extensive and long-term medical care. You should pay attention to pain or other symptoms that may arise after the accident. It is important to keep records of all medical bills, including treatment at the scene of the accident, emergency care, rehabilitation, home care, statements, and prescriptions in the event of a future lawsuit. Victims may suffer severe injuries such as:
- Brain injuries. Symptoms of a brain injury sometimes don’t show up right away. The brain controls many parts of your body, so recovery is often slow and may be limited. Brain injuries include concussions, skull fractures, hematomas, and more.
- Spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury refers to a damaged spinal cord or the nerves involved with the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries are very serious and may cause permanently limited mobility.
- Soft tissue damage. Collisions often happen with great force. These sudden violent motions may injure the neck (causing whiplash) or discs, joints or organs.
- Burn injuries. Even with the best burn treatments, severe burns are very painful and may result in permanent scarring.
- Scars. Broken bones, burns or lacerations may result in severe scarring, including facial scarring.
- Compound fractures. These are often caused by a piece of bone that breaks through the skin. Car accidents often cause fractures of the legs, arms, hands, and feet. They may require surgery and rehabilitation.
Financial Responsibility for an Accident
If you own a vehicle with at least four wheels and are registering it, you must have Florida insurance. Florida is a “No-Fault” car insurance state, which means that when there is an accident, each person involved in the crash files a claim with his or her own insurance company to pay the costs. However, a driver who is at fault can still be sued for injuries resulting from the accident. Anyone with a valid Florida license plate is required to have minimum coverage is $10,000 personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 property damage liability (PDL).
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance (also called Florida no-fault insurance) covers you up to the limits of your policy, whether or not you caused the crash.
Bodily Injury Liability insurance covers “serious and permanent injury or death to others“ when you are at fault for an accident. Your insurance will cover injuries up to the limits of your policy and provide legal representation for you if the other party sues you.
Property Damage Liability (PDL) insurance covers damages to other people’s property resulting from a crash for which you are liable.
The Basics of Personal Injury Lawsuits
If someone else’s negligence caused your accident and your resulting injuries, you might recover compensation under personal injury law. The definition of negligence is “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” If you are filing a lawsuit based on someone’s negligence, you need to establish “the existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff, defendant’s breach of that duty, plaintiff’s sufferance of an injury, proof that defendant’s breach caused the injury.”
In some cases, the injured driver is partly at fault. In those situations, the law on comparative negligence applies. Florida is a pure comparative negligence (also called pure comparative fault) state. Basically, the person at fault is responsible for the resulting damage. In pure comparative negligence states, unless one driver is solely to blame for the accident, he or she can seek compensation from the other party.
A statute of limitations is a law which determines the time within which you may file a lawsuit after an accident. In Florida, the statute of limitations for most personal injury lawsuits, including car accidents, is four years, but you should discuss all time limits with your attorney. The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Insurance companies usually require you to make a claim or within a reasonable time after the accident, so act promptly.
Damages are money awarded to compensate someone who has been injured due to the negligent actions of another party. These consist of economic damages, or money the victim has lost or will lose in the future due to the accident. These may include medical bills, lost earnings, vehicle repair, and compensation for future economic losses. Non-economic damages refer to pain and suffering. These may include physical pain, mental anguish, disfigurement, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life.
In cases of egregious conduct on the part of the wrongdoer, the court may award punitive damages. The goal is to punish the defendant and deter others from bad conduct in the future. The court only awards punitive damages on rare occasions.
How a Florida Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Dealing with the aftermath of an accident can be overwhelming. If you are unsure whether you need the services of an attorney, consider what the attorney can do for you in this difficult time. Your attorney will advise you of your legal options, defend your rights, and guide you through the process. There are many steps involved, such as investigating the case, gathering and preserving evidence, handling insurance matters, arranging for expert witnesses, filing a lawsuit, handling any pretrial discovery and negotiations, and if no settlement is reached, representing you at trial.
If you or someone you love was injured in a car accident that was not your fault, contacting an Orlando personal injury attorney is one of the most valuable steps you can take to ensure a positive outcome.