After a head-on collision (or any car accident type), the longer you wait to file your lawsuit, the longer it will take to recover from your damages. This can leave you to deal with bill collectors for an extended time or even force you into bankruptcy. Contact an auto accident attorney as soon as you can to get the legal process started as soon as possible.
Head-on car collisions—those in which two cars collide at both of their front ends—can result in serious injuries. Often both vehicles are traveling at a relatively high rate of speed, and one crosses the center line and crashes into the other. Despite the reported seat belt use rate being over 90 percent in Florida recently, there were over 3,100 automobile deaths in the state in a recent year. Various factors can contribute to head-on collision accidents, including road conditions and distracted drivers.
Immediately After Your Accident
If you’ve been in a head-on collision, you have likely suffered injuries. What do you do after your accident now? These crashes are often terrifying, and you might feel traumatized and uncertain of what to do.
There are two steps that every head-on accident victim should take:
- Get medical treatment
- Get legal help from a car accident lawyer
Some injuries are immediately obvious, and victims might need an ambulance ride and emergency treatment to stabilize their conditions. Even if you have seemingly minor injuries, you should always head straight to a medical professional who can diagnose your condition and begin treatment.
If you have a sprained knee from a head-on collision, and you never have the injury diagnosed, you cannot prove you suffered the injury from the crash. You might experience pain and suffering from your knee injury and miss work, but without the medical records to prove the injury, you can expect the insurance company to deny your claim.
Once you protect your health and have a medical diagnosis, protect your legal rights by consulting with an attorney. A car accident lawyer can evaluate who should be liable for your injuries and begin the legal process. You should never discuss the accident or your injuries with an insurance company without the representation of a lawyer. Doing so can jeopardize your claim.
Filing an Insurance Claim
Under Florida’s no-fault insurance law, drivers in the state must carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage on their vehicles. PIP should cover the insured person, people operating the insured’s motor vehicle, passengers in the motor vehicle, and other people struck by the motor vehicle who suffer bodily injury. This policy has to cover at least $10,000 in medical benefits for treatment of injuries resulting from the accident, $10,000 in disability benefits, and $5,000 in death benefits.
The Florida Legislature got tricky when it passed this legislation and gave insurance providers a way to pay only 25 percent of medical costs by determining that you did not have an emergency medical condition. That’s right insurance companies can claim that your injuries don’t satisfy policy requirements and pay you only $2,500 on a $10,000 policy.
To have your insurance company pay on your policy, you must submit your claim within 14 days of your accident. The insurer will simply not accept your claim after 14 days. After that, the insurance company has 60 days to investigate your claim for the possibility of fraud. However, even if the company suspects fraud, it still must pay your claim within 30 days.
Document all of the costs you incur associated with your accident. Keep all medical bills, from your ambulance ride to your last physical therapy appointment. Keep receipts in a safe place and keep them all together.
The best thing you can do is have a car accident lawyer handle the PIP claim process. An experienced attorney knows how to handle insurance companies and ensure your provider is not unfairly limiting your benefits.
PIP Medical Costs
Your PIP plan should cover 80 percent of medical costs. For PIP to cover your medical costs, a licensed physician, dentist, or chiropractor must provide, order, supervise, or prescribe your treatment. The treatment might also take place in a hospital or similar medical facility. Your PIP policy should also cover emergency transportation.
Once your initial care is over (after your release from the hospital), you should receive reimbursement for follow-up care related to your underlying initial diagnosis but only care that certain medical professionals supervise.
Qualified follow-up care includes those provided by:
- A hospital or ambulatory surgical center
- An entity wholly owned by one or more physicians, chiropractic physicians, or dentists and their spouse, parent, child, or sibling.
- An entity that owns or is wholly owned, directly or indirectly, by a hospital.
- A licensed physical therapist if that care stems from a referral by certain providers, or
- Certain health care clinics
PIP Disability Costs
Florida PIP plans should cover 60 percent of lost gross income and loss of earning capacity from the inability to work caused by the injuries sustained in your wreck. It also has to cover expenses you incur from other services you can no longer perform for your household that you otherwise might have provided free of charge. This can include household duties, childcare, or lawn and garden maintenance.
For disability claims, you will have to provide your insurance company with wage verification from your employer that goes back 13 weeks from the date of your accident. Some companies also require documentation from the doctor who diagnosed the condition that has left you unable to work.
Just as it is important to document your medical costs, keep track of the hours and days you miss from work and the income associated with that time. This is especially important if your employer does not provide short- or long-term disability benefits.
PIP Death Benefits
Florida drivers must also carry at least $5,000 in death benefits on their PIP plans. This limit applies to each person who is fatally injured in the accident and is in addition to medical and disability benefits provided by the driver’s plan. Those who may receive the death benefit payout include the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s will or any of that person’s relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption.
When Your Provider Does Not Want to Pay?
Because insurance companies only have to pay $2,500 if they determine you did not have an “emergency medical condition,” you can rest assured that they often make that determination. An experienced Florida car accident attorney can help you evaluate your situation and determine whether or not it is in your best interest to take legal action against your insurance company in such a dispute.
When PIP Insurance Isn’t Enough?
If you carry the minimum PIP insurance coverage, those benefits may not cover all of your costs to diagnose, treat, and heal from your injuries.
If you have a lengthy hospital stay, that cost alone may eat up the $10,000 coverage under your PIP plan without even touching follow-up care or any ongoing therapeutic or rehabilitative costs.
You can carry more than the minimum coverage amounts, but as you might expect, you may not change your coverage levels once you’ve submitted a claim. Consider upping your coverage now.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
In addition to fighting for the compensation due you from your insurance company, an Orlando car accident attorney may advise you that the best course of action in your case is to file a lawsuit against the other driver.
Florida law allows you to recover certain monetary damages from a negligent party.
We list some of those types of damages below:
- Economic damages – Economic damages seek to compensate an injured party for direct monetary loss and require direct proof. Of course, to recover these damages from the other party, they must exceed the compensation you received under your PIP plan. These damages include initial medical costs (your emergent treatment and initial hospital stay), post-discharge costs such as appointments with specialists or a later surgery, various therapies (physical, occupational, or speech), rehabilitation, specialized medical equipment, the money you spend to have someone perform household services you now cannot take on yourself, and lost income both that you already lost and future earnings you may lose.
- Non-economic damages – These damages are harder to prove because they are not those for which you will not receive a bill in the mail. But experts can be brought in to assist with assigning a dollar amount to these losses. You can recover financially for both physical and mental pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, physical impairment, and inconvenience. In addition, certain of your family members (often a spouse) may file a claim at the time of your suit for loss of consortium, which seeks to compensate them for loss of consortium or companionship that resulted from your injuries.
- Punitive damages – Punitive damages punish defendants for their behavior and deter others who do the same. In Florida, these damages apply only to the most egregious behavior (usually the intentional infliction of harm). They are rare in personal injury cases but your case may involve them.
Document the economic damages you incur in treating your injuries for purposes of a personal injury suit, just as it is for submitting your PIP claim. You will be required to provide evidence of the costs of your injuries. Keep all your bills. And if you don’t know whether to keep something, keep it and show it to your attorney.
Remember that each case is unique. How much of each type of damage you deserve depends on the facts of your case.
Five Types of Head-On Collision Injuries
Head-on collisions often result in serious injuries due to the speed at which many of them occur. Some injuries can have a lifelong impact on you and, by extension, your family. Others might affect your ability to work either for a short time or indefinitely. Maybe you can work but now lack the mental or physical ability to work in the field where you previously worked and now must take a lower paying job.
The injuries below are frequently associated with head-on collisions:
- Lower extremity injuries – Injuries to feet, toes, upper and lower legs, and knees are common in head-on collisions. The National Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study that showed these types of injuries are among the most common sustained by front-riding vehicle occupants in head-on collisions. Lower extremity injuries can require surgery, physical therapy, and in the most severe cases, amputation.
- Whiplash – While more common in rear-end collisions, whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by a rapid and forceful back and forth movement of the neck. The motion resembles that of cracking a whip, hence the name. Whiplash can inhibit the range of motion in the neck and cause dizziness, fatigue, and pain that may increase with neck movement. People can also experience tingling and numbness in their arms.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI) – Whiplash is a common cause of traumatic brain injuries that result from car accidents. TBIs most often occur when the head receives a jolt or blow, but the jostling of the brain in a whiplash incident can also cause them. You may also experience a traumatic brain injury if your head hits the dashboard, steering wheel, or side window. Diagnosis of this type of injury is difficult because patients may not express symptoms until days or weeks after the incident. Compounding the issue is that the severity of TBIs ranges from a mild concussion to a coma and numerous manifestations in between. The symptoms also vary greatly, ranging from lethargy and speech difficulties to lifelong cognitive deficiencies.
- Chest injury – Those hurt in head-on collisions may experience chest injuries. While seat belts save lives, and of course, anyone who gets into a vehicle should wear one, they can cause bruising and soreness to the chest. A driver’s impact with the steering wheel or the impact from an airbag might break ribs which then puncture the lungs.
- Spinal cord injury – Herniated discs, cracked vertebra, nerve damage, paralyzation, and even death can occur when the force of a front-end collision travels up the spine and disrupts its alignment.
Contact an Auto Accident Attorney for Questions and More Information
Car accidents can leave you reeling both physically and financially. It is always a good idea to seek the advice of an experienced attorney. If it is appropriate to file a lawsuit in your case, Florida law requires you to do so within four years of the date of your accident. While that may seem like a long time, a tremendous amount of work goes into preparing a lawsuit, so the more time you can give your attorney, the better off you are.