If you were injured in a car accident, you must meet many deadlines. You must not only report the accident to the local authorities, but also to your insurance provider and—if someone else was at fault for the accident—to the at-fault party’s insurance provider.
If you intend to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover compensation for damages you sustained in the accident, you will also need to meet an important filing deadline with the court. Read on for more information from the auto accident attorneys at Michael T. Gibson about each of these deadlines and how they can impact your ability to pursue compensation.
Reporting the Accident to Authorities: Immediately
If you are in an accident in which any of the following factors are involved, you must remain at the scene and call 911 immediately so that law enforcement can file a report:
- A crash in which someone was injured;
- A crash in which someone was killed;
- A hit-and-run accident;
- A DUI crash;
- A crash in which one of the vehicles involved is no longer operable and a wrecker is required to tow the vehicle from the scene;
- A crash involving a commercial vehicle; and/or
- A crash in which it is apparent that there is more than $500 in damage.
Crash reports can be purchased from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles online for $10. You are limited to 10 reports per purchase and those reports must be provided to you within 48 hours of your purchase. You can also obtain a copy of the police report for your accident by phone or mail within 60 days after the crash.
Filing an Insurance Claim: Within Two Weeks
All drivers who register their vehicles in Florida are required to purchase a personal injury protection (PIP) policy. This policy provides some compensation for medical expenses and lost wages regardless of fault in an accident and is often a helpful way to deal with your initial expenses after an accident. However, you must seek treatment within two weeks after the accident for your expenses to be covered through your PIP policy.
Some of the other provisions of your PIP policy include:
- You are required to purchase a policy with a limit of at least $10,000.
- Some of the items covered by PIP include:
- 80 percent of medically necessary expenses to treat your accident-related injury up to the limit of your policy such as emergency medical services at the scene of the accident or at an emergency department, ambulance transport, medication, diagnostic testing, hospitalization, and rehab services;
- 60 percent of the wages you lost if you were too injured to work or had to miss work to attend injury-related appointments;
- Payments for household services that you previously performed on your own but now must hire someone to do as a result of your injury; and
- A $5,000 death benefit to cover funeral and burial expenses.
- If your injury is not an emergency, you are entitled to receive one lump sum of $2,500 to cover your expenses.
While you are filing your claim with your PIP policy, you should also check with your insurance representative to see if you have other coverages that might provide money to pay your medical expenses. Some policies that might be available for this include med-pay coverage, comprehensive coverage, and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Be sure, as well, to report your accident as soon as possible to your insurance provider, even if you’re not planning to file a claim. Failing to let your insurance company know about an accident can result in your coverage being denied and can even cause the insurance company to drop your policy altogether.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: Within Four Years
Florida’s no-fault insurance law was put in place to reduce the number of lawsuits arising from motor vehicle accidents. You may need a lawyer to fight a claim with your own PIP carrier, however, and the state still allows injured people to file lawsuits in cases where their injuries require more medically necessary treatments than their PIP policy will cover or their injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold.
The state’s serious injury lawsuit includes injuries that:
- Result in death;
- Cause loss of an important bodily function;
- Are permanent, within a reasonable degree of medical probability; and/or
- Lead to significant scarring or disfigurement.
If your injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold, you can claim additional damages for pain and suffering and other non-economic costs that your PIP policy does not provide.
Damages that can be recovered in Florida personal injury cases may include:
- The cost of reasonable and necessary care;
- Property damage, such as damage to your car;
- A rental car if you need one for transportation after the accident;
- Lost wages, if you can’t work due to your injuries;
- Loss of future earning capacity if your injuries result in permanent disability and you are cannot perform the duties at work that you performed before the accident took place;
- The cost of household services that you can’t perform on your own due to your disability;
- Mental and physical pain and suffering;
- Loss of enjoyment of life;
- Disfigurement or physical impairment; and/or
Florida law allows individuals to file a personal injury lawsuit within four years of the date of their accident. Extra time may be allowed if you are legally incapacitated for some time after the accident, which means you cannot make legal decisions on your own due to the extent of your injuries; the at-fault party left the state at some point between when the accident occurred and a personal injury lawsuit; or the defendant disguised themselves or changed their identity to avoid being served lawsuit papers.
Four years may seem like a long time for filing a lawsuit. However, given the serious nature of many accident injuries and the time your attorney needs to investigate your case and gather evidence to prove your need for compensation, it really isn’t.
Some activities that must also take place in that time frame include:
- Reaching maximum medical improvement. The term maximum medical improvement refers to the plateau that you will eventually reach after which no further recovery is achievable, even if medical treatments improve. This is the point at which you can make the most accurate estimation of what your accident-related medical costs will be. While this information is helpful to your attorney when establishing a value to your case, bear in mind that it may take some time to reach this stage, and for some injured individuals, medical treatment for injuries will be required for the remainder of the injured person’s life. While your attorney can certainly estimate the cost of future medical treatments, they are in the best position to establish your case’s value based on actual numbers that are more easily attained once you have reached maximum medical improvement. Additionally, it is hard to determine whether you have sustained a permanent injury to a reasonable degree of medical probability until this stage is reached.
- Understanding how your injuries will affect your ability to work. Reaching maximum medical improvement will also enable you and your attorney to see if you can return to work, perform the same tasks you could perform before the accident, and earn the wages that you previously earned. Permanent disability is one factor that juries in personal injury trials will take into consideration when determining an award. It is important to have the opportunity to determine whether your injury is permanent and to provide that information to the jury that is deciding your award.
- Understanding the other ways in which your injuries will permanently affect your life. You will eventually settle into post-accident life and begin to have a clearer picture of the long-term impacts of your injury. This takes time, and the impacts will likely become more clear after you have begun to heal. For example, if you enjoyed hiking before your accident, you may not miss it during the time that you are working to reach maximum medical improvement. However, once you have recovered as much as possible, if you discover that you are never going to hike again due to your injury, you may find yourself suffering from a loss of enjoyment of life.
- Identifying liable parties and gathering evidence to prove their liability. To prove their liability, your attorney must show that the at-fault party owed you a duty of care, they breached that duty of care, and the breach resulted in the accident that caused your injuries and expenses. The duty of care in a car accident case generally involves the duty one driver owes to other drivers to operate their motor vehicle in a safe and lawful manner. However, the liable party isn’t always another driver. Other people or businesses may have owed you a duty of care and breached it, such as a liquor establishment that furnished alcohol to a customer who they knew would be driving home, or the manufacturer or distributor of an auto part that turned out not to be safe even when used correctly. A breach is a person or business’s failure to exercise a required duty of care. A liable driver might have breached their duty of care by operating their vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol, driving distracted, speeding, or engaging in any other risky driving practice. A liable liquor establishment might have breached their duty of care by over-serving a customer; a manufacturer or distributor might have sold auto parts for an important part of the vehicle, such as the brakes, with a serious design flaw.
- Negotiating with the at-fault party’s insurance company in an attempt to obtain a settlement. As soon as your attorney has identified all liable parties in your accident and those parties’ insurance resources, and also has a good estimate of the value of your case, they can write a demand letter to the insurance companies to begin negotiating for a settlement. Settlement offers can be made before a lawsuit is filed, during any part of the pre-litigation process, or even after a trial has already begun. An insurance company whose insured has caused an accident will almost always attempt to minimize their insured’s liability in any ways they can. One common tactic is to delay making a response to your claim for as long as legally possible. Another is to attempt to shift the blame for the accident and your resultant injuries onto you. While your attorney is busy fighting for your right to compensation from the party or parties who caused your injury, do not be surprised if the insurance companies’ attorneys are fighting to show that you were at fault for the accident.
Who Can Help Me With All of This?
Being mindful of filing deadlines and statutes of limitations are important aspects of a car accident attorney’s job. However, attorneys provide other services as well, including:
- Answers to your legal questions and guidance regarding the options that are available in your case.
- Identifying all sources of liability in your case and all insurance resources potentially available to compensate you.
- Determining the value of your case based on the injuries you have sustained, the cost of your medical treatment, and the impacts the accident has had on your life.
- Collecting evidence to prove the other party’s liability and your expenses.
- Deposing witnesses.
- Negotiating with the at-fault party’s insurance provider in an attempt to obtain a fair settlement.
- Preparing for court, including attending all pre-trial conferences and hearings.
- Litigating your case.
- Collecting your settlement or award.
- Continued representation if the defendant appeals a verdict.
Getting your attorney on board as soon as possible allows them to take the necessary time to build your case and fight for the compensation you deserve. Don’t wait to contact a car accident lawyer for more information and a free case evaluation.
Michael T. Gibson P.A.
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814