In Florida, car accidents happen every day. In fact, in one recent year, Florida roadways saw more than 400,000 accidents, with more than 31,000 of them occurring in Orange County. In the 31,004 Orange County car accidents that occurred in one year alone, 21,646 people were injured and 188 people died.
If you’re one of the thousands of Floridians who has been injured in a car accident, should you hire an attorney? And if so, at what point should you do so? Read on for more information about the reasons you should hire a car accident attorney, and talk to an experienced Orlando car accident attorney about the specific details of your accident.
Reason #1: You’ve Suffered Serious Injuries
Florida law requires that all individuals registering a vehicle in the state purchase a personal injury protection (PIP) policy with a limit of at least $10,000. This policy is designed to cover the first portion of your medical expenses and lost wages if that you are injured in an accident, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. In exchange for purchasing this policy, the law states that drivers are exempt from being sued for other people’s injuries, provided those injuries don’t meet the serious injury threshold.
The serious injury threshold allows injured car accident victims to file a personal injury claim against liable parties and seek compensation not only for medical expenses and lost wages, but also for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. Florida law describes the personal injury threshold as:
- Significant or permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- A permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement;
- Significant and permanent scarring and disfigurement; or
The reason you need an attorney for this type of accident is to provide you the best chance of receiving full compensation based on the attorney’s ability to properly value your case, to use their knowledge of the law to file your claim in a timely manner within the right jurisdiction, and to skillfully negotiate with third-party insurance companies for a settlement or aggressively represent your claims in court.
Reason #2: The Insurance Company Wants to (or Doesn’t Want to) Settle
If you’ve been in an accident and have suffered serious injuries as a result, the liable party’s insurance company will likely want to talk to you and may even offer you a quick settlement. While this settlement may be tempting, you should be wary of settlements that are offered while you’re still recovering from your injuries.
It is impossible to properly value your case if you’re not done with treatment and have yet to determine all of the ways your injury has impacted and will continue to impact your life. If you settle for the lowball amount that the insurance company is offering you, you will be unable to go back to this company later and ask for more money, which can leave you shouldering some of your expenses out-of-pocket.
An insurance company is in business to make money. Low settlement offers are one way they stay in business. Another way is to find some reason not to provide you with a settlement at all. This includes attempting to solicit an “official” statement from you through seemingly casual conversation that makes it appear that you have admitted fault or accepted liability for the accident. Hiring an experienced accident attorney to represent you in your case means that the insurance company negotiates with someone who is knowledgeable not only about personal injury law but about how much your case is worth, as well.
Reason #3: The Insurance Company Says You Were Liable (But You Weren’t)
As mentioned above, shifting the liability to you and away from their insured is one way that some insurance companies do business. An accident attorney with a network of resources including professional accident reconstructionists and other experts will carefully examine all of the details of your case to identify liability.
They know that to demonstrate liability in court, plaintiffs must prove the following elements:
- The defendant (the potentially liable party) owed you a duty of care. In car accident cases, the duty of care that one driver owes to another is generally to operate their motor vehicle in a safe and lawful manner.
- The defendant breached this duty of care. The breach depends on the specific details of your case. Some examples of breaches to the duty of care in car accident cases include driving under the influence, distracted driving, speeding, or following too closely.
- This breach resulted in the accident that caused your injuries and related expenses.
An experienced accident attorney is best positioned to deal with any accusations about your liability as well as to accurately demonstrate who the liable parties really are.
Reason #4: Your Injuries Aren’t Just Physical
As explained by New York Law School’s Center for Justice Democracy, what makes life worth living is usually not what one earns to pay for life’s necessities, but the activities and relationships that one has outside of work, which provide real opportunity to enjoy life’s pleasures. In a matter of a few seconds, a car accident may take away all of those pleasures, leaving an injured victim to attempt to manage enormous personal losses, including lost relationships or the inability to do the activities they once enjoyed due to their injuries.
PIP policies don’t compensate people for non-economic injuries such as loss of enjoyment of life, pain, mental anguish, emotional distress, or humiliation that may result from the effects of a car accident. Only a successful personal injury claim can compensate you for the impact that your injuries have had on your life. PIP policies also don’t cover damage to your car and other personal property, but those expenses can be included in your personal injury lawsuit.
Reason #5: There Are Multiple Liable Parties or Other Complexities
Car accidents are complex events that can involve negligent or reckless actions by more than one individual or entity as well as a wide array of other issues that demand legal expertise. In many cases, there isn’t just one liable party.
Some examples of cases that involve more than one liable party include:
- Accidents caused by an individual who is on the clock and/or in a work vehicle at the time of the accident. In these cases, an experienced car accident attorney will generally look to the company that hired this driver for potential liability. Companies are often responsible for injuries caused by their employees because that employee is serving as their representative, and the company typically holds the insurance policy for a company car. Additionally, employers are tasked with the responsibility of carefully checking their employees’ backgrounds—including that employee’s driving history—and properly training them in accordance with company policies and governmental regulations.
- Accidents caused by an individual who is driving someone else’s car. Most people have loaned their car out to a friend or relative before. However, doing so may require you—or, more accurately, your insurance company—to pay out for injuries that friend or relative may cause if they are responsible for an accident.
- A business establishment that over-served alcohol to a known “habitually addicted” patron who went on to get into a DUI-related car accident.
- Chain reaction crashes in which more than one driver’s negligence or recklessness is involved. One example of this would be a rear-end accident in which three vehicles are traveling in the same travel lane. Vehicle number 2 and vehicle number 3 are each tailgating the car in front of them. Vehicle number 1 brakes, causing vehicle number 2 to brake as well. Vehicle number 3 does not brake in time and rear-ends vehicle number 2. Vehicle number 2 rear-ends vehicle number 1. In this case, an experienced car accident attorney may be able to show that both the driver of vehicle number 2 and the driver of vehicle number 3 are liable because they were not providing sufficient space to come to a safe stop.
- Accidents in which both negligence and defective auto parts are involved. For example, using the above scenario of three vehicles traveling in the same travel lane, say the driver of vehicle number 3 was unable to stop due to a manufacturer’s defect in their brakes. The collision happens as described, but this time, the manufacturer of the vehicle’s brakes may also face liability.
The benefit of there being multiple liable parties is that there may be more insurance resources to access to obtain the compensation you need to cover your expenses. However, determining which parties may be liable and the extent of their insurance resources is best left to an attorney who knows what to look for and how to handle this type of accident.
When Should You Hire an Attorney?
Ideally, you should hire a car accident attorney for your case as soon as possible, within a week or two of the accident. There are several reasons for this, including:
- Time limits established by your PIP policy. You have a short period of time to obtain medical treatment and file a claim with your own PIP policy. It’s best to make a claim even if you suffered a serious injury, as your PIP policy will generally provide a quick payout of initial expenses. However, your expenses may quickly exceed the limits of your policy and it is best to have an attorney on board to begin working on your personal injury claim.
- A quick, lowball insurance settlement offer is already being prepared. In cases involving serious injury and clear liability, a settlement may be offered before the injured person has even left the hospital. Having a personal injury attorney who is available to explain how to value your case can help you understand if the settlement offer is fair or realistic before you decide to accept it.
- Preservation of evidence. The longer you wait to hire an attorney following a car accident, the higher the risk that evidence important to your case will be lost. Hiring an attorney promptly allows them to begin the process of gathering evidence early, while witnesses’ memories are still fresh and the evidence is still available.
- Time limits for filing a claim. Florida sets strict time limits on most personal injury cases. While these limits provide reasonable time for a case to be pursued, waiting until the last minute to file isn’t usually the best approach for achieving a successful outcome.
- You can get a better understanding of the law and your eligibility to seek compensation. You will be asked to make decisions during your personal injury claim and you undoubtedly have a lot of questions as to how to proceed. A personal injury attorney is the best person to explain the process to you, answer your legal questions, and provide guidance that can help you make well-informed decisions in your best interest.
- You face mounting bills and expenses as a result of your accident. Those bills aren’t going to disappear while you wait to file a claim. Personal injury cases can take a lot of time. The sooner you start your claim, the sooner you can obtain the compensation you need to pay the bills you’ve incurred.
If you were injured in a car accident, let an experienced car accident lawyer help you understand your legal options.
Orlando, FL 32814