After a Florida car accident, most people have a lot of questions. You may be uncertain how it will be decided who was at fault, what compensation may be available to you, and what steps you should take to protect your rights. It can be hard to know where to start gathering information, especially if you’ve been seriously injured and are still suffering the effects of the accident.
Below, you’ll find general answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about car accidents and liability for motor vehicle crashes. While this overview is a good starting point, an experienced car accident attorney is the best source of reliable information specific to your situation.
Florida Car Accident FAQs
Where Do I Start after a Florida Car Accident?
The first and most important thing to do after a car accident is to attend to any injuries. If you’re unsure about whether you need medical treatment, err on the side of caution and get your injuries checked out. Then, make sure you follow the doctor’s instructions. If you don’t seek treatment or you don’t follow up as recommended, you could put both your health and your injury claim at risk.
It’s also in your best interest to document everything you can as soon as possible. If you haven’t been seriously injured, this may involve taking photos and collecting witness information at the accident scene. You will also want to write down your recollections of the accident as soon as possible to ensure that details don’t get lost or confused over time. If you pursue a personal injury claim against the responsible driver, you may be asked to testify to your experience many months after the collision.
How Can I Get Compensation or Benefits after an Injury?
If you carry the mandatory Florida automobile insurance, you have Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage that pays some limited benefits through your own insurance policy. To initiate these benefits, you’ll need to notify your insurance carrier of the accident and submit medical bills and other information. Claiming PIP benefits is generally a much quicker process than making a claim with the responsible party’s insurance carrier, and can provide access to medical care and replacement income in the short-term. But, if the car accident was serious, these benefits likely won’t be enough to cover necessary medical care, lost wages, and other damages. In that case, you may need to pursue a claim against the responsible party.
How Can I Protect My Claim after a Traffic Accident?
The same principles you’ll follow immediately after the accident remain critical. Continue with medical care, physical therapy, and any other steps recommended by your treating physician. Continue to document your experience as you work toward recovery.
You will also want to be very cautious about what you say about the accident and to whom. If your injuries are serious and there is significant money at stake, insurance companies will often go to great lengths to undermine your claim. Any accidental inconsistency may come back to haunt you, and statements you make can be taken out of context. The less you talk about your accident and your recovery process, the better. Avoid offering any detail in social media posts, and never take responsibility for the accident.
What Determines Who is at Fault in a Motor Vehicle Accident?
Responsibility for a Florida car, truck, motorcycle or other motor vehicle accident is based on negligence. Every Florida driver has a responsibility–legally described as a “duty of care”–to be careful on the road. That means not just obeying traffic laws, but also remaining vigilant, making necessary adjustments for weather or road conditions, and taking other precautions. If a driver fails in this duty and that failure causes injury and other damages, the driver may be liable to the injured party.
This analysis is often more complicated than it might seem at first glance. For example, a driver who runs a red light and hits another vehicle has disregarded a traffic safety law and will generally be found to be at least partially responsible for the accident. But, others may also have contributed to the accident. Perhaps that driver ran the red light because another driver was racing up behind him, forcing him into the intersection to avoid collision. Perhaps the driver of the car he hit was texting and could otherwise have avoided the accident.
That’s why it’s important to consult an experienced car accident lawyer rather than making assumptions about liability. The determination may not be as simple as it appears.
Is a Driver Who Rear-Ends Someone Always at Fault?
Rear-end collisions are often minor, but not always. Data from the National Security Council’s Injury Facts website shows that about 3,000 people were killed in rear-end collisions in one recent year. Most of these accidents could be avoided by the following driver. In fact, an early National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analysis of the value of collision warning systems in vehicles concluded that driver inattention contributed to about 60% of rear-end collisions.
That’s why a driver who rear-ends another car is nearly always found to be responsible for the accident. A driver who is following at a safe distance and paying close attention to the other cars on the road is much less likely to collide with the vehicle in front of him, even if something goes wrong up ahead. Still, in some circumstances another driver, pedestrian, or other party may contribute to the accident. One common example is a multi-car accident, in which one car is pushed into another. While the driver who hits another car from behind virtually always bears some responsibility, that responsibility may sometimes be shared.
Who is Liable for Commercial Trucking Accident Injuries?
Personal injury claims involving commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers, tankers, and even smaller vehicles such as box trucks can be more complicated than a standard car accident case. One reason for the complexity is the different employment and contractual arrangements between truck drivers and the companies they ship for. Another is the multiple parties who may have played a role in the accident.
For instance, an independent truck driver who owns his vehicle and is working on a contract basis will generally be liable for injuries he causes through negligence. But, if the truck driver is an employee, the employer will typically bear legal responsibility. And, depending on the nature and cause of the accident, there may be other responsible parties. Some possibilities include the company that loaded the truck, equipment manufacturers, or those responsible for maintaining the vehicle. Often, two or more of these parties may share responsibility.
Responsible parties may also be out of state. And, while most car accident cases are governed solely by state law, a case against a commercial trucking company may rely in part on federal regulations.
Is the Driver of a Car Automatically Responsible for a Collision with a Bicycle?
In a car-bicycle collision, the bicyclist is obviously at much greater risk of serious injury or death. That’s a good reason for both cyclists and automobile operators to take special care when cars and bicycles share space on the road. But, while there are a few special rules, they are generally bound by the same traffic regulations.
Fault in a car-bicycle accident is determined the same way it would be if the collision had involved two cars. The party who was negligent generally bears legal responsibility, and may be required to compensate the injured person.
Does Not Wearing a Helmet Impact a Florida Motorcycle Accident Claim?
In Florida, motorcyclists who are at least 21 years old are not required to wear a helmet on the road. However, motorcyclists who choose not to wear a helmet must carry $10,000 in insurance to cover medical costs associated with a motorcycle accident injury.
Failure to wear a helmet won’t stop an injured motorcyclist from pursuing a personal injury claim against a driver or other party who negligently caused an accident. But, the decision not to wear a helmet can impact the compensation available. That’s because the responsible party’s attorney or insurance carrier may argue that injuries would have been less severe if the motorcyclist had been wearing a helmet–in other words, that they were partially responsible for their own injuries because they opted not to take that simple protective measure. There’s a lot of evidence that wearing a helmet is effective in reducing injuries, especially certain types of serious injuries.
However, general data isn’t always applicable in a specific case. Depending on the specifics, your personal injury attorney may choose to bring in an expert witness to examine your medical records and the details of the accident and possibly dispute those arguments.
What if I am Partly Responsible for My Own Injuries?
In Florida, as in most states, an injured person who was partly responsible may still be able to recover compensation. In fact, Florida is a bit more generous than many states, in that there is no cut-off point at which an injured person is deemed too responsible to recover anything. Instead, damages may be awarded based on the percentage of liability.
If the injured person only contributed to the accident in a small way, significant recovery may still be possible. For instance, an injured driver who suffered $200,000 in damages and is found to be 10% responsible could still recover $180,000. When the injured party bears significant responsibility, that formula flips. An injured person who bears 80% of the responsibility could only recover 20% of his or her damages.
Whether it’s worthwhile to pursue a claim when the percentage of recovery available is small depends on a variety of factors, including the likelihood that the insurance company will settle the claim without litigation, other sources of compensation and support available to the injured person, and the amount of damages. An experienced Florida car accident lawyer can help with this analysis.
Elstein Legal Helps Florida Car Accident Victims
If you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident, or were hit by a car while walking or riding a bicycle, you’re probably juggling a lot. Whether you’re hospitalized or are at home managing pain and rehabilitation, your recovery likely demands your full attention. It’s easy to let things slip through the cracks, but those honest mistakes could be very expensive.
Attorney Brian L. Elstein devotes his legal practice to fighting for people who have been injured in and around Miami, and he understands the challenges you’re facing. He offers free consultations to make sure you have the information you need to protect your claim and make the right decisions for your future.
Schedule yours right now and reclaim your peace of mind.