How Do I Protect My Rights After a Car Accident?
If you were injured in a car accident which was not your fault, rather was the result of another driver’s negligence or carelessness, you have the right to be compensated for your injuries, lost wages, property damage and more. Usually, the way this compensation is accomplished is either through a settlement from the insurance company of the negligent driver or through a car accident claim—usually known as a personal injury claim.
The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. have represented clients throughout the state of Florida as well as nationally since 1973. We offer a free initial consultation as well as evening and weekend appointments. We have staff members who speak Spanish and translators available for other languages. We handle your car accident claim on a contingency fee basis, meaning you pay no attorney fees unless and until we recover money for you.
Generally speaking, your ability to protect your rights to file a personal injury claim following your car accident depend on three things: Patience, persistence and documentation. To further break these three items down:
- Documentation—The minutes and hours following a car accident are almost always chaotic. You may need medical attention or your passengers or those in the other vehicle may need medical attention. This should always be your first priority. If, however, your injuries are not severe, taking the time to document the scene of the accident can be an invaluable resource for your car accident attorney down the line. If there were witnesses to the accident, jot down contact information, and always call the police, no matter how minor the accident seems. If your car has any damage or you have even the slightest injury, call the police. Use your phone to snap photographs of the scene of the accident, including damage to your vehicle, the other driver’s vehicle, the license plate of the other vehicle and anything else which might have contributed to the accident. Keep very careful records of all medical expenses related to the injuries from your car accident, and once you are home, begin a written record of every detail you can remember from your car accident.
- Patience—Just as your mother might have told you, patience is a virtue. In this case, it is essential. Probably every single step of the car accident process will require some level of patience! You will wait on the insurance adjuster, wait to get your car repaired, wait for medical treatments, wait to hear from the insurance company and almost certainly wait for a settlement.
- Persistence—While your claim is, of course, your number one priority right now, understand that insurance adjusters are dealing with hundreds of claims at any given time, therefore may not be nearly as anxious to close your case as you are. Do not be afraid to make follow-up calls, checking regularly on your claim. Maintain contact with all the people involved in your claim so that your future does not unintentionally get put on the back burner. Stay professional but be persistent.
Should I Call the Police After a Car Accident?
In the state of Florida, you are required to call the police following a car accident if any of the following is true of your accident:
- There was an injury or a death resulting from the accident;
- A driver left the scene of the accident following the collision;
- One of the drivers was impaired, whether through alcohol or drugs;
- The collision damaged a vehicle so badly a tow truck was required to remove the vehicle, or
- A commercial motor vehicle was involved in the collision (such as a large commercial truck).
If your car accident meets none of the above criteria, it is usually still a good idea to contact the police. There are a number of scenarios—none of them good—which can occur when you do not contact the police. Often, the other driver may attempt to convince you not to call the police, telling you it is not necessary. You exchange information and later find out the insurance information is not valid, or the contact information is not valid.
You might also be dealing with a driver who is uncooperative and does not want to exchange information at all (which usually means he or she is uninsured, driving while impaired, or possibly has a warrant or something similar). It is also much easier to obtain a settlement when you have a police report which clearly shows which driver was at fault. Most insurance companies want a police report, and even though it may take a little more time, it is simply better to have the report than not. If you are waiting on the police, you can take the time to gather evidence, write down the contact information of witnesses and protect the scene from further damage.
Should I Ever Admit Fault for a Car Accident?
The answer to this question is an unequivocal “no.” You should never, ever admit fault for a car accident, even if you believe you are responsible—or at least partially responsible. There are many reasons for not admitting fault, perhaps primarily because you may not have all the facts and information. In other words, there may be factors which contributed to the car accident which you are unaware of. The other driver may have broken a traffic law, might have been impaired, could be driving without a license, or there could be any number of other issues which have direct bearing on the accident.
If you were partially to blame for the accident, your level of blame will reduce your settlement by a corresponding percentage. This is because Florida operates under pure comparative negligence law, meaning two or more parties can share liability for a collision. If you have already admitted fault—even if you did not do so intentionally—you could end up receiving no settlement at all—even though you are entitled to damages. Provide a factual statement to the police, but do not embellish your statement, and do not speculate about what caused the accident. If you are unsure of the answer to a question, simply state that you do not know.
Later, if an insurance company asks you to give a recorded statement, tell them you must first speak to your attorney—then do so. When the insurance company has a recorded statement, they may later exaggerate or twist your words to imply you caused the accident, even if you were not responsible in the least. If you need to give a recorded statement, your attorney can help prepare you so you can be sure not to say anything which could be misconstrued. Even saying “I’m sorry” at the scene of the accident can later be used to imply your guilt—even if you only meant that you were sorry an accident occurred, or sorry another person was hurt.
How Long Do I Have After a Car Accident to Decide Whether to File a Claim?
Every state in the United States has statutes of limitations. These are laws which determine the amount of time a person has following an accident, a medical malpractice incident, or injury from a dangerous drug or medical device to file a personal injury claim. In the state of Florida, the following statutes of limitations are in place for a car accident:
- If there were injuries from the car accident you were involved in, you have four years from the time of the collision to file a car accident claim.
- If a death resulted from the car accident, the state allows two years for survivors to file a wrongful death claim.
- If your accident was caused by a government entity (the state of Florida, city entity, county entity or municipality) you have three years to give notice and four years in which to file a claim.
- If you are filing a claim against the U.S. government, you must file a car accident claim within two years, however you cannot file the lawsuit until the 180-day investigation period has passed.
- If you are filing a car accident claim against a motorist with no insurance, you have five years to file the claim.
If you exceed the time limit on any of these, you will be forever barred from filing a claim, therefore while it may seem as though you have plenty of time to file your claim, time goes quickly, and you do not want to exceed the time limit. There are other time limits associated with a car accident as well. If you do not seek medical treatment for a car collision-related injury within 14 days of the accident, you will lose your right to compensation through your PIP insurance. It is always a good idea to speak to an attorney soon after your accident so the attorney can begin the claims process as quickly as possible—the longer you wait, the more likely evidence can go missing or eyewitnesses move away or forget the details.
What Compensation Can I Get After Filing a Claim for My Car Accident?
Those who have been involved in a serious car accident know that recovery can be painful, time-consuming and stressful. Auto accident victims deal with physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain and financial worry following a car accident. While most people understand they may be entitled to compensation for their medical expenses they may be less familiar with other types of compensation they could be owed. Of course, every auto accident is unique in some way, so your exact compensation will be dependent upon the facts surrounding your accident. That being said, the following types of compensation may be available to you following your car accident:
- Property damages—These are damages to your vehicle and any other personal property which may have been damaged in the car accident.
- Lost wages—Your injuries may be severe enough that you are unable to return to your regular job for a few days, a few weeks, or even months or years. If you are unable to return to work, you are entitled to compensation for missed paychecks. This compensation includes your employee benefits as well. Lost future wages will apply if your injuries are so severe you may never be able to return to work. In that case, a formula will be used which calculates what you would have reasonably earned for the remainder of your life.
- Medical expenses—As anyone who has ever been in the hospital or even suffered a minor illness knows, medical expenses have risen to astronomical levels. If you suffered extensive injuries in your car accident, you may be seeing medical bills come in on a daily basis. You could be feeling overwhelmed, wondering how you will pay these bills, and whether your doctors will continue to treat you if you cannot pay them. All your medical expenses related to your accident are compensable, including doctor bills, hospital bills, rehabilitative therapies, surgeries and assistive devices.
- Loss of consortium—Consortium is the legal term for the companionship of a husband or wife, and you may be entitled to be compensated for the loss of this companionship and physical intimacy you have suffered as a result of your car accident.
- Loss of enjoyment of life—If you are no longer to engage in activities you enjoyed prior to your accident, you may be entitled to compensation for loss of enjoyment of your life.
- Pain and suffering—In addition to extensive medical bills, you may be suffering severe, chronic pain. Since you are no longer healthy and pain-free, you pay be able to obtain compensation for pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages are rarer and are intended to discourage behavior which was intentional or reckless.
Non-economic damages are damages for which there is no set dollar amount—such as pain and suffering. It can be hard to put a price on pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life, but much easier to put an exact price on medical expenses and lost wages.
What Factors Influence the Value of My Claim After a Car Accident?
There are many different factors which can influence the value of your claim following a South Florida car accident. When calculating your medical expenses, the following could positively affect your final payout for those expenses:
- Whether you have permanent injuries;
- If your injuries are primarily “hard” injuries;
- How long your recovery period is expected to be;
- Whether prescription medication is a part of your treatment;
- Which medical expenses are primarily for medical treatment;
- Whether physical and emotional distress resulted from your injuries, and
- To what extent your injuries have disrupted your regular day-to-day life, including missing school or training, missing recreation or vacations, or having special events cancelled because of your injuries.
Factors that could negatively impact your final compensation include:
- Your injuries are primarily soft-tissue injuries;
- You received medical treatments by non-medical providers;
- There was no medication prescribed in connection to your injuries;
- Most of your medical expenses are for diagnosis, rather than treatment;
- You had few visits to the doctor;
- You have no residual or permanent injury;
- You had a very short recovery period for your injuries;
- You have no pain and suffering resulting from your injuries;
- You have suffered no emotional problems related to the injury.
Finally, if you had no fault in the accident, the person who hit you is not credible and you have witnesses who back up your case, you are much more likely to receive a larger settlement.
How Do They Determine the Value of My Car Following an Accident?
When you are required to submit an insurance claim following a car accident, the insurance company will calculate the “diminished value” of your vehicle Obviously, it is in the insurance company’s best interests to calculate the lowest value possible for your car. Many insurance companies use a calculation known as “17c” which uses the sales value of your car, taken from Kelley Blue Book, then uses a complex set of calculations to arrive at the amount of your car’s value. Another method is to take the Blue Book value and multiply it by .33, which gives you the estimated value of your vehicle following the accident.
The easiest calculation is to subtract the value of your car post-accident from the value of your car pre-accident. This will give you a good estimate of the actual diminished value of your vehicle. You can, of course, challenge the estimate the insurance company comes up with for the worth of your car, however, such a challenge will likely slow the payment of the insurance claim, therefore you must determine whether the extra time and hassle is worth it in your case.
What if the “At-Fault” Driver Does Not Have Enough Insurance?
As if being hit by a negligent driver is not bad enough, you may have additional issues to deal with should you find out the driver who hit you has no insurance or is underinsured. Because Florida is a “no-fault” state, options for claiming payment from the other driver is already limited, except when injuries are severe. Your options when the negligent driver has no insurance or is underinsured are as follows:
- You can collect damages from your own insurance company if your costs are minimal.
- You can file a lawsuit against the negligent driver if you suffered “significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, permanent injury, or significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.”
- If you carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage on your own insurance, you may be able to use this insurance if the negligent driver has no insurance or is underinsured, however this insurance cannot exceed your standard insurance amount.
- Collision coverage on your insurance can help you pay for damages to your vehicle if you are in an accident with an uninsured driver or with a hit-and-run driver.
Should I Continue Driving My Car After a Car Accident?
Following a car accident, you may wonder whether you should drive your car home—or to a body shop—or let a tow truck come and get the vehicle. In some instances, if you continue to drive your vehicle, the insurance company might try to say that certain damages occurred after your accident, so that is always a consideration. Other than that, take a close look at your vehicle—are the lights functioning? Are the side mirrors intact? Do you see fluid leaking from any part of your vehicle? Do your wheels look like they are still aligned? Is the hood of your car crumpled? You could be cited for driving with no side mirrors and/or no lights. If fluid is leaking from your car, you should probably not drive it, and the same goes for wheels which are out of alignment and a crumpled hood (which could open up while you are driving, causing another accident). Unless the damage is very minor, it is usually a better idea to call a tow truck and have your vehicle towed.
If I Can’t Drive My Car After an Accident, Who Will Pay for the Rental Car?
If you have rental car coverage on your own insurance, you may be entitled to a rental car while your car is being repaired. If you do not have this coverage on your insurance, you might have coverage for a rental and not be aware of it. In some cases, you may have rental car coverage through your vehicle’s lien holder, through a company like AAA, or through the dealership where you purchased your vehicle (if your vehicle is still relatively new). It is a good idea to check on all the possible sources of a rental vehicle, particularly if it will take a while for your car to be repaired.
What Kinds of Records Should I Keep for My Claim After a Car Accident?
It is extremely important that you keep a thorough record of your car accident, from start to finish. This includes taking photographs at the scene of the accident (if your injuries do not prevent you from doing so) as well as obtaining contact information from witnesses to the accident. Once you are home after your accident, take the time to go through the entire accident and the aftermath of the accident in your mind, writing down every single bit of information which could be useful—even if you are not sure it is relevant. Of course you will also want to keep a file with every medical expense related to your accident including doctor and hospital bills, surgical bills, prescription drug costs, rehabilitative therapy expenses, and, if you have to travel a significant distance for medical care, keep track of your mileage, meals and motel expenses. Keeping thorough records can help your personal injury attorney secure the maximum amount for your injuries and expenses.
How Do I Know if I Have a Personal Injury Claim?
The best and easiest way to know whether you have a personal injury claim is to speak with an experienced South Florida personal injury attorney. Florida has a no-fault insurance system which means each driver’s medical bills and related expenses are covered by his or her own insurance carrier, regardless of fault. Every driver in the state is required to carry $10,000 in PIP insurance and $10,000 property damage liability insurance. If, however, the accident caused you permanent injury, significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement or significant and permanent loss of a bodily function, you could be entitled to file a personal injury claim against the negligent driver. The state of Florida does cap punitive damages, however there are no other damage cap laws in the state for standard personal injury claims.
Why Do I Need a Florida Car Accident Attorney—and How Should I Choose One?
While a South Florida accident attorney cannot lessen the inconvenience or pain you have suffered following an auto accident, he or she can accomplish the demanding and inevitable task of dealing with the insurance company on your behalf, and ensuring that, at the very least, you receive the equitable monetary settlement you are entitled to. The Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti attorneys understand that you could be looking at a painful recovery, lost wages, never-ending rounds of unpaid medical bills, and dealing with an insurance company who is completely indifferent to your plight. Your life just became a whole lot more complicated and we are compassionate to that fact.
All of your very valid concerns regarding your car accident should lead you to the conclusion that you need a highly experienced South Florida car accident lawyer from Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti in your corner. We are respected South Florida car accident attorneys with more than 80 years of collective experience. We have the resources, the knowledge and the skills to ensure the very best outcome for your car accident. We are well-regarded by those in our community, former clients and other attorneys which allows you to place your trust in our firm and concentrate on your injuries. We are both experienced negotiators as well as aggressive, skilled litigators and we will use that experience and skill to your advantage. Contact Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti today for a comprehensive consultation.