Fred is driving down the street in a residential neighborhood in Tampa, when a car pulls out of a driveway and backs right into Fred's car, impacting the front passenger-side door. Fred was wearing a seat belt, but he feels immediate neck pain as soon as the collision occurs.
Fred doesn't feel that bad, so he just makes an appointment with his primary care provider a couple of days later. The doctor diagnoses Fred with a whiplash-type neck injury and tells Fred to rest for a couple of weeks. Fred doesn't get better, and the doctor refers him to a chiropractor, who treats Fred four times a week for six weeks. This helps, and Fred feels about 90% better. The chiropractor says that Fred will fully recover over the next six to nine months. Fred is an accountant, and he missed two weeks of work due to his injuries.
The first thing Fred should do is report the incident to his own car insurance company. Any delay could send the wrong message to the insurance adjuster, in terms of the seriousness of Fred's injuries. And under the terms of his policy, Fred is obligated to report the accident to his insurer within a "reasonable time." Fred may also need to report the crash to the proper government authorities in Florida. Learn more: Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in Florida?
If a law enforcement officer came to the scene of Fred's accident, he should be sure to obtain a copy of any report generated in connection with the crash.
Even though Florida is a no-fault car insurance state, Fred still needs to be aware of Florida's statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In Florida, the statute of limitations for car accidents is four years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have four years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state's courts. Even if you are only filing a vehicle damage claim, the statute of limitations is still four years.
Why is this law so important? If you're allowed to step outside of Florida's no-fault insurance system and make a claim against the driver who caused the accident, but you don't file the lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is over unless you fall within one of the very limited exceptions that might stop the clock. Don't wait until the last minute. If you can't settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact an Florida car accident lawyer. (Learn more about Car Accident Laws in Florida.)
If Fred is able to file a lawsuit against the other driver (rather than simply making a no-fault claim under his own insurance coverage), and the case makes it to trial, he needs to be aware of the rules of comparative negligence. That's because, even though the other driver pulled out of the driveway when it wasn't safe to do so, he or she could still claim that Fred was also negligent for not stopping in time.
Florida follows what is called a "pure comparative negligence" rule to calculate damages when both parties are found to share the fault for an accident. If Fred is found to be partially negligent in connection with the accident, any award of damages will be diminished in proportion to his share of fault.
If, for example, Fred is awarded $50,000 in damages, but is found 20% at fault, his damages would be reduced to $40,000.
Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.
Unlike most other states, Florida's car insurance laws do not require drivers to carry liability coverage. In Florida, a driver is only required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) coverage of $10,000 and property damage liability coverage in the amount of $10,000 per accident.
That means, if you are injured in a car accident in Florida, you typically need to handle any claim under the terms of your own no-fault car insurance coverage. You can't ordinarily make a claim against the other driver, unless your injuries resulting from the accident are considered "permanent" according to Florida's threshold for stepping outside of no-fault and making a liability claim or lawsuit against the other driver.
In Fred's case, let's assume that his injuries are considered "permanent", so he can make a liability claim against the at-fault driver.
Fred's out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $10,500. The breakdown looks like this:
Fred and his attorney decide that another $15,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Fred's pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $50,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating, Fred accepts a final settlement of $23,000.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the four-year statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don't want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI. In Fred's case, he was at MMI after nine months, and so he was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.