Car accidents are usually a result of various factors, such as the driver’s actions, the condition of the vehicle, and the state of the roadway. Often, multiple factors are responsible for the crash. An unexpected road hazard can cause you to suddenly brake or swerve and crash into structures, pedestrians, or other cars. The actual cause of the accident may not be immediately evident, and in complex cases, determining the real cause requires professional analysis and thorough legal evaluation.

While some cases are straightforward on who is responsible for negligence, cases involving accidents due to dangerous road conditions are challenging. You bear the burden to prove the existence of the hazards and their contribution to the accident. Your insurance policy limits your damage recovery, and the challenges of establishing government liability can sometimes outweigh the benefits of a property damage case.

If you are involved in a car accident due to dangerous road conditions, you will need expert legal assistance from a Clay County Personal Injury Attorney. We are seasoned professionals with all the necessary information and resources to help you understand the legal process. We will investigate the accident, assess all the circumstances and facts of your case in detail, and work towards holding the responsible parties liable for your injuries. We will protect your rights and push for the highest possible settlement.  

Car Accidents Due to Dangerous Road Conditions

Defective and hazardous road conditions exist on roadways, in parking lots and garages, and at construction sites. The hazards are prevalent in areas where agencies and municipalities neglect road repair and areas with ongoing road construction. Dangerous road conditions include:

  • Potholes and uneven surfaces: Loose gravel, potholes, cracks, and irregular or grooved surfaces can cause vehicles to veer off the road. The law requires the responsible agencies to fix such hazards promptly.
  • Poor road maintenance: Poorly maintained road conditions that are hazardous for drivers include missing or broken guardrails, erosion, hidden, disintegrated or missing signage, defective traffic lights, and fading lane markers.
  • Improper design: Poor road designs can cause drivers to lose control of their cars quickly. The defects can be due to design or construction. Short merging lanes, slants, tilts, dangerous slopes and dips, crowns, inadequate space, and shoulder drop-offs could create risky driving conditions. Failure to erect appropriate signage for such threats constitutes negligence.
  • Safety failure: When one spot has a remarkably high number of bicycle or pedestrian accidents occurring, the cause is often a lack of appropriate safety measures such as visibility, signage, or a crosswalk.
  • Negligent construction: If a road contractor fails to follow the approved plans or to use the right materials, there will be accidents along that roadway.
  • Unexpected objects or conditions: Some physical objects or the state of the road can cause accidents: Such hazards include:
    • Trees or shrubbery that blocks the driver’s line of sight or path
    • Debris from improperly loaded cargo or material from construction zones
    • Reduced width of lanes, workers on the road, and inadequate traffic management at construction zones
    • Poor drainage that causes dangerous surface-water levels or untreated roads during winter

Florida’s No-fault System

Concerning accidents and insurance, Florida is a no-fault jurisdiction. In case of a collision or crash, you must file a compensation claim with your insurance carrier. The law requires every Florida driver to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. It is a form of a first-party claim, meaning that you make a claim against your insurer instead of claiming against another party’s insurer. The no-fault system aims at containing cases within the insurance systems and away from the courts.

PIP theoretically eliminates the need to demonstrate liability and will pay for your medical bills regardless of who is at fault. Florida’s PIP laws demand that your insurer pays 80% of your medical costs up to a maximum of $10,000. Your health insurance will cover the expenses that PIP will not pay. PIP also includes 60% of your wage loss but does not include other costs arising from your injuries, such as child care or home cleaning. If another motorist had a share of fault, you could file a petition against their insurance company to recover costs from their Bodily Injury coverage. If that motorist insurance does not include bodily injury, you will turn to your underinsured or uninsured coverage.

Uninsured motorist coverage provides a cover for damages you incur from a driver without insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage pays for damages when the other motorist’s insurance coverage is insufficient. The purpose of the two policies is to protect you and provide you with similar coverage that you would get had the negligent motorist carried proper coverage. If you claim against the negligent party and get a settlement, you may have to reimburse your health insurer from the damages you receive.

If you sustain severe injuries, then you can initiate legal action to recover damages. However, damage recovery is a challenging process that will last months or years. Meanwhile, you have to pay the medical costs if you have no medical insurance. You must achieve the injury threshold and prevail at the trial. The jury must then find the defendant responsible for your damages. Most cases do not involve filing a claim against third parties because the injuries are often minor.

Your case will achieve the severe injury threshold if:

  • Your injury is disabling or permanent
  • You sustained a disfiguring injury
  • You suffered significant or permanent scarring

Liability for Accidents Caused by Dangerous Road Conditions

Negligence is mostly the cause of road hazard accidents. If you are a victim of such an accident, you have a right to hold the responsible party liable for your injuries. You must prove the following elements to demonstrate that the defendant's negligence caused the accident:

  • Duty of care: The state is responsible for road conditions. The state government must maintain, inspect, and clean up roads to keep them safe. Where the roadways have known dangers or are under repair, the state has to warn drivers of the hazards while it implements measures to solve the issues.
  • Breach of duty: The state or other relevant agency must have failed in their duty of care. For example, failure to put up proper signage to warn drivers or not treating the road in winter.
  • Causation: Your injuries must be a result of the defendant’s breach.
  • Damages: You must provide proof of real losses, such as medical costs.

Road hazard accidents may sometimes involve several negligent parties, including you, even if you are the victim. Fortunately, Florida’s comparative negligence system allows you to recover damages even when you are partially responsible for a car crash. You will collect compensation proportionate to your degree of fault. If at least two parties are responsible for the accident, each party is liable for its negligence. You cannot hold one respondent accountable for another party’s negligence.

The government has an obligation to citizens to reasonably ensure that hazardous roads do not endanger drivers who are driving with reasonable caution. However, budget constraints do not allow road repairs to be a priority, which exposes the government to tort claims for accidents caused by dangerous road conditions. Often, the government tends to pay the claims instead of initiating major construction projects to fix defective roads.

When you are filing your claim, parties that may be responsible for road hazard accidents include:

  • The city, county or local municipality, or another government entity for failing to maintain roads if the accident was a result of defects in the roadway.
  • Owners of property adjacent to the road if the hazard originated from their property. An example is a tree that has fallen onto the street.
  • The construction company if the cause of the accident relates to road construction
  • Another driver

Proving Negligence

Proving fault in a hazardous road case is an expensive and elaborate process. You bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that a contractor or public employee was negligent and that their negligence was a direct cause of the dangerous road conditions that caused your injuries. You may have to provide proof that the state agency was aware or should have been aware of the existence of the dangerous road. Still, they either did nothing to solve the problem, or they waited for an unreasonable duration.

In each case, it is critical to determine the cause of the accident. The court must also decide whether you were at fault. After the jury determines the defendant’s responsibility, the panel can adjust your claim by an allocation of blame. When allocating damages, the court uses the comparative negligence system. This method allows the judge to apportion fault among the parties when awarding your damages. If the court decides that each side had some level of responsibility, the award adjustment will be in proportion to the share of failure. The compensation you get will be reduced by your percentage share of the blame.

For example, if the jury determines that you had 20% of the responsibility in an accident for which they award you $300,000 in damages, you will receive $240,000 (80% of $300,000). Even if your share of fault is more than 50%, you can still collect damages from the defendant for their share of the blame. For example, if your damage award is $300,000 and your fault is 70%, you will collect $90,000 (30% of 300,000) from the defendant.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations dictates the time within which you should file your injury claim. If you miss the filing deadline, you may forfeit your right to damages. Generally, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Florida is four years. However, for lawsuits against the state, county, or city, the limit is three years from the date of injury. For such litigation,  you must comply with several notice requirements and statutory deadlines before you file your claim.

Claims Against the Government

Filing a lawsuit against an individual motorist or a company is often straightforward. However, in a personal injury case arising from dangerous road conditions, you may need to sue the state, county, or city for negligence in road maintenance. Bringing a lawsuit against the state or local government involves special considerations, procedures, and timelines. 

If you sustain injuries as a result of negligence by a state agency, you must notify both the agency involved and the Department of Financial Services in the state. The notice must be written on paper and within three years after the accident occurred. The state’s Division of Risk Management does not consider email notices as sufficient. You can mail a letter describing all the facts, dates, and losses, or you can use a claim form that the division provides.

There is an investigation period of 180 days, and you cannot file a lawsuit before either this period elapses, or you receive a formal denial of your claim. Similar to lawsuits against the state, your claim against a local government must start with written notice of the occurrence. You should send the notice to the local government department that handles such complaints. If the respondent denies your application, you must file your lawsuit against them within three years after your injury.

The principle of sovereign immunity protects the government from lawsuits, even when its employees or agencies negligently cause injuries to a person. However, Section 768.28 of the Florida Statutes waives the state’s immunity from tort liability under some circumstances. The statute provides exemptions where the government can be liable for its agents or employees’ negligence in situations where private individuals would be responsible for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death. This statute also limits the damages recoverable from the government such that you cannot collect more than $200,000 as an individual and more than $300,000 for one occurrence. Also, the government does not pay punitive damages or interest accruing between your injury and the determination of the case.

Timeline of a Claim

You can never be ready for an accident to occur. Even when you are conscious of any dangers around you, disasters still strike unexpectedly. Once it happens, it is necessary to think of your future and that of your loved ones. You can follow the following steps to safeguard your right to financial compensation for your losses.

  1. Seek Medical Attention

You must get immediate medical attention even if there are no visible injuries. Not all injuries manifest immediately, and if you experience pain later, you will have proof that you visited a physician immediately. Legally, you lose your right to PIP benefits if you do not go to a doctor within 14 days after an accident. You should also keep visiting the doctor if you experience ongoing symptoms because delays or gaps in your medical care are likely to damage your claim. Take photographs of all injuries and document your symptoms for use in your application.

  1. Consult an Attorney

A personal injury lawyer will provide vital advice on how to deal with insurers who want to settle immediately and how to address your diagnosis. You should also find out whether that attorney is willing to litigate on your behalf if the insurer’s settlement offer is insufficient. You are likely to have a higher settlement if you have a lawyer.

  1. Investigating Medical Records and Claims

After you hire a lawyer, they will collect information on the accident, your past medical history, and your status after the incident. They will also need details on all the doctors who treated you for the injuries. Your attorney will also need medical records, including doctors’ reports and medications, and bills. Keep updating your lawyer on all the doctors you visit and any referrals to specialists to enable your legal team to collect all the necessary records.

  1. Demand a Settlement

Most injury cases never go to court. Your attorney will analyze whether the settlement offer is fair and use the threat of going to trial in your favor. Your lawyer will begin a claim by sending a demand letter indicating the respondent’s fault and reason, your injuries, and the amount of compensation you are demanding.  The respondent’s insurance adjuster will investigate your claim and negotiate a settlement. Your attorney should aim at getting a higher settlement than the defendant’s counteroffer and help you understand whether accepting an offer is more beneficial than filing a case.

  1. Filing a Lawsuit

A lawsuit becomes inevitable if you cannot settle with the insurance adjuster.  Insurance companies are likely to offer a better settlement when they feel the pressure of a lawsuit against them. After you file your case, the defendant must respond within 20 days. Instead of direct negotiations with the adjuster, your attorney will deal with the defendant’s counsel until resolution, a process that may take one and a half years.

  1. Discovery

In this process, both sides investigate the legal assertions and defenses. The defendant may ask for your biographical information and details of the incident. They will also ask for more information about your injuries and the doctors you visited. They will require details of medical providers you visited within the last ten years and whether you had any disabilities or illnesses when the accident occurred. You will give testimony under oath, and if necessary, you will have a compulsory medical evaluation.

  1. Alternative Dispute Resolution

After discovery, lawyers from both sides will try to settle either through mediation or arbitration. Mediators are neutral third-parties who facilitate negotiations between the two sides until the parties either agree or reach an impasse. Mediators do not decide on who was to blame or the compensation amount.  In arbitration, a neutral party hears the case and makes a binding, final decision. A judge may order arbitration instead of a trial if a settlement seems reachable, or the parties may opt for it to save on court expenses.

  1. Trial

If you cannot settle, a jury will hear your case. Both sides will present their evidence for the jury to determine the compensation amount. It is difficult to predict the outcome because the panel has different individuals who make the ultimate decision. The trial process may take hours or even months.

Damages Recoverable

Compensation for your injury is not about enriching you but protecting you from poverty after an accident. The intention of seeking damages is to compensate you for any loss you incur from an accident. It is a deliberate and legal attempt to make you as whole again as possible.

You can recover the following types of damages from your claim:

  • Compensatory Damages

Also known as economic or special damages, they are easy to assign a monetary value, such as medical costs. They can be proven using bills or receipts. They include:

    • Medical expenses: These include medical care, medications, surgery fees, and physical therapy.
    • Future anticipated medical costs: These include an estimate of future medical expenses, such as future surgeries and doctor’s visits.
    • Lost income: These are the wages you lose when you take time off work during recovery or when you leave employment for a doctor’s appointment.
    • Loss of earning capacity: This is the anticipated future loss of wages if you cannot perform at the same job level due to the injuries. It could also include loss of income due to missed promotions or career change.
  • General Damages

Also known as non-economic damages, they are abstract concepts, and attaching a monetary value to them is difficult. They include:

    • Pain and suffering: You can seek compensation for the discomfort and pain you suffered due to the accident.
    • Emotional distress: An accident can cause psychological problems such as anxiety, fear, stress, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
    • Loss of enjoyment: You can get compensation if the injuries deprived you of your ability to do something that you enjoyed, such as going for walks, painting, or other enjoyment activities.
    • Loss of relationships: These damages compensate you for any connections that may have suffered as a result of the accident. If they relate directly with your spouse, their legal term is a loss of consortium.
  • Punitive Damages

The court generally awards these damages only in lawsuits where the behavior of the liable party is particularly dangerous or reprehensible. Even on the rare instances when you get punitive damages, the maximum award is three times the value of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is higher. 

Find a Clay County Car Accident Attorney Near Me

Injuries from car accidents are often severe. You will require extensive and expensive medical care, and you may possibly miss work for several weeks or even months. If you or a loved one are in such a situation, we at the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney will help you get compensation. Call us at 904-494-8242 for a review of your case and legal representation. We will navigate the legal processes to prove your case and negotiate on your behalf effectively. We aim to get you fair compensation for your injuries, either from a court trial or an out-of-court settlement.