Every time you drive, you believe that you will not be a victim of an accident. However, even the most cautious driver who observes all traffic rules cannot control the environment or behavior of other drivers. A crash can happen at any moment, and nobody is ever ready for the kind of disruption that accidents cause to daily routines. After a car accident, it can be frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive to get back to your everyday life. You may appear fine immediately after the accident, but find yourself in crippling pain within days. You may not have health or disability insurance and do not know how to pay the medical bills when you are not working, so you need to know who to call if it happens.

At Clay County Personal Injury Attorney, we have years of experience in handling all the challenges that come with car accidents, including side-impact collisions. We will work with healthcare providers, insurance companies, and law enforcement officers to ensure that you recover as smoothly as possible. We will examine your insurance policy and that of the driver who caused the crash and inform you of your options. We will help you collect evidence, negotiate a settlement, and, if necessary, represent you in court. You can depend on us to confidently take on your case, regardless of how complicated it seems.

How Side-Impact Collisions Differ From Other Accidents

Side-impact car accidents are not as frequent as head-on or rear-end collisions, but they have the potential to cause severe, debilitating, and sometimes fatal injuries. Our cars and our bodies are not designed to withstand side collisions. Cars have crumple zones to absorb impact in an accident, as well as airbags, seat belts, and safe seat and dashboard designs. However, these engineering features cannot protect you fully in case of a side collision. Additionally, your body flexes forward and extends backward, but it has little flexibility to respond to a side collision.

Side impact accidents often happen suddenly and without warning, unlike head-on or rear-end collisions where you may have a chance to react to evade the accident. If another vehicle hits your car from the side, you do not have a warning, and you can do nothing to reduce the impact of that crash. For example, if the airbag deploys on impact, it cannot offer you protection from other side impacts in the same accident. These crashes can easily cause back, neck, and head injuries as well as broken bones.

There are two main categories of side-impact crashes as follows:

  1. Broadside Collisions: Also known as T-bones, they occur when the front end of another car crashes head-on into your car’s broadside. This type of crash is common at parking lots and intersections where vehicles usually travel perpendicular to other cars. It often happens when a driver runs a red light or stop sign, fails to give right of way, or turns at a junction at high speed with disregard for oncoming traffic.
  1. Lateral Impact: This kind of crash occurs when another driver hits your vehicle on the side with the side of their car. It is common when drivers change lanes on the highway, and they cannot see your vehicle in their blind spot.

Both collision types can result from driving under the influence, distracted driving, or reckless and aggressive driving.

How Florida Car Insurance Works

In terms of car insurance, Florida is one of the no-fault states. Therefore, when a car accident occurs, each party involved turns to their insurer for medical costs instead of filing a lawsuit against the other driver.  The purpose of the no-fault system is to reduce the emphasis on the courts. Streamlining these procedures means insurers can handle minor claims, settle them faster, and ultimately avoid congesting the justice system. In case you sustain injuries, whether as a driver, a passenger, or a pedestrian, you first turn to your insurer. If you do not have insurance, you use the policy of your closest insured relative.

As a driver in Florida, you must carry a $10,000 personal injury protection (PIP) policy to protect you if a small accident occurs. If the medical expenses exceed your car insurance limits, you can:

  • Use your medical insurance
  • Make the payments out-of-pocket
  • File a lawsuit if another person was negligent and if your injuries overshoot a specific baseline.

However, if you sustain permanent or catastrophic injuries, you can sue the negligent driver or another party for damages. Unfortunately, many Florida drivers have little or no insurance. In such instances, you can use your uninsurance or underinsurance policies. The policies provide you with coverage when someone without insurance hits you. They also allow you to claim damages against your insurer to cover the medical costs that the other driver’s insurance or your PIP will not cover.  For example, if you sue the other driver outside of the no-fault system for a catastrophic injury and that driver has no money to pay you.

Florida’s Negligence Laws

Negligence is when another person is legally responsible for causing you harm. To establish negligence, you must prove the following elements which form the basis for all personal injury claims:

  • Duty: The respondent owed you a duty of care
  • Breach: They acted in a manner that breached that duty
  • Causation: There is a direct link between your injuries and the defendant’s actions
  • Damages: You have proof of suffering or injuries arising from the defendant’s actions

You only need to prove the elements by a preponderance of the evidence. The critical issue in determining negligence is the kind of duty the litigant owed you. The jury will establish whether, under similar circumstances, a rational person with regular caution would act in the way the defendant did. If the defendant is a minor, the jury compares their behavior to that of a child of comparable age, intelligence, and experience.

Florida uses a pure comparative negligence system to determine fault in a personal injury case. This approach assigns damages among negligent parties according to their share of the blame. Therefore, you can recover damages even if you carry the highest percentage of fault. While opponents of the system think it is unfair for a person to seek damages after an accident for which they were responsible, advocates of the approach believe it helps victims pay for the necessary medical costs. Additionally, it is more equitable to apportion fault among parties because it is rare for one person to be 100% responsible for an accident.

The Statute of Limitations

Statute of limitations indicates the period within which you must file your claim. If the window expires, the court will likely decline to hear your case except under exceptional mitigating circumstances, such as late discovery. The statutes exist to ensure that you bring your case when information is fresh and reliable; documents are readily available, witnesses’ have clear memories, and events are more current. The statutes of limitation also free the defendants from fear of legal action for events that occurred years ago.

The statute of limitations for a personal injury claim is four years from the date you sustained the injury, but it is three years for claims against the government. However, under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations starts running from the time you discover or reasonably should have discovered your injuries. Sometimes, you can toll the statute if circumstances out of your control delay the case. Tolling allows you to pause your claim temporarily in the interest of justice. You can toll the statute of limitations if:

  • The defendant is outside of the jurisdiction
  • The victim is mentally incompetent
  • The victim is a minor
  • The state is engaged in a war

Once normality resumes, you can proceed with your case.

What to Do Immediately After an Accident

The first and most critical thing to do after an accident is to ensure you are physically sound and safe. Check whether you are hurt, whether your passengers are hurt, and whether your car is on fire. Once you have addressed these issues, you need to do the following:

  1. Call the police — You must call authorities even if you cannot see any damages. A police report is an official record, which your insurer will also need. As you wait for the police to arrive, you can move your car off the road to avoid obstructing traffic if it is not too damaged to drive.
  1. Exchange information — Get the name, contact details, insurance information, car model, license plate, and license number of the other driver. Apart from your name and insurance information, do not say anything else to the other driver. More importantly, do not apologize because insurers may use it against you later.
  1. Get witness information — Getting the names and contact information of witnesses at the accident scene is crucial. Without the names and contact details, it will not be very easy to reach the witnesses after that.
  1. Photograph the accident scene and your injuries — The police may not have as many photographs as you need. Additionally, some injuries heal faster than it takes to settle your claim. Take multiple pictures of both cars, debris, license plates, cuts, bruises, and other relevant items.
  1. Seek medical attention — Even if you do not think you are hurt, you must visit a doctor and have them document your injuries. Some injuries can only be discovered through a medical examination, while others take several days to manifest. Insurance companies may not connect the accident to injuries that become noticeable after a few days.
  1. Notify your insurance company — Inform your insurance company about the accident as soon as possible. Keep all the relevant documents together for ease of access. You can use an expense worksheet or a post-accident log to track your expenses. Do not give details or make any recorded statements before you consult an attorney.
  1. Never accept fault — You should not, at any point, admit liability for the accident to the other driver, the police, insurance agents, or bystanders. Accepting blame could hurt your claim. It is in your best interest to allow your attorney to take charge of all correspondence.
  2. Contact an attorney — A personal injury lawyer can help you decide the way forward. Even if you are not sure about filing a lawsuit, an attorney can help you protect your legal rights and receive a fair settlement. Additionally, an experienced attorney will expertly navigate the tiresome and complicated process of filing a lawsuit on your behalf.

The Claim Process

After an accident, you need to file a claim with your insurance company for any injuries you sustain. These are the steps to follow:

  1. Get medical attention: Mitigating your damages is your responsibility. Therefore, you must seek treatment without delay. Ensure you keep all the records, including receipts and medical reports. Also, if you are pursuing a PIP claim from your insurer, the law requires that you seek initial treatment within 14 days of the accident.
  1. Consult with your lawyer: Florida laws can be tricky. You need a personal injury attorney who understands the state legal system and who will help you get the best settlement possible. Discuss the entire process, including the fee arrangements, because different attorneys work differently.
  1. Notify the insurance companies: Unless you sustain a catastrophic injury, Florida courts generally do not deal with car accident claims because of the state’s no-fault system. You must use your PIP insurance for damages up to a limit of about $10,000, after which you use your health insurance. Your attorney will notify both your insurer and that of the defendant. Avoid recording any statements with the insurance companies or signing any documents before your attorney reviews them.
  1. Keep a journal: Having a post-accident diary is critical to your healing process. It helps preserve your thoughts on paper as well as keep track of doctors’ appointments and expenses. Writing enables you to sort out details of injuries, medical treatments, medications, and the impact of the accident on your daily activities. Such records are not only therapeutic for you, but they also help adjusters and the jury to understand your thoughts and feelings.
  1. Keep track of your expenses: Keep track of all bills, medical examination findings, reports, and other related information. You can create a worksheet to track the costs such as medical fees, prescriptions, property damage, and lost wages. You can also designate a folder for all paperwork and hard copy documents relating to the accident.
  1. Writing a demand letter: Your lawyer will draft a demand letter to your insurance company, informing them of your intention to file a claim. The letter will include all information and evidence relating to your injuries, such as medical records and bills, proof of lost incomes, receipts, and other costs. Your lawyer will also demand a settlement and a period within which the insurance company must respond, usually 30 days.
  1. Discovery and settlement: After the insurance company receives your demand letter, they may decide to either ignore the demand letter or to settle immediately. The discovery process may take months or years because you have to dig up facts, take depositions, interview witnesses and sometimes wait until you reach maximum medical improvement, the point beyond which you can no longer make further progress medically.
  2. Trial: If your lawyer and the insurance company cannot agree, your case will proceed to trial. Attorneys from both sides will bring motions and arguments before a judge. The jury will decide whether to award or deny you compensation, which might necessitate an appeal. Instead of hearing your case, the judge may require that you try an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, such as arbitration or mediation. However, settling is better than filing a lawsuit because nobody wants the extra expense of a trial.

When to Sue for Damages

Negligent driving is the leading cause of side-impact collisions and the resulting severe injuries. However,  auto manufacturing and design defects can also have a share in the blame. Rollover instability and poorly reinforced door panels are some of the product failures for which auto dealers and manufacturers are responsible.

Florida only requires drivers to carry $10,000 each for property damage liability (PDL)  and personal injury protection (PIP).  However, there is no legal requirement for drivers to have bodily damage liability insurance to cover the cost of injuries to others if an accident occurs. The no-fault system requires that in case of injuries, you turn to your insurance company to avoid clogging up the courts with needless personal injury cases. 

Unfortunately, the required policies cover very little. Theoretically, your PIP should cover 80% of your medical expenses and 60% of your wage loss resulting from the accident, regardless of liability and subject to applicable deductible. However, if you sustain permanent injuries, you could sidestep the no-fault system and sue another party such as the driver or auto manufacturer for compensation.

Section 627.737(2) of the Florida Statutes defines a permanent injury as:

  • A permanent and significant loss of a vital bodily function
  • A permanent injury within practicable limits of medical probability, except disfigurement or scarring
  • Significant and permanent disfigurement or scarring

The main limitation is that most injuries from accidents are not permanent. They are often severe, and the bills exceed the $10,000 PIP coverage. Additionally, PIP should provide you with insurance coverage, but it may impede your ability to bring a personal injury case. For example, your PIP benefits will be void if you do not seek medical attention within 14 days after the accident. 

Recoverable Damages

For you to get further compensation for your loss, your attorney will contact the defendant’s insurer to recover your remaining expenses. Your lawyer will present your claim to the insurance provider to approve after conducting its investigation. Your claim’s success will depend on your attorney’s ability to garner, examine, and submit evidence.

Your case will be stronger if you provide your lawyer with all the information you can because the defendant’s insurer will want to minimize the payout. The compensation amount you deserve will depend on:

  • Whether you followed the proper procedure
  • The cause of the crash
  • The injuries you and your passengers sustained
  • The person at fault.

You can receive compensation for three main types of damages:

  • Economic Damages

These damages compensate you for direct financial loss, and they are easy to prove. They include:

    • The current and future estimated cost of necessary and reasonable medical care relating to treatment, medications, hospitalization, and rehabilitation.
    • Lost earnings, if you cannot work due to the injuries
    • Household service costs if you have to hire house cleaners or lawn services during your recovery
    • Loss of capacity to earn if the injuries hinder your earning ability permanently.
    • Car rental if the accident damages your car
    • Costs arising from a change of plans, for example, if you miss a planned trip because you are in hospital
  • Non-Economic Damages

These damages are difficult to measure in monetary terms and are more subjective. They include:

    • Pain and suffering, for the physical injuries
    • Mental anguish and emotional trauma to cover potential psychological problems and non-physical injuries, such as fear, stress, anxiety, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
    • Physical impairment or disfigurement
    • Loss of enjoyment of life
    • Inconvenience
  • Punitive Damages

Although it is rare for a court to award these damages, they exist to punish wrongful or unethical behavior, and the amount is at the court’s discretion. They are a reserve for defendants who intentionally inflict harm or act recklessly on purpose. You are likely to recover punitive damages if the judge believes that the compensatory damages are insufficient to dissuade the offender and others from similar conduct in the future. You may also recover such damages if the judge does not consider the other damage awards to be a reasonable enough punishment. 

Limits on Damages

Conventional personal injury cases have no limit on compensatory damages, but you must adequately document all the costs you intend to claim. However, Florida’s limit on punitive damages is three times your compensatory damages or $500,000 whichever is greater. In certain situations, the limits on punitive damages do not apply.

  • If the defendant deliberately intended to harm you, there is no cap on punitive damages
  • The cap on punitive damages is four times your compensatory damages, or $2,000,000, whichever is higher if the defendant had no intention of harming you but knew there was a high likelihood of the harm to occur. The motivation to act in an unreasonably hazardous manner must be financial gain.

Find a Personal Injury Attorney Specializing in Car Accidents Near Me

When you get into a side-impact collision, your daily routine changes dramatically, and you deal with the injuries on your own. You need to contact a competent attorney who will develop a legal strategy to help you recover from such a traumatic event. If you are involved in an accident in Clay County, FL, you can call the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney at 904-494-8242, and we will negotiate aggressively to get you the highest possible settlement. We are committed to ensuring that the negligent party takes responsibility for expenses arising from their behavior. We will help you initiate a personal injury case against the offending driver, and prove that the severity of your injuries qualifies them for additional compensation.