Accidents, whether involving cars or motorcycles, occur without warning, and they often cause severe injuries. Therefore, all drivers, including motorcycle riders, must observe traffic rules for their safety and that of other road users. Motorcycle riders are entitled to the use of an entire lane, but they cannot split or weave across lanes in case of traffic congestion. Additionally, Florida law requires drivers who get involved in a collision that causes injury to someone else to stop near the accident scene and as soon as possible.
A hit-and-run accident is when one of the drivers in a collision leaves the accident scene. Usually, you can collect certain damages from a negligent driver whose actions cause you injuries. Unfortunately, claims for hit-and-run accidents differ slightly because it is not always possible to find the at-fault drivers. Due to the nature of hit-and-run accidents, it is critical to consult a lawyer who can work on your behalf to pursue your insurance claim.
At Clay County Personal Injury Attorney, we understand the intricate court procedures involving injury claims. If you sustain injuries in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident in Clay County, FL, you do not have to bear all the medical costs and other expenses. We will evaluate your claim, build a strong case, and vigorously seek fair compensation for your losses. We will negotiate with insurance adjusters and fight for your rights.
Duties of Drivers When Involved in a Collision
If you are driving in Florida, you have certain obligations in case you get into a car accident. They include:
- Alert emergency services if the other party is injured and you are uninjured
- Give reasonable assistance for the injured party to receive medical attention
- Notify the police immediately
- Exchange contact details and insurance information with the offending driver
All these duties require the people involved in an accident to stay at the scene without leaving. However, some drivers drive off after a collision for a variety of reasons, including:
- Drunk driving or DUI of drugs
- An invalid driver’s license
- Lack of valid insurance
- Fear of going to jail
- Road rage
- The driver was unaware of the collision
How Hit-and-Run Accidents Affect Injury Claims
When you are involved in an accident, you can collect damages to compensate you for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses. The losses are proportionate to your injuries and not the respondent’s behavior. The most significant outcome in a hit-and-run accident is that you may collect punitive damages. These damages are available when the litigant recklessly or intentionally causes harm or behaves in a heinous manner.
Punitive damages mainly serve to punish the offender and also warn others to prevent bad behavior. The calculation is proportional to the litigant’s lack of ethics and how much money would punish the defendant effectively. The richer the litigant, the higher the punitive damages will be. The law deems you legally aware of your obligations at an accident scene; therefore, all hit-and-run accidents will always be morally reprehensible and deserving punitive damages. Although the collision was probably involuntary, fleeing was deliberate and can potentially justify punitive damages.
When a motorcycle driver is responsible for the hit-and-run, another factor comes into play. Most seasoned lawyers concur that juries often regard motorcyclists with suspicion and are willing to rule against the riders. Depending on the injuries, the hit-and-run motorcyclist can face misdemeanor or felony criminal penalties. If the person hit you and had cause to believe you got injuries, but they drove off, the person could go to jail. A criminal conviction also serves as extra evidence in your claim for damages from the same accident. Your civil suit will be on hold during the prosecution of the criminal case, but a conviction is compelling evidence of liability and can help resolve your matter quickly.
The No-fault Insurance System
Florida uses a no-fault system in paying insurance claims after an accident. The state’s insurance laws require you to have $10,000 each in Property Damage Liability (PDL) and Personal Injury Protection (PIP). When you get into an accident, your insurer pays the cost of medical treatment, lost income, and other losses under that coverage, regardless of the person to blame for the accident. Therefore, even if nobody ever identifies the hit-and-run motorcyclist, your PIP still pays your medical bills and compensate you for damages covered in the policy, regardless of your partial or full responsibility. The no-fault system intends to keep small cases that insurers can handle away from the courts.
To qualify for PIP in a motorcycle accident, you must be inside or in very close proximity to a motor vehicle when the rider hits you. If you are far, PIP will not cover your expenses. You must also act promptly and seek initial medical treatment from an authorized health services provider in less than 14 days following the accident. If you miss this deadline, your insurer will deny your PIP benefits.
PIP insurance coverage has the following limits:
- Up to 80% of your medical costs. These include out-of-pocket medication expenses, dental bills, and rehabilitation services.
- Up to 60% of your wage loss
- Reimbursement for mileage to and from the doctor.
Your medical costs and lost wages can quickly overshoot the 80% limit even when the accident was relatively minor. Once you exhaust your PIP benefits, you will use your medical health insurance or your uninsured or underinsured policies. Your PIP must first pay the medical expenses before your health coverage does. You can also claim medical costs above your PIP coverage and lost earnings against the driver’s bodily injury liability or that of the motorcycle’s owner.
Unfortunately, in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident, you may have to collect damages from your insurance only. Unless the rider is found through video evidence, turning themselves in, license plate identification, or another way, you have no means of holding them accountable. Additionally, Florida does not require motorcyclists to purchase bodily injury liability insurance. Therefore, even if you locate the motorcycle rider, you may still have to use your underinsured or uninsured motorist policy.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Insurance
Auto insurance companies offer coverage for underinsured or uninsured motorists, though it is not mandatory. These policies allow you to claim damages from your insurer if you are involved in an accident with a driver without insurance or if that driver’s coverage is inadequate for your losses. This coverage also applies to hit-and-run motorcycle accidents when the escaped rider is unidentified. Uninsured and underinsured coverage compensates you for the damages that the motorcycle driver’s insurance would have covered.
Motorcyclists in Florida have no legal obligation to carry bodily injury liability coverage. Therefore, even if you want to recover damages from the motorcycle owner or rider, there is a high probability that they have little or no insurance. In such situations, underinsured or uninsured coverage can be beneficial for you. If your insurance policy includes uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you will file your claim with your insurer, and the adjuster will handle it like any other regular liability claim. You will debate and agree on the motorcyclist’s liability, your share of the blame, and the severity of your injuries.
Although you have no guarantee, you may also collect damages for pain and suffering if you prove negligence by the running motorcyclist. These damages do not require that your injury be permanent. The insurance adjuster may argue that your injuries were either preexisting or were not a result of the crash. Fortunately, Florida allows you to claim compensation if an accident aggravates existing conditions. Your attorney will help you negotiate a favorable settlement with the adjuster because insurers often try to pay the lowest amount possible.
Florida applies comparative negligence to personal injury claim settlements. Responsibility for the accident is determined and assigned to all the parties involved. Your percentage share of the blame will limit the amount of compensation you will recover. For example, if your share of negligence is 20%, your damage award will decrease by the same margin, and you will only collect a maximum of 80% of the compensation. If your recovery is $100,000, you will only receive $80,000.
Comparative negligence explains why insurers will attempt to blame you for the collision as much as possible. Therefore, you must be cautious when dealing with adjusters because they can use any utterances you make to establish your share of responsibility in the accident. They may seem very sympathetic and friendly, but they are not acting in your best interests. It is advisable to consult a personal injury attorney before making any verbal or written statements.
The Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations exist so that you can bring your lawsuit when the information is still fresh and reliable. They specify the time within which you must file your claim, and if you delay beyond the limit, you lose your eligibility to compensation. The idea is to file a case when events are recent, documents are readily available, and witnesses’ memories are clear. The limitations also allow defendants to live without fear of prosecution for accidents that happened long before.
You have up to four years after the date of the accident to file your claim. However, you may not have known that you sustained an injury, or you could not have reasonably suspected. In such cases, the discovery rule will allow the commencement of the statute of limitations on the date you reasonably should have discovered that injury. Therefore, you will have more time to initiate the compensation process. Sometimes, circumstances beyond your control can prevent your case from progressing. The court can allow you to toll the statute, meaning that you temporarily pause the process in the interest of justice, but only under exceptional circumstances.
What to do After a Hit-and-Run Motorcycle Collision
What you do after a motorcycle rider hits you and runs will determine the outcome of your claim. Insurers are usually keen to use your actions to discredit your claim and possibly give the least amount of compensation possible. These are the steps to follow to safeguard your interests:
- Check for injuries: Your safety and health are critical. Check if you or your passengers have any injuries and call emergency responders and the police. If you are unable, ask someone to call.
- Remain at the scene: The law requires you to stop at the scene if an accident occurs, but only if you do not need emergency treatment. If possible, you can move your car off the road to avoid obstructing traffic and keep other motorists safe. Do not chase after the running rider even if you feel tempted to do so. Wait for police officers to write an accident report and tell them everything you can remember about the accident. Focus on the make, model, license plate number, and a description of the rider. Even details that seem unimportant may prove useful in finding that motorcyclist. A police report is vital when you are filing a claim with your insurer.
- Gather information: You can either do this yourself or ask another person to do it. Take photos of the accident scene, your car, and your injuries. You can write down the names and contact details of witnesses and their accounts of the accident.
- Avoid small talk: Do not converse with anybody except to collect witness contacts. Do not say anything irrelevant, apologize, or make any statements. Do not speak to an insurance adjuster before you consult an attorney. They could use anything you say at the scene against you.
- Get a medical checkup: Even if you feel healthy, visit a doctor for a complete medical examination. Some injuries may not be visible immediately, and your insurer will notice and question any gaps between the date of the accident and that of treatment. Follow up with your doctor for any arising symptoms because some injuries manifest after a while, and the insurance company may decline to pay for treatment if they cannot connect it to the accident. Also, PIP does not cover your expenses if you do not seek treatment within 14 days after the accident.
- Keep track of medical bills, injuries, and symptoms: Keep a post-accident record in which you write down all your symptoms, medical expenses, doctor’s visits, medical reports, and all relevant paperwork.
- Contact a lawyer: Speaking to a personal injury lawyer who has experience in hit-and-run accidents is critical. The attorney will make sure you do not make any self-incriminating statements that could reduce your compensation, and also help you track down the motorcyclist. The insurance adjuster will want to minimize your payout; therefore, having a lawyer will help you safeguard your right to fair compensation.
The Claim Process
It is impossible to predict how long your claim will take because every personal injury case is unique. However, most cases take between one and two years before the conclusion. Below are the main steps in the settlement process.
- Seeking Medical attention
It is your responsibility to seek proper treatment. Even if you have no apparent symptoms, a medical check-up is necessary because the injuries may manifest later. Additionally, you cannot make a personal injury claim without a medical report. Ensure you get and keep all the records safely.
- Hiring an Attorney
Insurance companies make their money by paying the least amount possible and denying claims. They often resist even the most evident and legitimate cases. It is almost impossible for an average person to successfully fight insurers and their band of paid expert witnesses and lawyers. No matter how deserving you are, no insurer will offer fair compensation merely because it is justifiable. It would be best to get an experienced attorney who understands the legal system and who can decide how much your petition is worth. The attorney will prevent the insurance company from bullying you into surrendering your rights or accepting something lower than your legal entitlement.
- Notifying your Insurance Company
A hit-and-run motorcycle accident is usually treated like a regular uninsured or underinsured accident. Even when the police get the negligent driver, their insurance may be insufficient because Florida does not require motorcyclists to carry Bodily Injury coverage. Therefore, you will need to file a claim against your insurer. Your attorney will notify your insurance provider of your intention to file a claim. You should avoid making any recorded statements without your lawyer or signing any documents before your attorney evaluates them.
- Record Keeping and Gathering Evidence
Keep track of all your medical appointments and expenses. Your recovery process may be lengthy, and writing everything down means, you do not leave out any information. Note down details about your injuries, treatments, medications, and any difficulties you may be experiencing. Track your medical examination findings, reports, and bills. You can keep an electronic journal for electronic copies and a folder for all the papers.
Your attorney will gather all the necessary documents, then draft and submit a demand letter to the insurance provider. The letter includes all evidence and details of your injuries, including proof of lost income, medical bills, records and receipts, and other costs. It must also include your demand for a settlement and the time within which the insurer should respond, usually 30 days. The insurer will reply, and the two sides will investigate any disputes and take witness statements and depositions. Discovery also involves waiting for a final prognosis from medical experts or until you reach Maximum Medical Improvement.
After receiving the demand letter and other information, the insurer will most likely refuse to settle. The response will set in motion negotiations between your attorney and the insurance adjuster. Most cases conclude at this stage, either through negotiations, arbitration, or mediation. If you cannot agree, your lawsuit will go to trial.
During the trial, both sides will submit their motions and arguments before a judge or jury. The court will determine liability and award damages. An out-of-court settlement is always better than a trial because the cost is high, and jury awards are unpredictable.
When a motorcyclist hits you and runs, you have a right to recoup your losses whether you can identify the person or not. If the motorcyclist remains unidentified or you identify the person, but they do not have insurance, you have to claim damages from your insurer. Claims for hit-and-run accidents are generally enhanced value cases. The damage awards are higher, especially if the driver compounds your injuries when they fail to stop and offer assistance as the law requires. Hit-and-run accidents implicate aggravated negligence, a legal concept that can result in higher compensation than in an accident involving ordinary negligence.
The type and amount of damages you receive will depend on the circumstances and facts of your case. You will receive compensatory damages to help you return to the financial, emotional, and physical state you were in before the accident. Compensatory damages include:
- Economic Damages
- Past and future anticipated medical costs
- Past and future loss of income
- Mileage to cover the cost of travel to doctor’s appointments and the pharmacy
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Non-Economic Damages
- Pain and suffering associated with your physical injury
- Mental anguish if it relates to physical injuries
- Physical impairment or disability
- Disfigurement or scarring
- Loss of ability to enjoy life
This category of damages is only available when the offender’s behavior is extraordinarily reckless and reprehensible. The award is possible if the negligent motorcyclist acted willfully, maliciously, wickedly, and without regard for the welfare and safety of other road users. Punitive damages are unavailable in cases involving ordinary negligence. For these damages to be a possibility, the offender’s actions must go beyond simple negligence.
The law considers fleeing from an accident scene as unethical. The rider could have reasonably believed you might have sustained injuries but chose to ride away for their benefit. Abandoning you after an accident may result in a higher award for punitive damages than if the rider had stayed at the scene. Punitive damages are a form of punishment to the offender for despicable behavior. Therefore, they cannot compensate you for any loss.
If you identify the hit-and-run motorcyclist, you may be able to collect punitive damages. Although these damages punish the offender, they should not bankrupt the person. Therefore, the person’s financial status is a crucial factor in determining the value of punitive damages you will receive. Additionally, Florida limits punitive damages to either $500,000 or three times your compensatory damages, whichever is greater. Despite punitive damages being available in your hit-and-run case, you will not get the award automatically. You must specifically request and demonstrate your right to them.
Consult a Clay County Hit-and-Run Attorney
Your right to compensation for injuries you sustain when a motorcycle hits you is not dependent on whether you can identify the negligent driver. You can still pursue compensation even in a hit-and-run accident. If you sustained injuries in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident anywhere within Clay County, FL, talk to a seasoned attorney at 904-494-8242. We at the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney are committed to creating the best plan of action for you, depending on the specific details of your case. We have the drive, knowledge, and resources to pursue a fair settlement.