After any kind of traffic accident in Florida, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant damage to your vehicle, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Florida laws that could have a big impact on your case.
(Important note on no-fault: Florida is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following two sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on Florida's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)
A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit. If you miss the time limit set by this law and you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the deadline has already passed, the Florida court system is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.
In most situations, you have four years, starting from the date of the crash, to get your car accident case started in the Florida court system. For the details, learn more about the car accident statute of limitations in Florida.
If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?
Florida follows a "pure comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the pure comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.
For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under Florida's comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000 -- still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.
The comparative fault rule in Florida applies even if you are found to be more responsible for the accident than the other driver. For instance, if the jury decides you are 90 percent at fault, you are still technically entitled to 10 percent of your total damages, but of course the other side of the coin is that you'll be on the hook for 90 percent of the other driver's damages.
(Not all states treat comparative fault this way. Most follow a "modified" comparative fault rule that only allows the plaintiff to receive damages if his or her fault was 50 percent or less. Once the plaintiff's fault exceeds 50 percent, the damages award drops to zero in most of these states.)
Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Florida judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.
If you're a driver involved in a car accident in Florida, and the crash resulted in injury or death, and/or vehicle damage or damage to any other property in an apparent amount of at least $500, you must report the accident to the local police department, if the accident occurred within a municipality. If the accident did not occur within a municipality, you must report the accident to the office of the county sheriff or to the nearest office or station of the Florida Highway Patrol. These rules can be found at Florida Statutes section 316.065.
As touched on above, Florida is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on the Florida no-fault car insurance rules.