You might wonder how a car accident injury attorney can be of assistance to you. While nobody wants to think about accidents, most of us will be involved in a car crash as either a passenger or driver at least once during our lifetimes. If you are a resident of Tampa or you were just visiting the area and ended up in a car accident, we want to give you the details that you need so you will know what to do after suffering damages in a Tampa car accident.
Florida Accident Rates
Statistics show that in 2014 there were 32,675 death because of car crashes in the United States. Another 2.3 million people suffered injuries in car accidents. Florida has its fair amount of car crashes. By Thanksgiving 2015 there had been 328,670 accidents with 213,913 passengers or drivers suffering injuries. During 2015, the state saw traffic fatalities increase by 18%. There are also other vehicle-related deaths, such as pedestrians and cyclists. When you are in Tampa, you should always follow the traffic regulations and be alert when driving, cycling, walking, or running. Accidents continue to happen even if you are cautious. If you find yourself in an accident, you need to know what to do. Here are a few steps to take to help you throughout the process.
Right After the Car Accident
You are required by Florida law to stop your vehicle as soon as the accident has occurred. Before exiting your vehicle, you should move it off to the side of the road where it will not be a traffic obstruction. If you are unable to move your car, call for a tow truck right away so your vehicle won’t cause other crashes.
If anyone is injured, giving them care is the most important thing that you can do. Regardless of whether the injured is a passenger in your car, the driver or passengers of another vehicle, a cyclist, or a pedestrian, you need to call for medical assistance right away. If that cannot be done, try to get the injured person to a medical care provider right away. If you call for an ambulance, stay with the injured person until help gets there. You must remain at the accident scene. If you leave the accident scene, you could face criminal charges for leaving the scene of the accident, have your driver’s license suspended, and face various penalties and administrative fines.
Anyone who is involved in a car accident must provide their full name, address, and vehicle registration to everyone else who was involved in the car accident. It must also be provided to anyone else requesting the information, especially law enforcement officers. The officers have the right to ask for your driver’s license if they have been called to the crash site. If the accident injured a pedestrian and they ask for your insurance information, you must provide it to them as well.
When Should the Police Be Called?
For your safety and protection, any car accident should be reported to the authorities. By doing so, all the necessary forms are completed by a law enforcement officer. Without an accident report, negotiating any damage payments can significantly reduce your damage compensation. You can also be opened for personal liability because no official accident report would exist. Calling the police to report the accident isn’t enough in itself. Make sure the officer gets a thorough and accurate record that includes everyone’s information for the accident report. This will be a critical part of your case should it be presented to the courts.
It is better to report any accident to the police, but there are few that you are legally required to report. If you are involved in a serious crash, you must without hesitation call the police. Florida laws require that the police be notified after an accident that results in serious injury or death, any accident classified as a hit-and-run, any crash involving a drunk driver, or any accident resulting in more than $500 of property damages. If these circumstances apply, no one should leave the scene until law enforcement officers arrive. The investigating officers will complete an accident report for any accidents resulting in injuries or death, and if requested t to do so, in other circumstances as well. If the police determine who is at fault or issue a citation to driver who is at fault at the crash scene, you should ask for that information to be included in the completed accident report.
Car Accidents Involving Inanimate Objects or Unoccupied Vehicles
If you have been in a crowded parking lot, odds are you have seen a vehicle backing up or pulling in to a parking space “bump” a vehicle that wasn’t occupied. The driver will often look around to see if anyone saw what happened as if he or she is uncertain of what to do next. According to Florida law, if you are in an accident that involves an unoccupied vehicle or stationary object you must inform the owner. If the owner cannot be found, you must leave your information on a piece of paper that you attach to the vehicle or damaged property. Your notification to the owner must include your name, address and license plate number. You are also required to notify law enforcement under such circumstances.
Florida Automobile Insurance Requirements
Basic insurance amounts are required for Florida drivers. If you don’t meet the insurance requirements, you can have your driver’s license suspended and face an administrative fine. All Florida drivers must have $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage along with $10,000 in property damage liability coverage. Florida is one of few states that doesn’t require drivers to keep bodily injury liability coverage, which is the kind of auto insurance coverage that pays medical costs related to the injuries suffered by others in a car crash.
Tampa Auto Accident Details
Florida follows a no-fault system when it comes to car crashes. Because of the no-fault laws regarding Florida vehicle accidents, your own insurance company will take care of your medical expenses, regardless of who caused the crash. The other driver is not liable for the crash unless the damages reach the “serious injury” threshold. Because of this law, most minor accidents go through the no fault system, which means your physical injuries are taken care of by your own PIP coverage. The only way to bypass the no-fault system and file a liability claim against the driver causing the Tampa car accident is if the crash causes you suffer from permanent injury. This might include significant and permanent scarring or even disfigurement.
Florida Limitations Regarding the No-Fault System and Personal Injury Protection
Florida law requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP insurance. This insurance covers as much as 80% of the insured’s injuries and as much as 60% of the insured’s lost wages resulting from the car accident, regardless of who was at fault. This law was originally enacted to reduce the number of lawsuits filed by Florida residents pertaining to car accidents. It was also designed to help lower insurance rates. However, this comparative negligence law has unintended consequences. The required coverage often isn’t sufficient for injured drivers when it comes to covering the overall costs of medical care and lost wages. This coverage doesn’t provide for other damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional trauma, or pain and suffering. Since the PIP coverage only pays 80% of your medical costs and 60% of your lost wages and has an initial deductible of $1,000 or $2,000, it should not be of surprise that not all your out of pocket expenses will be covered if only PIP coverage is available.
Asking for Additional Damages
If you are in the position of having exhausted your PIP coverage, you are sometimes able to take legal action against the driver at fault for your accident. If you are seeking additional damages, you will need to retain an attorney, who will seek compensation to cover your remaining costs from the insurance company for the negligent driver. The insurance company for the driver who is at fault will then conduct an investigation of their own, if they have not already done so. Whether or not your claim succeeds depends on the strength of the evidence you can present to the opposing insurance company.
Legal Claims Resulting from Car Crashes
There are several different kinds of legal action that can result from a Tampa car accident. If another driver is clearly at fault, you might be able to pursue a lawsuit based on negligence. Other times, there is a defect with the vehicle itself that caused the accident or injury, and a lawsuit against the car manufacturer arises. Or, there are road conditions that cause the accident in question, which can lead to a lawsuit based on road design.
Negligent Driving Claims
The vast majority of lawsuits that arise out of car accidents are based on the legal theory of negligence. Negligence, in the case of a car accident, is one party’s failure to exercise a reasonable standard of care while operating a motor vehicle or using public roads. Negligence is proven with evidence that illustrates carelessness or violation of the law. To prevail in a negligence lawsuit, you must be able to show that the party you are suing did not exercise reasonable care, and this breach of duty was the proximate cause of your injuries. The defendant is not always another driver; sometimes it is a negligent, reckless, or intoxicated driver, and sometimes it is a passenger, a pedestrian, or even a bicyclist. In some cases, there is even more than one negligent party.
Sometimes there is a defect to the vehicle you are driving that contributes to or causes the accident you were in. If this happens to you, you may have a claim against the manufacturer of your vehicle or of the part of the vehicle that malfunctioned. There are some circumstances under which the manufacturer will be liable regardless of negligence for injuries a plaintiff sustains as a direct result of design defect, faulty labeling, or manufacturing defect.
To win a case against a manufacturer, you must be able to prove the defect that occurred during the design, labeling, or manufacturing process, was the proximate cause of the injuries sustained. In cases with claims against a manufacturer, expert testimony is almost always needed to establish the point at which the defect manifested. To prevail, you must show that the faulty car or car part was unreasonably dangerous, and that the vehicle was being operated as it was intended to be operated at the time of the accident.
Road Design Defect Claims
Some accidents are caused by faulty road construction, design, or maintenance. Sometimes there are embankments that are too steep or not properly elevated, which can lead to accidents. Sometimes barriers, guard rails, speed bumps, curbs, or medians, all things in place to positively influence driving, are poorly designed or placed, resulting in accidents. There are occasions when the surface of the road is altered, such as in the case of massive potholes, which drivers are not alerted to and result in an accident. Improperly placed or missing road signs can also lead to accidents, and road design defect claims. Improper placement and operation of traffic lights, stop and yield lights, and other lights used to regulate traffic flow also lead to lawsuits based on faulty road design.
Those who lose a loved one in a car accident might have grounds to seek compensation under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act. In wrongful death suits, the family or survivors of the deceased must prove their loved one was killed due as a result of the negligence of another. In wrongful death cases, plaintiffs can be awarded economic and non-economic damages, as well as punitive damages where appropriately reckless or criminal conduct is involved.
Comparative Negligence Laws
In some cases, the party you are seeking to recover damages against for your injuries and/or property damage after a car accident may turn around and allege you are the party at fault for the accident. If you are at fault, even partially, it will affect the amount of money you can recover as damages from other people or businesses at fault. Florida follows a pure comparative negligence rule in cases where there is more than one party at fault for an accident. Under Florida’s comparative fault rule, your compensation is reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of your liability in the accident.
As an example, you can pretend that you are in an accident with a driver who runs a stop sign and hits you. You are legally crossing the intersection, but you are exceeding the speed limit by at least five miles per hour. If it is decided in court that you were 10% to blame for the accident because you were speeding, your damage award from the driver who was at fault will be reduced by 10%.
This reduction means if your loss for your property damages and injuries total $10,000, you can only collect $9,000 for compensation for damages. Florida courts are required to follow these rules for cases where injury results from a car accident, so it is imperative that you understand this concept before negotiating with any insurance company.
What Does Florida Law Specify as Serious Injuries?
While each car accident has its differences plus the kinds of injuries and the extent of those injuries vary from case to case, the costs for treating those injuries suffered in the accident exhausts PIP coverage, causing the need for further negotiation. In some cases, it might lead to the need for litigation. Paralysis, scars, burns, injuries to the spinal cord, loss of limb, head injuries, injuries to muscle, joints, back, neck or bones, whiplash, knee damage, permanent disability, and wrongful death are classified as serious injuries, which would warrant additional compensation.
Various Damages Available to Car Crash Victims in Tampa
Tampa car accident victims can recover various damages. Economic damages are referred to as compensatory damages, which compensate you for the monetary losses suffered because of the car accident. Medical bills fall in this category. This includes past medical expenses plus future medical care.
Any lost wages fall into this category as well. You can recover any wages lost up through the end of the lawsuit or until a settlement is reached. If your ability to earn a living has been impacted, you can seek loss of earning capacity damages as well. Your past wages are considered when determining a monetary figure. Usually, the court will consider the amount you could have earned working in the future had the crash not occurred.
Non-economic damages compensate for damages of a nature that are not financial. These are challenging to prove and most often require litigation. These damages might include pain and suffering, which focuses on the physical pain and suffering from injuries sustained. The nature of the injury and its severity are given ultimate consideration. Mental anguish provides compensation for emotional distress such as nervousness, worry, or grief resulting from the crash.
Loss of Consortium Damages and Punitive Damages
In a successful car accident lawsuit in Tampa, the injured party’s spouse might be awarded compensation for the loss of marital benefits, including loss of companionship, loss of sexual relations, loss of affection, and loss of comfort. The length of the marriage, its stability, the life expectancy of the couple, and the degree of impact are considered during the awards process.
Sometimes the party at fault in a car accident acted maliciously with the intent to harm. In such cases, courts have the right to assess punitive damages as a form of punishment to discourage similar behavior or actions in the future.