How the Car Accident Settlement Process Works in Florida
Every car accident claim is unique but certain processes remain consistent from case to case. Reviewing what your accident claim and settlement processes could look like in Florida can give you a better idea of what to expect in terms of timelines, negotiations, and settlement amounts.
It is important to understand that the process often begins with an insurance claim, but that might not be the end of it. You should always have experienced Florida car accident lawyers representing you so that they can advise you as to whether a settlement with the insurance company is appropriate to cover your damages or whether you should press your case in court.
For a free case review, call the Fort Lauderdale car accident attorneys at The Law Offices of David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer. Our phone number is (954) 866-1750.
Florida’s No-Fault Insurance Rules
Florida is a “no-fault” car insurance state. This means that accident victims will initially seek recovery from their own vehicle insurance companies, regardless of who is at fault for the crash. In “fault” insurance states, on the other hand, both parties will file claims with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You must call your insurance company to report a vehicle collision as soon as you can after the event. Waiting too long can result in the insurer refusing to cover your damages.
Call the phone number on the back of your insurance card and explain that you were just in an accident. Follow the insurance agent’s directions for reporting the crash. You will need information such as the name and insurance information of the other driver, as well as a description of how the crash happened and the damages it caused. Stick to the facts of your case when talking to your insurance company. Do not admit fault and do not speculate as to the fault of others. Do not agree to record a statement and do not say yes to a settlement offer without first discussing it with a personal injury attorney.
In Florida, your insurance will cover some, but not all, of the medical bills and lost wages resulting from a car accident. You can also file a claim with the at-fault driver for damages above and beyond what your own at-fault insurance will cover. A claim against the at-fault driver can request non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in addition to the economic damages not covered by your insurance. Once your initial claim is filed – or even before calling your insurance company – you should call our experienced Boca Raton car accident lawyers to discuss your options.
The Investigation Phase of an Accident Claim
Once you file your insurance claim, the insurance companies of both parties will investigate the crash. An investigation may involve returning to the scene of the crash, taking photographs, recreating the collision, interviewing eyewitnesses, gathering evidence from surveillance cameras or cell phone records, obtaining police reports, and studying medical records. How long your investigation takes depends on the facts of the case. Make sure you go to the doctor for any crash-related injuries right away, as the insurance company will look at this information to gauge how serious or painful your injuries might have been.
Some evidence needs to be collected immediately. There is often little chance that the police will allow the crash scene to stay without being cleared, as the road will need to resume its normal functions. Additionally, if there is any video evidence of the crash, it will need to be collected quickly before it is deleted or overwritten. Many security cameras at stores and homes overwrite footage within days or weeks and do not typically save the video for a prolonged period. Our attorneys can send letters to nearby stores and homes asking them to preserve any security camera footage that they might have so we can review it for potential evidence.
Additionally, you should always get a copy of the police report from your crash. The responding officer will be required to put together a report discussing who was involved in the crash, what vehicles were involved, and what happened – to the best of their knowledge. Often, these reports cannot be used as evidence, but they can provide you and the insurance company with important information used to build a case.
In the investigation phase of an accident claim, we will collect facts that will support your claim. Your insurance company may investigate the accident and view the facts with the goal of reducing or denying your claim. Therefore, it is important that you hire an attorney who will ensure a thorough investigation is completed, and all facts that can support your claim are documented. An experienced Deerfield Beach car accident attorney will represent you, not the insurance company. Involving an attorney in the investigation as quickly as possible will allow the lawyer to protect your interests in the claim.
Settlement Negotiations with Florida Car Insurance Companies
Ideally, your insurance company will offer coverage for some of your medical bills and property damage, as well as coverage for lost wages. If your injuries weren’t significant or permanent, your case might end here. If, however, you encounter any complexities, you might need to have your attorney negotiate with the insurance company and appeal any denials or low-dollar offers.
If the initial offers are too low to cover your needs or the insurance company outright denies your claim, our Florida car accident lawyers might be able to appeal the initial offer. This often means collecting additional evidence to help show what your case is truly worth and providing it to the insurance company with a request that they reconsider the claim. If that is unsuccessful, we may be able to turn to negotiations directly with the insurance company where we can provide our own evaluations of the damages and demand the rest of the compensation. Insurance companies will likely try to reduce your claim as much as possible, and the strategies they use to cut down claims are well known to experienced attorneys. You may feel discouraged when your insurance company casts doubt on your claim and provides a low compensation offer, however, our attorneys handle cases like this every day and know how to respond. Our Plantation car accident lawyers can anticipate an adjuster’s position and develop a rebuttal to their arguments for lower compensation.
All in all, not every case can be settled with insurance, and your case might need to go to court. As discussed below, your insurance might only cover a portion of your damages. If you are able to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance as well, then that could cover more – but their insurance company might be unwilling to admit fault and settle the case.
The Possibility of a Trial for a Florida Car Accident Case
According to Florida’s no-fault insurance laws, you have the right to file a lawsuit against the other driver for damages beyond what the insurance system pays if you meet the “serious injury” threshold. To meet this threshold, your injuries must be permanently disabling, scarring, or disfiguring to permit you to file a claim.
This standard must be met to claim non-economic damages. While your insurance policy will cover damages for medical bills and lost wages, it will not cover damages for non-economic harms like pain and suffering. Depending on the severity of your injuries and the effect they have on your day-to-day life after the accident, it may be impossible to receive fair or just compensation without damages for pain and suffering.
Additionally, no-fault insurance only pays for 80% of healthcare costs and 60% of lost wages. These payments fail to fully cover your needs, and you could be entitled to collect the additional damages beyond your insurance policy’s coverage by suing the at-fault driver.
However, all things considered, it might be better to settle quickly with insurance, get the damages they will immediately pay, and handle the rest of your expenses if your injuries are mild or moderate. Our Hollywood, FL personal injury lawyers can help you understand when a lawsuit is necessary and when the damages you receive through your insurance claim might ultimately be enough.
Keep in mind that most injury cases do ultimately settle. This means that even if you go to court and file a lawsuit, the other driver and their insurance company might still offer to settle. Our attorneys will work to negotiate during the pretrial stages of your case and even up to the day of trial if needed to get you the damages you need in a settlement. If we cannot achieve a fair settlement, we will fight your case in front of a judge and jury at trial.
Stages of a Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit
Healing from a car accident and dealing with your insurance company can be difficult tasks to balance. Filing a personal injury lawsuit adds complexity to an already difficult situation. You may feel overwhelmed and confused if this is your first serious car accident. Our West Palm Beach personal injury lawyers are experienced in handling personal injury lawsuits, can ease any anxiety, and expertly guide you through the process.
Filing a Complaint and Discovery
The first step in a lawsuit is to file a complaint. In this document, your attorney will state the facts of your case, put forth the causes of action, and demand appropriate relief. The complaint will then be filed in the appropriate court and served to the at-fault driver and their insurance company. This part of the process will be handled entirely by your attorney.
Following a filed complaint, there will likely be a process where parties ask questions and request documents from each other. This part of the process is called discovery, and the requests are formally called interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Occasionally, a party will submit a request for admission. Based on their experience, your attorney will know what type of questions to ask and what documents to request to successfully support your claim. If the other parties request answers or documents from you, your lawyer will coordinate with you to provide what is needed by the required deadline. If any discovery requests are inappropriate, your attorney can object to the request. Ultimately the judge will decide if the discovery request is appropriate after hearing arguments from both sides.
Depositions are also part of the discovery process. In a deposition, the opposing party’s attorney verbally asks a witness questions. This is a formal process that will be attended by your attorney and a transcriptionist to record the deposition. Depositions can be nerve-wracking experiences; however, your attorney will ensure you are prepared and know what to expect.
Prehearing Conferences and Motions
Before a formal hearing occurs, you will need an attorney to attend prehearing conferences and file any necessary prehearing motions. At the prehearing conference, the judge and attorneys will discuss matters that must be resolved before a hearing occurs. Such matters include schedules for discovery, the time and date of the hearing, limits on the number of witnesses, amendments to pleadings, and other concerns.
Additionally, some motions may need to be filed prior to the trial to be decided by the judge. These motions could be complex requests to exclude certain testimony or evidence or more simple requests to reschedule a hearing. Your attorney will address any motions made by the opposing parties and will determine what motions to file on your behalf.
Hearing Before a Judge or Jury
Many lawsuits settle before a trial occurs; however, when a trial is necessary, you may wonder what will occur during the trial. Your case may be heard before a jury or just before the judge. During the trial, evidence will be presented by each party’s attorney to prove their position in the case. Your attorney will do all of the hard work and will develop a strategy for the case, present evidence, select witnesses for testimony, cross-examine the opposing party’s witnesses, and address any issues that arise during the trial.
You may be required to testify regarding the accident. In this instance, you will be sworn in by the judge and your attorney will ask you questions about the accident, your injuries, or other matters as required. Your attorney will prepare you for this testimony, and you will likely have practiced answering the questions. The opposing party’s attorney will have the opportunity to ask you questions, and you will also be prepared for this. Pompano personal injury attorneys with experience in personal injury litigation will know how to adequately prepare you for a hearing which can ease any apprehension you may feel.
Additionally, attorneys will call expert witnesses to testify on behalf of each party. An expert witness could be a medical doctor, an investigator who examined the car accident, or other people with expertise needed to prove claims in your case. These witnesses will be selected by the attorney, and they will often have experience serving as an expert witness and responding to cross-examination.
It is obvious that an attorney is needed when a lawsuit is filed and progresses to a trial. However, it is also equally as necessary to have an attorney when pursuing a settlement. As further discussed below, an aggressive advocate can ensure you receive the full compensation you are entitled to.
The Timeline for Settling a Car Accident Case in Florida
Some car accident settlements must wait for ongoing criminal cases against the at-fault drivers to end before awarding the plaintiffs. A discussion with a personal injury attorney can give you a more accurate estimate of how long your settlement could take, but below is a general outline of what you might expect.
Months Zero to Three
The first week after your accident requires the most work as a victim unless you hire an attorney to do the work for you. You have to act quickly after a crash to gather evidence and protect your rights. In the hours after a collision, go to the hospital for any injuries you might have suffered. Document information such as the location of your accident, who was at fault, how it happened, and your property damage and injuries. The more information you gather about your crash, the stronger your case for a settlement will be.
Most insurance companies require that you report collisions within 24 hours of the accident, or as soon as you are able. Once you’re in a safe location and on the mend from any injuries, call the phone number listed on your insurance card. Follow your agent’s directions for reporting a claim. You will file the claim with your own insurance company due to Florida’s no-fault insurance laws. Your insurance company will then start the investigative process.
You will need to complete medical treatment and get a professional assessment of the value of your property damage before your insurance company can offer a settlement. Your insurance company will wait until you reach the point of maximum medical improvement (MMI), or the point at which no further healing will occur. If no one disputes liability, your injuries aren’t catastrophic, and you wish to accept your insurer’s first settlement offer, you will likely be able to settle your claim within 30 days of your MMI.
Months Three to Six
Insurance companies will try to get car accident victims to settle for the least amount possible; often less than the case is actually worth. Florida’s insurance laws make it especially tricky to get full recovery for your medical bills and property damage from your own insurer. In the event that you do not want to agree to the initial settlement offer, you will enter into negotiations with the insurance company. At this point, if you haven’t already hired an attorney, do so. An attorney can significantly boost your chances of settling for the maximum amount possible.
Insurance settlement negotiations can take weeks or months depending on the wishes and demands of both parties. If both sides cannot agree on a number, the next step is to bring a lawsuit against the other driver. A lawsuit might also be the correct move if you suffered permanent injuries or scarring, or if your insurance company wrongfully denied your claim. You have four years from the date of your car accident to file a lawsuit in Florida.
Months Six and Beyond
It can take up to one year after you file a car accident lawsuit to have your day in court. The claims filing and serving processes, as well as time for the defendant to answer your claim or file an extension, can last months. While a good lawyer will expedite the court process as much as possible, it can take additional months or even years for the case to come to an end. If the defendant files an appeal of the court’s decision, it can make your case last even longer. The vast majority of car accident claims in Florida, however, settle without needing to go to trial in just a few months.
Working with a Lawyer for Settlement Negotiations in Florida
Filing a personal injury lawsuit can often garner higher settlement amounts than a simple insurance claim. Bringing a claim with help from an attorney shows an insurance company that you mean business. Help during settlement negotiations can make sure that you do not feel pressured to accept any offers from the insurer that are not on par with what your injuries and losses deserve.
An attorney can also help you understand when you can and should file a lawsuit against the driver rather than going through insurance. We will also be able to counsel you as to when you should go to trial, if necessary, for full compensation.
When you work with our Miramar car accident lawyers on an insurance settlement or a car accident lawsuit, we can also put all of our experience to work for you. While this might be your first serious car accident case, it isn’t ours, and we can use our prior experience to assist you. We also have the legal understanding of many of the defenses and practices that insurance companies try to use to drive down payouts and keep injured drivers from getting the compensation they deserve.
Dealing with the effects of an injury is a full-time job. When you work with our lawyers, we will handle much of the process for you, allowing you to work on your recovery. There are certainly some things that we cannot decide without you – such as whether you want to go to trial or accept a settlement offer. But nonetheless, working with a lawyer allows you to focus on your recovery while we focus on your case.
Lastly, tensions and frustrations can run high when dealing with insurance. Victims have every right to be upset with their own insurance companies’ filing systems or with at-fault drivers and their insurance companies, who will do everything they can to deny claims and drive down settlement costs. Working with a lawyer allows cooler heads to prevail, potentially smoothing negotiations.
Call Our Florida Car Accident Lawyers Today
If you were hurt in a car crash, call The Law Offices of David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer. Contact us at (954) 866-1750 for a free case review.