Personal Injury Lawsuit Process in Florida: How it Works
When you are hurt due to someone’s negligence, you have multiple options for obtaining compensation for your damages and injuries, such as filing a personal injury lawsuit. The lawsuit process can be complex and may take a significant amount of time. However, working with a skilled personal injury lawyer can reduce your stress and expedite a settlement or verdict.
For more information about your specific case, contact attorney David I. Fuchs. He will listen to your story and give you the answers you need.
Contact us today to schedule a consultation.
Preparing for a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Florida
The personal injury lawsuit process in Florida begins with a few preparatory steps.
Get Medical Care Immediately
Right after the accident, you should get emergency medical treatment. This will prove that your injuries and establish the severity of your condition. You must go to a doctor within 14 days. If you miss this deadline, you will forfeit your ability to get compensation for medical bills through your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance.
Document Your Life After the Accident
Keep a journal detailing how your injuries and pain affect your life. You should also write down the names and contact information of doctors and medical providers you see.
Keep a File with All Important Documents
You should keep all essential documents in a file to give to your personal injury attorney. That includes medical bills and records, proof of lost wages, benefits used, and property damage estimates.
Track Any Benefits You Receive
You should also document all the resources that you are forced to use to cover your bills while you are unable to work. If you are forced to go on short-term or long-term disability assistance because of your injuries, you should keep track of those benefits. You should also keep records of the explanations of benefits (EOBs) received from your health insurance company if they initially cover your medical bills.
Be Careful About What You Post on Social Media
You may have heard that your social media behavior can affect your personal injury claim. Is this really true? Can the number of pictures you post, or even the emojis you choose, actually have a bearing on a personal injury trial? There’s no simple answer, but your social media behavior can affect your outcome, especially if your case goes to trial. Here’s what you need to know.
The Defense Can Use it Against You
When the police arrest people, they read them their rights: “everything you say can and will be used against you.” While these words apply to criminal trials, civil matters follow the same rule. The defense – usually lawyers for an insurance company – will do anything they can to avoid paying out on a claim, or at least try to pay as little as possible. Here are a couple of examples of how social media use could work against you:
- An accident leaves you in severe and chronic back pain. A few weeks later, you go out with family and friends, and post a picture of your group having fun. The defense attorneys pull this photo into evidence, claiming that someone that happy couldn’t be in the pain you describe.
- Following a serious accident, you post periodic updates about your recovery. Between descriptions of doctor’s appointments and tests, you say that you’re on the mend and feeling better every day. Defense attorneys may use this to say that your “pain and suffering” isn’t as bad as you make it out to be.
The reality is that we use social media to put our best face forward. We often paint a pretty picture for family and friends, while we’re in pain or suffering on the inside. Unfortunately, our social media descriptions and accounts are admissible in court – and often hurt our own cases.
What About Privacy?
You might object to this notion, saying that your social media accounts are private. The truth is, if an attorney can access your profile, they can use the information they find in it. That’s why it’s important to check your privacy settings and be diligent about your friend’s list, especially while a case is pending. Don’t accept any new friend requests from people you don’t recognize – it could be a defense attorney attempting to access your profile.
Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline
The length of time it takes to get through a personal injury lawsuit depends on many factors. The average time it takes for a personal injury claim to resolve is 11.4 months. If you settle, it may take closer to nine months. However, if you have to take your case to trial, it may take 18 months or more.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
One of the first steps in a personal injury lawsuit is to call an attorney. Personal injury lawyers generally give free consultations, so you can find out if they are the right person for you and how they will handle your case.
File an Insurance Claim
Promptly notify the insurance companies of your accident and file a claim. Insurance companies often have a time limit within which a claim must be filed. Typically, you must contact your insurance company within 24 hours of the crash.
Determine the Value of Your Claim and Send a Demand
Your attorney can review the documents you’ve collected and help you determine how much your case is worth. The value of your case will depend on your medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, pain and suffering, and other damages. Then, your attorney can send a demand letter to the insurance company asking for the full compensation equal to your losses.
Negotiate with the Insurance Company
The insurance company will likely refuse your initial demand. They may respond with a “lowball” settlement offer that will not cover all your damages. Your attorney can negotiate with the insurance company to reach a fair settlement. It’s essential not to take the insurance company’s first offer.
According to Nolo.com, victims who accept an initial settlement offer from the insurance company get an average of $11,800. However, when an attorney negotiates for a more significant amount, victims get an average of $42,500.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you are unable to reach a settlement with the insurance company, your attorney can file a lawsuit with your local Clerk of Court. This tells the insurance company that you mean business.
They may even be more willing to offer an acceptable settlement at that point. Nolo.com reported that when a personal injury victim made no steps towards a lawsuit, they got $23,000 on average compared to $45,500 when a lawsuit was filed or threatened.
Engage in the Discovery Process
Once a lawsuit is filed, both parties will engage in discovery, which involves asking questions and exchanging documents. This allows you to get information from the other side that can be used to support your claims.
For example, if you were in a truck accident, you can ask the other party for recordings from any dashcams inside the truck at the time of the accident.
File Pre-Trial Motions
Before your case can go before a judge or jury, there are typically many conferences and hearings between your attorney and the defendant. In some cases, pre-trial motions to exclude certain pieces of evidence may be filed to limit what is used in the case.
Having an attorney with the experience to wade through the pre-trial motions can be especially beneficial, as motion practice is crucial in the personal injury lawsuit process.
Going to Trial
If the case cannot be resolved before the set date, it will go to trial. The insurance companies will likely have a large team of lawyers with many resources, so having an attorney of your own to protect your rights is critical.
If Your Case Goes to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or Arbitration
Though not always, injury litigation (up to and including trial) has a tendency to be expensive, time-consuming, high-conflict and adversarial, and quite demanding of one’s efforts, particularly if the lawsuit is hard-fought or complicated in various ways (administratively, procedurally, etc.) by the opposition. Litigation is also inherently uncertain. You could spend years litigating a case, only to be awarded damages that are low relative to what you might have expected. Thus, as a general rule, litigation is best avoided when possible.
Do keep in mind that litigation is a matter of public interest, and as such, the content of your dispute is accessible to the public at-large. If you’d like to ensure that your dispute remains private, you’ll have to engage in alternative dispute resolution.
In Florida, as in all other states, there are two popular forms of alternative dispute resolution: mediation and arbitration. Each party may agree to engage in such alternative dispute resolution, or it may be judge-ordered. In some cases, alternative dispute resolution may be required under a contract executed between the involved parties.
Mediation and arbitration offer an alternative path to settling an injury dispute without having to resort to the normal complications and expense of litigation.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a form of dispute resolution that is less structured than litigation, and even less structured than other forms of alternative dispute resolution. In Florida personal injury cases, mediation is often required by judges so that the involved parties have an opportunity to discuss, collaborate, compromise, and potentially resolve their dispute without the pressure of the adversarial environment typical of litigation.
Mediation can take up to a full day. During mediation, the involved parties meet for a private, unstructured discussion of the dispute at-hand. A mediator is chosen to help guide the discussion, but generally speaking, the nature of the discussion is meant to be informal. Each side is encouraged to plainly discuss their concerns and listen respectfully to concerns of the other side. Assuming mediation goes well, a settlement compromise may be reached to the satisfaction of each party.
Mediation does not force a settlement, however. If the parties are unable to reach a compromise, they are free to move forward to trial.
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is a more structured form of alternative dispute resolution than mediation, though it is still quite a bit faster, cheaper, and less adversarial than litigation.
In an arbitration, a neutral arbitrator is selected, and this arbitrator serves as a pseudo-judge. Each party presents their arguments (with evidence), and the arbitrator makes a decision. A Florida court subsequently confirms the decision, thus rendering it legally enforceable.
There are several types of arbitration.
Mandatory arbitration requires that the parties engage in arbitration.
Voluntary arbitration gives each party the option of engaging in arbitration.
Binding arbitration forces each party to accept the decision of the arbitrator as the final decision on the disputed matter.
Non-binding arbitration gives each party the option of accepting the decision of the arbitrator. If any party is unwilling to accept the arbitrator’s decision, they may push the matter towards trial.
Trial litigation is best avoided, if possible. The best personal injury attorneys are capable of settling a case through alternative dispute resolution, but prepared to aggressively litigate if circumstances call for it.
If you or someone you love has been injured as the result of someone else’s wrongful acts or omissions, seek the counsel of a skilled Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer at David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyer, P.A..
Things to Consider with the Personal Injury Lawsuit Process and Timeline
The steps in a personal injury lawsuit can be complex and should be undertaken with the assistance of a knowledgeable lawyer. Here are some things to keep in mind throughout the process:
- There is a deadline or “statute of limitations” within which you must file a personal injury lawsuit –in Florida, this is four years from the date of the accident.
- The legal process was developed for attorneys to excel. Sadly, most people do not know the process, and it causes great stress to undertake it alone.
- Statistically, you will get more money if you work with an attorney.
- Most personal injury lawsuits settle and do not go to trial.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in Florida for Help with the Process
If you were injured in an accident caused by someone else, you should not shoulder the burden alone. You deserve legal representation that can stand beside you and ensure you get the compensation you need to cover your damages.
Call attorney David I. Fuchs for a consultation to answer your questions and help you understand the personal injury lawsuit process and timeline.