The Complete Florida Car Accident Guide

Florida car accidentAdvanced safety features make today’s cars safer than ever. Nonetheless, car accidents continue to occur at an alarming rate. Last year over 6 million car accidents were reported to law enforcement in the United States.¹ It may be hard to believe, but the average US driver will be involved in at least 3-4 car accidents in their lifetime.²

The State of Florida has its fair share of car accidents as well. Last year alone, there were over 374,000 car accidents on Florida roadways.³ That’s over 1,000 car accidents each day!

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Florida Car Accident…

Car accidents occur when you least expect it. In the aftermath you’ll likely have to deal with legal issues, police reports, insurance companies, car repairs, medical bills, attorneys and more. Knowing what to say and do after a car accident will help you avoid the pitfalls and frustration, and help you build a powerful property damage and personal injury claim.

We’ve outlined 10 steps every Florida driver should follow after they’ve been in a car accident. In addition, we’ve also provided answers to many of the most frequently asked questions that come up after an incident. These will help guide you through the confusing maze of issues you’ll be faced with.

Step 1 – Stop, Check for Injuries, and Dial 911

Florida call helpYou’ve just been in an accident.  The first thing you must do is stop at the scene, or as close as possible. Stay calm, remain focused, and keep your wits about you. Check for injuries and call 911.

What information will the 911 operator need?
Avoid giving your explanation of who was at fault. The 911 operator doesn’t need your opinion of who caused the accident and why.

Assigning fault comes after the accident is investigated by the police, insurance companies, or both. Instead, the 911 operator needs specific information to determine the location of the accident, if there are injuries, and whether the police, paramedics, and tow trucks are needed.

Give the 911 operator the following information:

Location:  Give specific details about your exact location. Look for street signs, intersecting roads, highway mile markers, and landmarks. Giving the operator a specific location will assure the police and paramedics can arrive as quickly as possible.

Describe the Scene: In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, the scene can look like a disaster. There may be bumpers mangled, glass shattered, paint scratched, and cars pointed in different directions. Let the 911 operator know what the crash scene looks like. This information will be immediately be relayed to the police.

Injuries: Some accidents result in serious injuries. Let the 911 operator know if anyone is injured or complaining of pain and discomfort, even if their injuries aren’t apparent to you.

Will the police respond to the accident scene?
Each law enforcement agency has its own policy addressing when officers and paramedics will be dispatched to an accident scene. In most cases, when the accident is merely a fender-bender and no one is injured, police will not be dispatched to the scene. However, police, paramedics, and tow trucks will be dispatched to the scene when there are injuries or if the accident is blocking traffic.

Which law enforcement agency will be dispatched to the accident scene?
If the accident occurs within a municipality (incorporated city, village, or town) the local police department will be dispatched to the scene. If the crash occurs outside city limits, the county sheriff’s department will be dispatched. If the crash occurs on a State Highway, Florida Highway Patrol will be dispatched.

* Note:  In some cases there will be overlapping jurisdiction. This means one or more of the above law enforcement agencies may be dispatched to the same accident.

What information needs to be exchanged if I’m in an accident?
If you’ve been involved in an accident on a Florida roadway, you must stop immediately and exchange information with others involved. The following information needs to be shared when there are injuries or property damage:

  • Your name and address
  • Registration number of the car you were driving
  • Your driver’s license (show to anyone injured in the accident or to any police officer)

What if the accident resulted in injuries?
In addition to the information listed above, you must also offer “reasonable assistance” to anyone who is injured following an accident. Reasonable assistance includes driving or making transportation arrangements to get the injured person to a hospital for medical treatment.

What if I’m injured?
Your injuries may be obvious, but oftentimes they’re not. Depending upon the severity of the crash, adrenaline can run through your body, masking symptoms of injuries. Because of this, it’s very important to seek immediate medical attention after an accident. If the paramedics are dispatched to the scene, let them decide if your injuries are serious enough to require transporting you for medical treatment.

*Note: Failing to seek immediate medical treatment may work against you when it comes to your insurance claim. The insurance company could take the position that your injuries weren’t from the accident, but were instead from an entirely separate event. This could cause them to deny any claim you may have.

What if I crashed into a parked car and no one was in it?
If you crashed into a parked car that is unattended, you must stop immediately and try to locate the owner. Once located, explain what happened and give them your name, address, and the registration number of the car you were driving.

If after making a reasonable effort you’re unable to locate the owner, you must leave a note explaining what happened. Be sure to include your name, phone number and address. Leave the note in a conspicuous place on the damaged car.  You’re also required to report the accident without delay to the nearest law enforcement agency.

Can I be sued if I stop at an accident scene and help someone who has been injured?
No. Under Florida’s “Good Samaritan Act”, if you stop to help someone who appears to be injured or someone who asks for help, you are immune from civil liability.

Step 2 – Report the Accident to the Police

Florida call policeNot all car accidents occurring on Florida roadways must be reported to the police. However, when a car accident meets Florida’s specific criteria, it must be reported.

When do I have to report the accident to the police?   
If you’ve been involved in a Florida car accident and there were injuries to any person or damage worth $500 or more, you must report the accident to the nearest law enforcement agency immediately. They will provide you a crash report form which you must complete and file within ten days of the accident.

To file the crash report by mail, complete all of the applicable areas and send a copy of the report to:

Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles
Traffic Crash Records Section
2900 Apalachee Pkwy, MS 28
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Do I have to file a crash report if law enforcement is dispatched to the accident scene?
No. If a law enforcement officer is dispatched to the scene, drivers are excused from filing a crash report.

Can I complete and file the crash report online?
Yes. To fulfill the crash reporting requirements online, visit the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website. The self-reported traffic crash application will guide you through the steps by asking a series of questions.

How can I obtain a copy of a crash report that’s already been filed?
To obtain a copy of a crash report filed in the State of Florida, go to the Florida Highway Patrol Traffic Crash Report website. Traffic crash reports are exempt from public disclosure for 60 days after the date the report is filed, except for parties involved in the crash.

Step 3 – The Importance of Evidence

Florida car accident evidenceIf you’ve been injured or had damage to your car, you will need evidence to support your demand for compensation from the driver and their insurance company.

The minutes following a car accident can be crucial. Before long, cars will be driven or towed away, and the other driver, passengers and witnesses will all be gone.

Why is it important to begin gathering evidence right after the accident?
Because the accident scene is fluid, it’s important not to waste any time. In order to support your claim for damages, you will need evidence of the other driver’s fault. This evidence will need to be sufficient enough to prove that as a direct result of the driver’s negligence, you sustained property damage and/or personal injuries.

What are “Damages”?
Damages are unique to every accident and to each person involved in the accident. Damages can include car repair bills, rental cars, and the cost to repair or replace personal property damaged. Damages also include any medical bills, including but not limited to:

  • Diagnostic tests such as X-Rays, CT Scans, and MRIs
  • Out of pocket expenses for items such as medications, slings, crutches, wheelchairs, costs of travel to treatment, etc.
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

What additional information will be helpful to my property damage and personal injury claims?
Yes. The following information will also help your claim:

  • Details about the vehicles involved including:
    – Make, model, and year
    – License plate number
    – Expiration date of the tags
    – Vehicle identification number (VIN)
    Note: The VIN number can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner where it meets the windshield. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door.
  • Drivers and passengers information including:
    – Full names and addresses
    – Telephone numbers and email addresses
    – Dates of birth
    – Driver’s license numbers
    Note: If the driver isn’t the owner of the car, you’ll need to get the owner’s name and contact information as well.
  • Witnesses statements, along with witnesses’ names and contact information
  • A well drawn diagram of the accident scene. This should include:
    – Location of the cars immediately before and after the collision
    – Approximate speed of the cars immediately before the collision
    – Direction each car was headed
    – Weather conditions at the time of the accident
    – Time of day the accident occurred

Are photographs and video important?
Yes.  Photographs and videos are important evidence that can help in many ways with your property or injury claim. They can identify the position of the cars immediately after the collision, weather conditions, potholes, road obstructions, traffic and street signs, and more.

Use your digital camera, cell phone, or other recording device to take multiple photos and videos of the crash scene. Be sure to include sound. The pictures and video can reflect the demeanor of the other people involved at the time of the accident. Sound is important because it can capture things like admissions of fault, intoxication, statements about insurance, and other important statements.

By taking photographs and video, you make it difficult for anyone involved in the accident to later change what they said or did.

Are witness statements important?
Yes. A witness does not have to remain at the scene, speak with you, or give you a written statement. However, if you can find witnesses who will, what they have to say can be very helpful in constructing your claim.

If you have a witnesses willing to speak with you, get some paper and ask them to write down what they saw and heard. If they believe the other driver was at fault, make sure they include that information and an explanation of why.

Legal formalities aren’t required for witness statements. The most important thing is to make sure they sign and date each page. Be sure you also get their names and contact information.

Step 4 – How Florida’s No-Fault Insurance Law Affects Your Claim

Florida no fault insuranceThe State of Florida is a no-fault insurance state. In no-fault states, drivers are required to carry auto insurance known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP). Under Florida’s no-fault insurance system, if you’re in a car accident and sustain injuries, you’re required to turn to your own insurance company for compensation.

This is commonly referred to as filing a first party claim. The compensation can be for your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. However, Florida’s no-fault system prevents you from recovering compensation for pain and suffering, sometimes referred to as emotional distress or mental anguish.

Who is covered under the personal injury protection insurance requirement?
The PIP coverage set out in your car insurance policy provides personal injury protection to you as the driver, relatives residing in your home, others you permit to drive your car, and passengers in the car at the time of an accident. Florida law requires drivers to carry at least the following amounts of PIP:

  • $10,000 in medical and disability benefits, and
  • $5,000 in death benefits resulting from bodily injury, sickness, disease, or death

Do I always have to file a claim with my own insurance company?
Florida’s no-fault law requires an injured party to seek compensation from their own insurance company. However, an injured party may elect to pursue an at-fault driver directly for damages when their injuries exceed Florida’s “Personal Injury Threshold.” To meet this threshold, the victim must have sustained one of the following:

  • Loss of an important bodily function
  • Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability other than scarring or disfigurement
  • Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
  • Death

Am I required to carry additional insurance?
Yes. To cover the exceptions set out in Florida Statute Section 627 drivers must carry the following coverage:

  • $10,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $20,000 for injuries to two or more people in one accident
  • $10,000 for property damage

Do I have to turn to my own insurance company and file a first-party claim for the damage to my car?
No. Florida’s no-fault statute does not require drivers to seek compensation from their insurance company for property damage. In property damage claims, drivers can take one or more of the following actions:

  • File a third-party damage claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  • File a first-party damage claim with their own insurance company
  • Sue the at-fault driver for the cost of repairs to the car or for personal property damage

Step 5  – Call Your Insurance Company and Report the Crash

Florida call insuranceAn insurance policy is a binding legal contract between you (the insured) and your insurance company (the insurer). The Cooperation Clause in your policy obligates your insurance company to provide coverage for you up to the limits of your policy. This includes providing legal representation in the event you are sued.

In return, you’re obligated to cooperate with your insurance company in the investigation of an accident. This includes promptly reporting the accident to them, even if you believe you were not the driver who caused the accident.

What does the cooperation clause mean for me?
Insurance companies have proprietary language written into their policies. The policy requires you to cooperate with your own insurance company in the investigation of the accident. Failing to cooperate with them in their investigation may result in your policy not being renewed, a rise in your premiums, or in some cases, cancellation of  your policy.

Typical language contained in a cooperation clause looks like this:

“The insured shall: cooperate with the company by reporting accidents promptly after their occurrence; assist in the investigation of accidents and claim; attend hearings, trials, depositions; assist in securing and giving evidence and obtaining the attendance of witnesses.”

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if no one was injured?
Yes. The accident may not have appeared serious. Perhaps it was only a minor fender-bender with no apparent injuries and only minor damage. As a result, you may be tempted not to report the accident to your insurance company, especially if you think it will cause your premiums to increase. But this kind of thinking could be a serious mistake.

Here are several reasons why:

Threshold Injury Exception: The injury sustained by the other driver or their passengers may fall under the category of a threshold injury exception to the no-fault requirement.

Violation of the Cooperation Clause: You have a contractual duty to report the accident to your insurance company. By failing to do so, you’re in violation of the terms of the policy.

Delayed Symptoms: At the time of the accident the other driver or passengers may have said they were uninjured. However, because the onset of symptoms can take hours or sometimes even days to appear, their injuries may not be realized until much later.

No Insurance: The other driver may have been uninsured, or under-insured at the time of the accident and didn’t want you to know. This can be especially true if the police were summoned to the scene and the other driver was in fear of being cited.

Fraud: Unfortunately, there are some people who purposely involve themselves in accidents to “cash-in” by filing fraudulent personal injury claims. Your insurance company needs time to investigate the accident in an effort to eliminate those fraudulent claims and protect themselves and you.

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company even if the accident wasn’t my fault?
Yes. By failing to report the accident to your insurance company, you may give the other driver or their attorney an advantage. This often happens when both drivers leave the scene of an accident, both feeling sure nobody was injured. But beware!

Because symptoms of injuries may not appear for hours or sometime even days after an accident, it’s possible the other driver was injured and didn’t know it until later. If that occurs, they may decide the accident was your fault and choose to retain an attorney to pursue an injury claim against you.

If you failed to report the accident to your insurance company promptly, your insurance company won’t have any knowledge of the situation when you suddenly receive a letter from their attorney threatening to sue you.

Example of the Importance of Reporting an Accident Immediately:

Ana was on her way to work one morning, heading north on Interstate 95 toward Daytona Beach. She intended to take exit 92 West 12. To do so, Ana pulled into the right hand turn lane. She waited patiently for traffic to clear so she could safely exit the highway.

As Ana was getting ready to move onto the exit ramp, Phil entered the lane behind her. Thinking Ana was going to complete her exit, Phil moved ahead. What he didn’t realize was that Ana had slowed to let another driver pass. As Ana slowed to let the other car pass, Phil collided with the rear of her car.

They both pulled over to the side of the road to examine the damage. Phil asked Ana if she was hurt and she said she felt fine.

When the police arrived, Phil said he couldn’t stop in time because Ana stopped suddenly on the exit ramp. They ended up giving him a ticket for “Following Too Closely” under Florida’s Statute § 316.08 (1), which reads in part:

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the highway.

Ana and Phil exchanged insurance and contact information. Because the accident appeared minor, with no damage to either car and no apparent injuries to either driver, both drivers left.

Unfortunately, Phil chose not to report the accident to his insurance company.  He didn’t want his insurance company to know he received a traffic citation and was afraid his premiums would rise.

The next morning Ana could barely get out of bed. Her back was sore and she couldn’t move her neck without feeling pain and discomfort. Her husband drove her to the local hospital’s emergency room.

The physician scheduled Ana for an MRI and CT Scan. Ana was subsequently diagnosed as having sustained a whiplash injury and disk herniation to the L4 level of her spine. Ana was told she would require back surgery, and it would likely result in a permanent injury requiring ongoing therapy and medical intervention.

Several days later Ana retained a personal injury attorney. Two months later Phil opened his mail to find a letter from Ana’s attorney informing him that Ana sustained serious injuries in the accident, and that he was responsible for paying those bills and other related damages.

By failing to promptly report the accident to his insurance company, Phil not only violated the terms of the cooperation clause, but he also gave Ana’s attorney a substantial head start on the claim. By the time Phil received the letter from Ana’s attorney, she had already located witnesses to the accident, secured copies of her medical records and bills, a medical narrative from her physician confirming her injuries were a direct result of the accident, and more.

If Phil had simply complied with the terms of his policy and contacted his insurance company right after the accident, he might not be in this position. They would have already opened an investigation into the claim two months ago.  Now he had to wait to see if his insurance company would defend him in the lawsuit and worry about them raising his premiums or cancelling his policy.

When do I contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company?
After notifying your own insurance company, contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company to report the accident. Make sure you have the driver’s name and contact information, the registration number of the car, and the driver’s insurance policy number.

Most insurance companies normally have two adjusters working the same accident. One will handle the property damage part of the claim and the other will work on the personal injury aspect. Be sure to obtain both claim numbers. You’ll need them for future communications with the insurance company.

The accident was my fault. The other driver said he isn’t injured, and the damage to both cars is minor. He asked me to pay him without getting the insurance companies involved. Is this a good idea?
No. Do not make any “side agreements” to pay. Notwithstanding the contractual obligations in your insurance policy, there is a very practical reason to report the accident to your insurance company as quickly as possible.

It’s entirely possible the other driver believed he wasn’t injured at the scene. But hours or even days later, he could begin to experience symptoms of injuries. He could also decide to retain an attorney. If that’s the case, and you failed to report the accident to your insurance company, they would have no knowledge of the accident, forcing them to scramble to protect you.

Are there mobile apps to help file accident claims?
Yes. Today, many insurance companies have mobile applications which allow users to report a car accident. The apps often have the ability to:

  • Initiate claims
  • Fulfill the insurance company’s reporting requirement
  • Create and send the state-required auto crash report
  • Take photographs of the accident scene
  • Draw 3-dimensional sketches of the scene
  • Collect personal, driver’s license, and insurance information
  • Give a GPS location of the accident

Below are just a few of the companies offering car accident reporting apps:

Help. I Crashed My Car
C.A.R – Car Accident Report
Allstate Insurance Company
Google Accident Report

Step 6 – What You Need to Know About Florida’s Pure Comparative Negligence Law

Florida comparative negligencePure comparative negligence generally applies when an accident results in exceptions to no-fault requirements. Comparative negligence refers to comparing the negligence of each driver in a car accident and then distributing compensation according to each driver’s percentage of fault.

Under this law, the victim in a Florida car accident can still seek compensation from a negligent driver even if they shared some responsibility for causing the accident.

Pure comparative negligence applies whether the victim was 1% or 99% at fault for the accident. The amount of compensation the victim receives will be diminished by the percentage of their own negligence.

Example of how Florida Comparative Negligence works:

Alfie was driving to work. She was driving westbound in the right lane on the Long Island Expressway heading into Florida City. Mark was also in the right lane, driving right behind Alfie. Alfie was driving below the posted speed limit, and Mark wanted to pass her. He slowly moved into the left lane and increased his speed. Once he believed he was sufficiently past Alfie, he began to enter the right lane in front of her.

As Mark moved back into the right lane, his car collided with the driver’s side front quarter panel of Alfie’s car.  They both pulled over to the side of the road.

While Mark was not injured, Alfie’s left wrist was fractured as her hand struck the steering wheel. The injury was diagnosed as a compound fracture. The doctors told Alfie they would have to operate to repair the fracture, and because it splintered the bone when breaking, pins would be required. The injury was permanent.

Mark told police he thought he had safely passed Alfie before moving back into the right lane. Witnesses told the police they saw Alfie speed up as Mark was moving back into the right lane.

The circumstances of the accident underscore the application of Florida’s Pure Comparative Negligence law.

The police issued a traffic citation to Mark under Florida’s Statutes Section 316.083 (1) “Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle”  which reads in part:

“The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.”

As the basis for the citation the police officer determined Mark moved back into the right lane before it was safe to do so.

However, based on the witness’s statements, the investigating officer determined Alfie increased her speed as Mark was attempting to re-enter the right lane, thereby contributing to the crash.

As a result, the investigating officer issued a traffic citation to Alfie under Florida’s Statutes Section 316.083 (2) “Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle” which reads in part:

“The driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle…”

As the basis for the citation, the police officer determined that instead of allowing Mark to reenter the right lane in front her, Alfie increased her speed, therefore contributing the accident.

Under Florida’s permanent injury exception to the no-fault law, Alfie sued Mark for $100,000. Alfie’s attorney was unable to settle the claim with the insurance company, so the attorney filed a lawsuit and the case eventually went to trial.

After listening to both drivers, two witnesses, and the investigating officer, the jury determined both drivers were at fault. Relying on Florida’s comparative negligence law, the jury apportioned Mark’s negligence at 75% and Alfie’s at 25%. The jury awarded Alfie $75,000, representing Mark’s 75% comparative negligence, and her own 25%.

Under Florida’s Pure Comparative Fault law, even if the jury had determined Alfie was 99% at fault, she would have still been able to recover $1,000 of her claim amount.

Step 7 – The Role of Police at Accident Scenes

Florida role policeLaw enforcement officers are highly trained in accident scene investigation. When officers are dispatched to an accident scene they are focused on fulfilling their duties. It’s important for you to fully cooperate with them at all times.

What is the role of law enforcement at the accident scene?
When law enforcement is dispatched to an accident scene they will:

  • Seek out the injured and call for paramedics when necessary
  • Secure the accident scene with pylons, flares, and tape
  • Direct traffic around the accident scene
  • Look for signs of intoxication
  • Summon tow trucks where required
  • Seek out evidence such as vehicle damage and skid marks
  • Look for factors which contributed to the accident, including obstructions and weather conditions
  • Question drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others with information about the collision
  • Run warrant checks
  • Issue traffic citations when applicable
  • Give drivers a case or service number so they can later obtain the officer’s crash report

Do police officers have to listen to my side of the story?
No. While you have every right to attempt to give the officers your opinion of the factors you believe caused the accident, they are not obligated to discuss the accident or its contributing factors with you.

Do I have to answer questions from the police?
It depends. If the officers ask you to identify yourself, including your full name and address, proof of registration, and proof of insurance, you must comply. However, if you’re being questioned about possession of drugs, or for any other action which might result in criminal charges, you have the right not to answer those questions.

What if the police give me a ticket?
If a police officer decides you were in violation of one or more of Florida’s traffic laws, you may be issued a traffic citation. You can certainly attempt to dissuade the officers, but if the officer does issue the citation you must accept it, and if requested, sign it.

It’s important to know signing the citation is not an admission of guilt. Rather, your signature is only an agreement you will appear in court to face the charge.  At that time you may enter a plea of not guilty and contest the citation. Traffic citations are only circumstantial evidence of guilt.

Step 8 – Retain an Attorney or Represent Yourself?

Florida attorney self representThere are some personal injury claims which can adequately be handled without legal representation. However, there are others which should always involve an experienced attorney.

How do I know if I need an attorney?
There are generally two types of injuries arising out of Florida car accidents. They are “soft tissue” and “hard injuries.”

Soft tissue injuries include strains, minor bruising, abrasions or cuts not requiring stitches, first degree burns, whiplash, and other relatively minor injuries. Soft tissue injuries generally don’t result in substantial medical or therapy bills, nor do they involve complex issues of law. Because of this, a victim can negotiate their own injury claim with the insurance company.

Moreover, in soft tissue injuries there may not be enough compensation to pay an attorney, and still leave you with enough leftover to pay for all your medical bills, and for your pain and suffering.

Hard injuries are much more serious. They can include head trauma, fractures, third degree burns, deep gashes requiring stitches, and other injuries requiring substantial and extensive medical care.

Compensation for a serious injury claim can be substantial. In these cases you simply won’t be as effective as a personal injury attorney. By representing yourself you will likely end up settling for an amount much lower than what an attorney could have secured for you, even after attorney’s fees are deducted.

Insurance companies are well aware of the fact that you can only get so far without an attorney. The insurance claims adjuster may lead you to believe you’re an expert negotiator. The reality is, that’s just not true. And once the adjuster gives his or her final offer, that’s it. From there you have absolutely no leverage. It’s basically take it or leave it.

When it comes to serious hard injury claims, an experienced personal injury attorney will have a plethora of legal tools to rely on to secure the highest settlement possible. And that amount is almost always much higher than the client could have ever hoped to get on his or her own.

Hard injury claims often require filing a lawsuit. Insurance companies don’t like lawsuits. They know once a suit is filed they will have to pay out substantial amounts in legal fees to defense attorneys.

Lawsuits require pretrial discovery, including depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more. These are actions only an attorney can effectively perform.  Personal injury attorneys also have the power to learn the at-fault driver’s policy limits, whether the driver has a past record of traffic accidents, citations, prior arrests, and other helpful information you would have a very hard time obtaining yourself.

How much do attorneys charge?
Most personal injury attorneys do not charge any legal fees for initial office consultations. Once you find an attorney to take your case, they will likely agree to represent you on a contingency fee basis. This means you do not have to pay any legal fees until the attorney settles your case or wins it at trial. If your attorney is unable to settle your injury claim, or loses the case in trial, you will owe the attorney nothing.

However, if your attorney settles your case or succeeds in trial you will owe a percentage of the settlement amount or court verdict. Contingency fees can range from 25% to 40% depending on the time involved, the complexity of the case, and whether or not the case had to be tried in court.

Make copies of your medical records and bills, a copy of the accident report, photographs, witness statements and other documents related to the accident. Seek out several personal injury attorneys in your area. Most have extensive websites illustrating the types of cases they accept and the success they’ve had.

These attorneys will review the evidence, discuss the underlying facts, and ask questions. After doing so, they’ll give you their opinion on the viability of your claim, whether or not they believe the claim will settle, or if the claim may have to be tried in court.

Step 9 – Small Claims Court and You

Florida small claims courtIn the event you’ve had no success settling your claim, you may consider filing a lawsuit in one of Florida’s Small Claims Courts. These courts are designed to give people a forum to have their cases heard before a judge. The very nature of small claims courts is to provide a relaxed venue where parties aren’t bound by Florida’s formal Rules of Evidence.

What amount can I sue for in small claims court?
Florida’s Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases worth up to $5,000.

Under what circumstances would I consider suing in small claims court?
Because Florida’s no-fault insurance system does not require drivers to file first-party property damage claims with their own insurance companies, you can pursue the at-fault driver for compensation for repairs or replacement of property damage.

When it comes to property damage claims in Florida you have three options. They are:

  • File a first-party property damage claim with your own insurance company
  • File a property damage claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  • Sue the at-fault driver

How can I find out more information about filing a lawsuit in one of Florida’s small claims courts?
To learn more about filing a lawsuit, and for access to forms such as  affidavits, petitions, summons, and more, go to the Florida Bar website.

Step 10 – Be Vigilant: The Statute of Limitations is Looming

Florida statute limitationsWhether you represent yourself or retain an attorney, Florida’s statute of limitations applies. This is the time period you have to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit.

If the statute of limitations period expires and you haven’t settled your claim, you lose your right to further pursue any compensation from the at-fault driver or the driver’s insurance company.

What is the Statute of Limitations in the State of Florida for personal injury or property damage claims?
The Statutes of Limitations for these types of claims in the State of Florida is four (4) years. In almost all cases, the statute of limitations period begins on the date of the accident.

What should I do if the statute of limitations is about to expire and I haven’t settled my injury claim?
If the statute of limitations is about to expire and you haven’t settled your injury claim, you must file a lawsuit, even if you file one in small claims court. Filing a lawsuit in any court extends (or “tolls”) the statute.

The insurance company won’t return my calls or my emails. What should I do?
Insurance companies and the claim adjusters who work for them have no legal obligation to settle your claim or remind you the statute of limitations is about to expire. Be sure to enter the statute of limitations date into your cell phone calendar, on your refrigerator, and anywhere else to remind you of when the date is approaching.

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