One of the first questions lawyers hear from people who have been injured in an accident in Florida is, “Do I have a car accident case?” The way the response is worded might differ, but the answer lawyers usually give is, “It depends.” There are many facts and circumstances of a car accident case that must be reviewed in order to conclude whether there is a legal basis for filing a lawsuit for damages. Here is a brief overview of what goes into reaching a conclusion.
A few things to consider about your accident
There are few general questions that must be answered when trying to determine if you are entitled to sue another party for the injuries you suffered in a car accident. Included among them are the following:
- What type of injury did you suffer?
- How did the accident happen?
- Were there any witnesses?
- When did the accident take place?
- Did you receive medical treatment for the injuries?
- Did you miss time from work because of your injuries?
Each of the questions raises legal issues that your lawyer must address in evaluating your claim and your right to sue. For example, Florida currently has a no-fault insurance law that places conditions on the ability of an accident victim to file a lawsuit. This could change, however, because there is legislation pending to repeal the law.
Under the Florida’s no-fault law, your own insurance company would pay for medical care and lost wages if you are injured, regardless of who caused the accident. The law allows you to sue the other driver if the injuries you suffer are permanent. The law defines “permanent injuries” as follows:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- An injury that is permanent within what is a reasonable medical probability.
- Significant scarring or disfigurement
Even if you suffered an injury that is permanent as defined by the no-fault law, your attorney must evaluate how the accident happened in order to prove fault.
Proving someone was at fault
Accidents can happen through no fault on the part of anyone other than the injured party. Simply because you suffer a serious injury does not automatically give you the right to sue.
There must be evidence to prove another party’s negligence caused or contributed to the accident. Every driver is expected to operate a motor vehicle in a manner that does not cause harm to others, including obeying the traffic laws, keeping the vehicle under control and maintaining a lookout for other vehicles and pedestrians using the roads and highways. Drivers who do not abide by this standard of care and cause an accident might be liable to pay compensation to victims in an accident.
Common driver behaviors that could deviate from the standard of care include:
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Texting while driving
- Speeding or reckless driving
- Failing to yield the right of way
Witnesses who might have seen how an accident happened can prove valuable in establishing fault on the part of another party.
Waiting too long to see a lawyer could prevent a lawsuit
The law imposes time limits on how long a car accident victim has to commence a lawsuit for damages. The Florida statute of limitations is four years for auto accidents. You lose your right to sue if you do not file a lawsuit within four years from the date of the accident.
There are circumstances under which the running of the statute of limitations does not begin right away. For example, children have additional time to file a lawsuit stemming from an auto accident. If you’re concerned about the time that has lapsed since your accident, an attorney is the best source of information about the application of the statute of limitations.
Protecting your rights to sue for damages in a car accident case
The more information you can provide your personal injury lawyer about the car accident and any injuries you have suffered, the better able the lawyer will be to determine if you have a car accident case. Some of the things you should do following an accident include:
- Stay at the scene of the accident and follow the directions given to you by police and emergency personnel.
- Some injuries, such as whiplash or head injuries, may not cause symptoms right away, but they can be serious injuries. Refrain from saying that you “feel fine” to anyone at the scene. Go to a hospital, or see your doctor, to be examined to determine the extent of your injuries.
- If you are physically able to do so, exchange information with the other drivers involved in the auto collision. If you have severe injuries and you are taken from the scene by ambulance, the information will be obtained by the police.
- Make a sketch with notes describing how the accident happened and showing the location of the vehicles after the accident. This will help to refresh your recollection when you are providing details of the accident to your lawyer.
Speak to a personal injury lawyer
The first thing you need to do following a car accident is to seek medical care. After you have been evaluated by a doctor, contact a personal injury law for a free car accident case evaluation.