In this article we offer a step by step guide to persons involved in a car accident that was not their fault. Following this guide will offer the best possible outcome to people seeking compensation from injury following a car accident in Florida.
Step 1: Speak to the Authorities
Call 911 to report the claim. It is important that the police arrive to memorialize the crash.
Step 2: Medical Attention
Seek out immediate medical attention – especially if you are exhibiting any of the following signs:
- Any head-related injury such as concussion, troubles with vision, troubles with balance, vomiting, vertigo, severe headaches, troubles with balance, immediate numbness and tingling in hands/feet, etc.
- Trouble breathing / chest pain / heart palpitations
- Broken bones – especially compound fractures
Lower back and neck pain are VERY common following a car accident. It may or may not be in your best interest to go to the hospital depending on the pain level. Additionally, it is common to feel delayed lower back and neck pain. If you go to the hospital, make sure you report all your injuries.
Step 3: Photographic Evidence
If medically possible, take a number of pictures of: (1) your vehicle; (2) at-fault vehicle (including license plate); (3) crash scene. These pictures could be crucial in litigation if liability or damages is contested. It is not uncommon for at-fault driver’s to change their story in litigation.
Step 4: Speak to a Personal Injury Attorney
BEFORE speaking with the insurance company, seek a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Anything you say to the insurance company can and will be used against you down the road. Insurance adjusters are trained to “lock you into statements” without having the advice of legal counsel. In some cases, these “innocuous” statements could cost you of thousands of dollars.
If you wish to report the claim prior to speaking with a personal injury attorney, be very careful on discussing issues concerning liability or your injuries. Your only obligation is to report the crash (basic facts) and the location of the car. You should defer answering questions on your injuries until you speak with a personal injury attorney.
Do not engage / sign-up with “runners” or people claiming they work for non-profit victim advocate groups. These people are fraudsters who get paid by shady lawyers and clinic.
During your free consultation, an experienced personal injury attorney will answer many common questions, including:
- The significance of the crash report (i.e. determination of fault)?
- What types of information / evidence should you collect – including pictures?
- Who will repair your vehicle (at-fault insurance or your insurance)?
- Common car accident injuries?
- What is “whiplash”?
- Are headaches common following a rear-end accident?
- Who will pay for your medical bills?
- What is PIP coverage and am I required to use it?
- What is MED PAY coverage?
- What is a letter of protection (LOP)?
- What is bodily injury coverage (BI)?
- What are the at-fault insurance limits (BI limits)?
- What is uninsured motorist coverage (UM)?
- What are your insurance limits (UM limits)?
- Are you covered if you were driving in an UBER/LYFT?
- The pros/cons of going to the hospital?
- The pros/cons of initially treating with a chiropractor vs. physical therapy vs. primary doctor vs. urgent care vs. orthopedic?
- Will your insurance rates be affected if you use your PIP coverage?
- Will your insurance rates be affected if you your insurance fixes your vehicle as opposed to the at-fault insurance?
- What if you don’t have auto or health insurance?
- Can you still pursue a claim if you have pre-existing injuries?
- What if you’re not “one of those people who sue”?
- How can an attorney help maximize value in your case?
Personal injury attorney are paid on a contingency fee basis. They only collect if you collect. If you don’t collect, you owe us nothing. We accept all the risk. Almost all personal injury attorneys charge 33.3% if the case resolves pre-suit (i.e. before litigation) and 40% if litigation is required. As such, following a car accident you should NOT speak with the insurance company before knowing your legal rights.
How long will my case take?
This is a difficult question to answer during an initial consultation. Some cases are settled in 2 days; other cases go to trial many years later. Our attorneys try to resolve cases as fast as possible, but it is sometimes in the client’s best interest to file a lawsuit.
Some of the factors that go into the time it takes to resolve a case are:
- It is clear liability or contested liability?
- What are the policy limits?
- Who are the insurance carriers?
- Is the property damage significant or insignificant?
- When did the client first receive medical treatment for this case?
- Is the client still receiving medical treatment for this case?
- What types of injuries is the client alleging are related to this case?
- What are the severity of the client’s injuries?
- Are the injuries “clearly” related such as a broken bone?
- What do the X-ray / EMG/NCV / MRI results reveal?
- What type of treatment did the client receive – chiropractic treatment, pain management, surgical recommendation, surgical intervention?
- What activities of daily living (ADLs) were affected as a result of this case?
- Was the client placed at maximum medical improvement (MMI) and what is the impairment rating?
- What are PIP benefits?
- What does it mean that Florida is a “no-fault” state?
- What are the amount of the gross medical bills / outstanding medical bills?
- Did the client treat through PIP, MEDPAY, health insurance or on an LOP?
- Is the client making a wage loss claim?
- What is the age of the client?
- Does the client have any pre-existing injuries?
- Has the client treated previously for the same or similar issues?
- Has the client been in previous car accidents?
Please be advised that the client is the conductor of the train. The client can request us to settle the case at any time and for any amount. The attorney only provides legal guidance as to what is in the client’s best interest. In every case, if the attorney requests authorization to file suit, it means the attorney thinks the case is worth (substantially) more than the pre-suit offer.
How much is my case worth?
This is also a difficult question to answer during an initial consultation. Many of the factors that go into answering “how long will my case take” are the same as “how much is my case worth”?
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to narrow down the value of your case as more information trickles in. The more information at our disposal, the closer we can estimate the likely outcome of your case if it was presented to a jury.
Most cases resolve pre-suit.
Of the cases that are placed into litigation, most resolve before trial.
Only a small number of cases proceed to trial.
Having said that, it is important to know what factors a jury will be considering when awarding a judgment.
Car Accident Process Example
For example, let’s assume two 35 year olds are involved in a car accident. Jack is the driver. Jill is the passenger.
Jack first receives medical treatment 14 days post-crash for minor pain in his neck. Jack has previously treated for similar neck pain from a significant car accident last year. Jack undergoes an MRI which primarily reveals pre-existing injuries (bulges) in his neck. Jack is recommended for injections which he declines. Jack underwent injections on his previous car accident case. Jack had little to no trouble with activities of daily living. Jack stops treating about 75 days post-crash. Jack does not have a permanent injury. Jack does not exhaust his PIP benefits.
Jill is transported to the hospital for neck and back pain (shooting down her arms and legs). The following day Jill treats with a chiropractor. Jill has never had neck or back injuries. Jill undergoes an MRI which reveals acute injuries (herniations) in her neck and back. As Jill complains of “pins and needles” in her hands and feet, Jill is recommended for and undergoes multiple epidural steroid injections in her neck and back. The injections provide relief, but only temporarily. Approximately 18 months post-crash, Jill presents to an orthopedic surgeon who recommends Jill undergoes a cervical disc replacement. Jill may also one day require a lumbar fusion. Jill has trouble with a number of activities of daily living, including bathing her children, putting on a bra and doing laundry. Jill has not played in her tennis league since the crash.
During the initial consultation with Jack and Jill, we only have limited information at our disposal. As the case progresses, we can more accurately determine a case value range.
In this case, however, Jack’s case has limited value – maybe a couple thousand dollars. Jack’s case will likely settle pre-suit. Jill’s case, however, has significant value and is certainly a six-figure case. Provided Jill underwent surgical intervention, her case could reach a high six-figure number, possibly more.
The fact that case values are (predominately) unknown at the inception of the case, you should NEVER agree to settle your case on your own with the insurance company without the advice of counsel. We have heard too many stories of people (like Jill) settling their case with Progressive or GEICO a few days post-crash without the advice of counsel, only to be left with a lifetime of pain without any recourse.
What factors adds value to a case?
Your case value is determined by economic damages (i.e. medical bills and lost wages) plus non-economic damages (i.e. pain and suffering / loss of enjoyment of life). In many cases, the non-economic damages are greater than the economic damages. Although every case is different, here are a few factors that (on average) would add value to your case.
- Clear liability > Comparative Liability > Contested Liability
- Significant Property Damage > Moderate Property Damage > Minor Property Damage
- Crash with a Heavier Vehicle > Crash with a Lighter Vehicle
- High Policy Limits > Low Policy Limits
- UM case > BI case
- A+ rated insurance carrier (like Amica) > A lower-tiered carrier (like Ocean Harbor)
- Prompt Treatment > Delayed Treatment
- Continuous Treatment > Gaps in Treatment
- Injections > No Injections
- Surgery > Recommended Surgery > No Recommended Surgery
- 2 Level Surgery > 1 Level Surgery
- Full Tear > Partial Tear > No Tear
- Scar vs. No Scar
- Long Duration of Treatment > Short Duration of Treatment
- Positive Diagnostic Findings > Negative Diagnostic Findings
- Herniation > Bulge
- Disc Impacting the Spinal Cord > Disc Not Impacting the Spinal Cord
- Displaced Fracture > Non-Displaced Fracture
- Positive EMG/NCV > Negative EMG/NCV
- Permanent Injury > Non-Permanent Injury
- No Prior Complaints > Prior Complaints (a long time ago) > Recent Complaints
- Acute Injuries > Pre-Existing Injuries
- Young Plaintiff > Old Plaintiff
- Unsympathetic Defendant > Sympathetic Defendant
- Multiple Before and After Witnesses / No Before and After Witnesses
- High Gross Medical Bills > Low Gross Medical Bills
- High Outstanding Medical Bills > Low Outstanding Medical Bills
- LOP > Major Medical Set-Off
- Wage Loss Claim > No Wage Loss Claim
- No Previous Car Accidents > Previous Car Accidents
- Good Reputation of Your Attorney / Handles these types of matters v. Poor Reputation of Your Attorney / Does Not Handle these types of matters.
In almost every situation, a client will do better with a personal injury attorney (even accounting for our fees) then without a personal injury attorney.
An experienced personal injury attorney will continue to add value throughout the case by highlighting the positive factors and swift boating / downplaying the negative factors.