No one gets into their car expecting to be involved in a car accident. Still, recent statistics have shown that there are well over 1,000 car accidents per day in Florida, approximately 40% of which result in injuries.
Current state laws dictate that to register a car in Florida, drivers have an obligation to purchase a minimally acceptable insurance policy. After being involved in a car accident, you are legally required to look to your insurance company for help first (whether you are responsible or not) for your medical billing, lost wages and mileage for driving to your doctors, body shop, etc..
As Florida is a ‘no-fault’ state in terms of car insurance, the initial damages should be settled in a timely manner. However, if you have suffered permanent injuries, one of the parties involved in the accident is not insured, your insurer refuses to pay, or the no-fault benefits did not adequately cover all the damages, you may see fit to hire an attorney for help to file a personal injury claim against another party to pursue financial compensation.
The stress of fighting to recover damages can be overwhelming, especially when you are struggling to recover from your injuries. However, this difficult situation can be made easier with an understanding of how car accident claims work and the help of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Proving Who Was Negligent in a Car Accident Claim
Most personal injury lawsuits are based on the law of negligence, which occurs when one party has breached a duty of care to another, breaches that duty and a direct and proximate cause of that breach, causes damage to others.
Proving negligence is one of the first things your lawyer will need to do. Negligence determines liability, so without proving negligence, there will be no case. Other drivers aren’t the only potential defendants in a personal injury lawsuit either – the negligence could also be from the actual owner of the vehicle that the at-fault driver had permission to drive, motorcyclists, truck drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, vehicle manufacturers, vehicle retailers, and even local and/or state government agencies.
There are four basic elements to establishing liability, each of which is essential in putting together a ‘winning’ car accident claim.
1. Proving that the defendant had a legal duty of care is the first element in establishing liability. With car accident claims, this is relatively straightforward because all drivers have the responsibility to operate their cars safely and obey traffic laws.2
2. Next, you need to prove that there was a breach of duty. You will need to show that the other party acted recklessly or carelessly and is, therefore, liable for the accident. There are numerous types of duty breaches in car accident claims, including but not limited to:
- Driving while intoxicated (impairment due to drugs or alcohol)
- Distracted or fatigued driving
- Failing to yield
- Losing control of the vehicle
- Failing to stop at a signal or stop sign
- Failing to use headlights or turn signals
- Failing to follow the right-of-way
- Speeding or driving well below the speed limit
- Failing to screen drivers for hire
The above examples are just a few instances of breach of duty. Based on the facts of your case, your attorney should be able to tell you whether they believe perhaps another party committed a breach of duty or that other parties share in the duty/breach.
3. Causation is the next element of liability. You will need to prove that the defendant’s negligent actions were the direct cause of your injury. For instance, if you have a concussion, you need to prove that it can only be attributed to the impact of the car accident and that no other viable explanation can be offered. To prove that your injuries were caused by the accident, many car accident lawyers will have working relationships with medical professionals who can review your health and render an honest opinion. Your attorney will be able to tell you how causation applies to your case; some examples include but are not limited to:
- If the driver had their headlights turned on, you would have seen them coming
- If the driver hadn’t fallen asleep behind the wheel, the accident would not have happened
- If the road did not have potholes, the driver would not have swerved and hit you
4. The final element is establishing damages. You need to be able to show that you suffered physical, financial, and/or emotional damages in a clear, explicit way. Your medical bills or loss of income, for example, could be proof of damages. In an injury case, there are typically two way or two types of damages: economic and non-economic. Generally, economic damages involve the calculable costs a victim has already incurred, such as medical bills and lost wages. Non-economic damages, which includes called pain and suffering, are awarded in addition to any out-of-pocket losses/costs/damages.
Make Sure You Have a Detailed Police Report
After an auto accident, you need to make sure to file a detailed police report. A police report represents an official, unbiased report of the car accident, which is often considered to be more reliable than the testimonies of the people who were involved. When an accurate and detailed police report is obtained, it can be used to establish a link between the car accident and the damage while also preventing anyone from making false claims. So, for that reason, if given the option to ‘self-report’ a crash, don’t let a lazy law enforcement officer have you do their job. If you do, it will likely not hold the weight of an ‘independent’ official party giving some rendition of what occurred. The same would go when someone asks you not to report the collision and that you will ‘take care of it’ after the fact. That rarely happens.
If the police report places the blame on the other driver, it can also assist in terms of avoiding arguments of comparative negligence. Florida is governed by the pure negligence standard, so multiple people can be held liable for an accident. A jury or even a claims adjuster may find that the person who hit you was 90% at fault, while you were responsible for the other 10%. In that example, the damages you recover would be reduced by 10%. You could still recover full damages if you were acting totally reasonable, and the other driver was not. A police report can help you prove this.
Look for A Witness If There Was One
Car accidents often come down to two people giving different versions of the same event. An insurance company or judge will be hard-pressed to deny your claim that the other driver was at fault if you have corroborating witnesses.
If you’ve been in a car accident and are looking to claim additional damages, a personal injury law firm can help you with your case.
Contact Sokoloff & Weinstein to book a consultation with one of our car accident lawyers. Our team can help you with everything you need to know for a successful car accident claim in West Palm Beach and Vero Beach, Florida.