Basics of personal injury lawsuits and insurance claims in a rear end collision
Rear-end accidents: You rarely see them coming.
You might think that because a rear-end accident presumes automatic fault of the other driver, you do not need an attorney. And you might be right. After all, in Florida, the driver who is hurt in a no-fault law state is expected to turn to his or her own car insurance policy, regardless of who caused the accident.
Is no-fault insurance mandatory in Florida?
Florida no-fault law says that drivers are supposed to turn to their own insurance companies to cover medical bills.
Florida requires drivers to carry a $10,000 PIP (personal injury protection) policy. This blanket coverage is intended to protect drivers in case of small accidents. Consider this your mandatory no-fault insurance policy in Florida.
You can step outside the insurance system if your injuries are severe and beyond policy limits. This applies for a rear-end collision as much as any other type of car crash in Florida.
How bad are your injuries from the rear-end collision?
If your injuries from the rear-end collision are severe, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer and suing the other driver. That's when the Florida no-fault law is not going to provide enough help.
Rear-end accidents are most likely to cause whiplash. In a more serious accident, however, you might break your neck. Liability might be presumed on the part of the other driver, but his lawyer is going to argue mitigating circumstances and that your injuries aren't as painful as you claim.
Even if liability is certain, there is a scale for how much has to be paid out. Insurance adjustors have their own calculations for determining payout amounts, so you will have to show them exactly how injured you are. This means you must provide medical bills and doctors' accounts of your injuries that detail their severity.
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
Having an attorney at this point is extremely helpful. Not only will you be wrangling insurance adjustors, but you will also be attending doctors' appointments and trying to heal. Having a lawyer deal with everything is just good sense. Then you can focus on getting better.
"Why should I give a lawyer a third of my settlement?" you wonder. You were hit from behind by another driver. You were injured. There were damages, and you dealt with the insurance company. What else is there to say?
A lot, actually.
How was your driving at the time of the accident?
You might have no idea if your tail lights are out. Maybe you were driving a few miles above the speed limit. Were both of your blinkers working? If you are driving a car with faulty signals or a blown light, the driver behind you will likely not be held liable.
Did you do something unexpected in traffic, like reversing or turning without a light? If your actions are not considered reasonable for the situation, a judge would probably side with the other driver. However, if stopped unexpectedly and you had to brake, that would be taken into account.
Remember that other drivers cannot read your mind. This important factor is what keeps the insurance and court systems running.
Rear-end collisions and contributory negligence in Florida
The Sunshine State has interesting rules when it comes to rear-end car accidents. First you must determine who was negligent while driving and the degree of their negligence. That means a court will examine your reasonableness (and that of the other driver) in the context of the accident. Did the other driver owe a duty of care? Yes – to drive safely. Did the other driver breach that duty, and did that breach cause damages?
Once that is figured out, your conduct will be taken into account. Different states follow different types of negligence theories: comparative negligence or contributory negligence.
Florida is one of 13 states that follows the pure comparative negligence theory, which assigns a percentage of fault to each party and apportions the damages accordingly. So, even if you were injured and 99% at fault for the accident, you could recover 1%.
Does the offending driver have the mandatory Florida no-fault insurance?
As we mentioned, in Florida, drivers are supposed to meet minimum insurance requirements before hitting the road. This includes $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 in property damage liability insurance.
That doesn't stop people from driving without insurance and hoping they won't get caught, however. One of the worst things to happen is when the other driver is uninsured. How will you get damages? If you're in a no-fault law state, like Florida, you can at least collect against your own insurance policy. This is why underinsurance, or insurance that plans for being hit by uninsured drivers, is so imperative.
If the other driver doesn't have insurance, you will have to pursue a personal injury claim. That can become tedious, expensive and a waste of your time. Being paid $50 a week for the rest of your natural life might satisfy your sense of vengeance, but it won't pay for your medical bills. Get an underinsurance policy and breathe easy.
Do you want to deal with insurance adjustors and opposing counsel?
Being an attorney is difficult. Three years of intense schooling turns hair gray and regular people into alcoholics at an impressive professional rate. Despite their personal troubles, they know how to file cases, how to handle insurance agents, and how to comb through records to maximize damages.
Do you really want to do that yourself?
Some cases are simple enough that you can handle them, like when only the car is damaged and the insurance company is going to handle it. When you have mountains of medical bills, though, the last thing you want is to fight the case yourself. There are filing deadlines you won't even know about.
Plaintiffs with attorneys get offered better settlements. Lawyers can argue mitigating circumstances and illustrate how your injuries will affect you for the rest of your life. They are an important teammate for you to have, and remember: They only win when you do.
If you have not found a good Florida lawyer yet, consider starting your search in the Enjuris Florida law firm directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.