How Do I Handle a Car Accident Settlement?
This is a difficult question for many people. Often, they are hurt, may be unable to work, and unsure of how to proceed. They may have received a settlement offer from an insurance company, which leads to more questions. Is it a good offer? Will it cover all their medical bills and lost wages? Do they have other options?
Florida Car Insurance Laws
First, it’s important to understand Florida’s car insurance laws. This state has a no-fault insurance system—in other words, each driver’s medical bills and related expenses are covered first by their own insurance carrier, regardless of fault. But for property damage, you have the option to pursue a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance. Every driver is required to carry at least $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, plus $10,000 of property damage liability insurance.
After an accident, you should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as you can, but your policy should tell you the exact deadline. If you’re injured, you should see a doctor right away—don’t delay medical treatment. However, you should wait on car repairs if you’re able to do so—your insurance company might want to inspect the damage or send you to an approved repair shop.
What to Do Immediately After a Car Accident
In Florida, you should immediately contact law enforcement for any accident involving an injury, death, or property damage greater than $500. (It may not be possible to estimate the value of the damage yourself, so it’s generally better to just file a report if in doubt.) The police officer will take statements and submit a report. For accidents that don’t require a police report, like minor car damage, or where no police investigation was conducted, the driver should still file a crash report within ten days.
Once you’ve safely stopped your vehicle after an accident, you should offer “reasonable assistance” to anyone who is injured, and exchange personal, vehicle, and insurance information with the other drivers. It’s also important to collect the names and contact info for any witnesses, document weather and road conditions, and take photographs of the vehicles. Even if you feel like you are at fault, avoid saying so to other drivers or the police officers attending the scene. Sometimes drivers may feel responsible for an accident when the facts show later that there was nothing they could have done to prevent the wreck.
How Do Car Accident Settlements Work in Florida?
When accepting a settlement, the injured party agrees to a payment amount from the insurance company or the other driver. In return, they give up the right to pursue any further legal action in connection with the accident. As with most kinds of settlements, the willingness to settle and the amount offered after a car accident will vary depending on the evidence supporting your case. Because of this, witness statements, police reports, and other documentation are very important in these negotiations.
Insurance companies are forbidden by law to engage in unfair or deceptive practices, like refusing to pay valid claims for personal injury protection, or failing to properly investigate a claim. That being said, their primary objective is always going to be looking out for the business interests of the insurance company, not you. When they want to settle a claim, the insurance company will usually ask you to sign a release which says that you won’t file more claims related to the same accident. Think carefully before doing so, and consider their offer. Will it cover all your current and future medical bills? What about lost wages from missing work? You should not sign anything until you’re satisfied that the settlement is fair and covers all your damages, including any future medical care as estimated by your doctor. If you’re unsure, consulting an injury law firm is a good idea.
Sometimes representatives from the insurance company may be very aggressive about “following up” on their offer. Don’t let them bully you into signing something you haven’t had time to consider. If you’ve been injured and a loved one is helping care for you, they can let the insurance company know that you’ll call them back when you’re feeling up to it. Or, you can simply let the calls go to voice mail until you’ve had time to properly consider the offer, and talk it over with an experienced attorney.
What is the Average Car Accident Settlement in Florida?
Because the circumstances and damages of each accident are unique, there is no one formula for calculating a car accident settlement amount. The amount varies depending on the damages, and how easy it is to prove the other driver was at fault. But there are certain relevant factors to consider, including the following:
- The severity of your injuries
- The costs of reasonable and necessary medical expenses
- Loss of past and future wages
- Whether you helped cause the accident—Florida follows the “pure comparative negligence” doctrine, meaning damages may be reduced according to your degree of fault
- The kinds of insurance coverage both parties have
- The amount of evidence and documentation you can produce
- Your or your attorney’s ability to argue your case
How Long Do I Have to File a Car Accident Lawsuit in Florida?
Because Florida is a no-fault state, you can only pursue a personal injury legal claim against an at-fault driver in the event of a serious accident. The deadline, or statute of limitations, for filing a personal injury or property damage complaint is four years from the date of the car accident. If you’re unsure if your accident qualifies as serious, a conversation with an attorney may help you gain some clarity.
If you or a loved one were seriously injured, you do have rights and you need an advocate who is ready to protect those rights. Speak with an injury attorney today from the Law Offices of David M. Benenfeld, P.A.
We offer a free, no-obligation consultation. You can meet with an attorney now to discuss your case and see if you qualify for compensation. Call us now at 954-677-0155 or request more information online.