Auto accident insurance claims seem simple. You’ve been in a serious automobile accident that wasn’t your fault, so you file your claim and wait for the insurance company to pay for your injuries and damage.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always that straightforward. You may have been seriously injured and need more medical care or time to recover. The at-fault driver may be claiming you are partially responsible for the accident, so they shouldn’t have to pay. One of the first things you need to make your case is the assistance of experienced auto accident attorneys at Ratzan Weissman & Boldt.
What Do You Need to Successfully Prove an Auto Accident Case?
Whether you get an attorney right away or call one later, your auto accident lawyers will need some documentation to get your case moving. If you can get this before you contact an attorney, that’s great. If you can’t, don’t panic. Your attorney will be able to help you obtain anything you couldn’t get right away during the discovery period before any litigation.
1. Documentation and an Accident Report of the Crash
The insurance claim process involves a lot of paperwork. The more documentation you can get at the time of the accident, the better off you will be as the process moves forward.
- Insurance. Everyone knows you need to exchange insurance information at the scene of an accident. You should get at minimum the name of the other driver’s insurance company and their policy number. Florida law prohibits releasing insurance information to anyone other than the parties involved in a crash or their attorneys, but if you didn’t get it at the scene, you can fill out a form to have it sent to you.
- Police reports. The law enforcement officer who responds to the scene will give you an incident number. It takes about 10 days to 2 weeks for the report to be uploaded to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles ( FHSMV) site. After that, you can retrieve it from the FHSMV for a small fee. The police report will have all the other driver’s information, and details about the accident scene.
- Witness statements. If you can get these at the scene, they can be very helpful. Witnesses can provide information about what the other driver was doing before police or firefighters arrived on the scene. In situations where the other driver may have been speeding or “lane diving,” this can be essential since the police will not have seen them doing this negligent driving.
- Medical records. You should bring all your medical documentation, including doctor’s reports, receipts, invoices for medication or medical devices, hospital bills, and therapist records. These will form the basis of your request for payment.
2. Proving Negligence of At-Fault Parties
As the plaintiff in a car accident claim, you have the legal duty (or burden) of proving the other party was responsible for causing the accident. Florida courts follow a “pure comparative negligence” rule. Sometimes this is called “contributory negligence.” This means that even if you are partially responsible for causing an accident, you can still recover damages in a case. However, your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault.
For instance, if your damages totaled $100,000, but you were found to be 30% at fault, you could only recover $70,000 in damages. For this reason, your attorney needs all your documentation and the facts of the accident to make your case as strong as possible.
The most common cause of negligent driving these days is texting and driving. In 2011, Florida joined nearly every other state in America in prohibiting texting while driving. Distracted driving causes almost 4,000 deaths annually. If you believe the at-fault driver may have been texting or using their cell phone before the accident, this can be evidence of negligence. Florida traffic law does not allow the use of cell phones for texting or talking unless they are hands-free devices.
3. Damages and Accident Losses
To successfully win an auto accident case, your personal injury lawyers need to prove you suffered an injury, sometimes called “damages” or “losses.” This may seem obvious if you have been in an auto accident, but it is a very important part of a negligence case. Without an injury, there is no case.
When you provide your documentation, don’t forget other damages and losses you may have suffered because of the accident. Lost wages and other income, the impact on your mental health, or the effect on your home life (called “loss of consortium”) can also be considered damages in legal action.
What Can You Get Out of a Lawsuit?
Each legal case is unique, so there is no way to guarantee what anyone will receive. An experienced attorney, like those at Ratzan Weissman & Boldt, will review your case carefully before making any estimates of the possible outcomes. But you may be able to recover:
- Medical bills, including future medical costs, rehabilitation, and medication
- Home modifications, such as ramps, showers, or lifts
- Transportation needs, including vehicle replacements or upgrades
- Lost wages or other income
- Pain and suffering
- Other accident expenses
Florida sometimes allows punitive damages, called “compensatory damages,” in cases where the other driver was intoxicated or impaired, or there are other circumstances that justify such damages. Careless or reckless driving usually does not warrant such damages.
Payment of Medical Bills
Most auto accidents involve medical bills. Because Florida is a “no-fault” state, you must file a medical claim with your own insurance and exceed your personal insurance protection coverage before the other party’s insurance will be billed.
The goal of most legal firms and insurance companies is to settle the case and avoid litigation. This is of benefit to you as the client. Litigation is expensive and time-consuming. A good attorney knows that the best way to avoid litigation is to present a strong case at the beginning and show the other side that settling quickly is in everyone’s best interests.
An accident settlement should include provisions for future medical billing, cover all existing costs, and be agreed on by all people involved in the lawsuit.
When Is it Worth it to File an Auto Accident Lawsuit?
You may not always be sure when to get a lawyer after an auto accident or be sure if you need to file a lawsuit. Sometimes the insurance company will offer you a fair settlement right away, and you don’t have any other concerns or questions. Perhaps only your car was damaged, and you did not need medical care.
If the other driver did not have auto insurance, you may not have any success in filing a lawsuit. Auto accident lawsuits are filed against the other driver but name the insurance company as an additional party. Unless the other driver has enough money to pay your claim, filing a suit against an individual is not worth your time.
Whether you decide to file a lawsuit or not, you should discuss the matter with an attorney first. You should always have an attorney review your documentation before you file it, and always have any settlement offer reviewed before you agree or sign anything sent to you by an insurance company.
If you have been involved in an auto accident and need legal representation, contact Ratzan Weissman & Boldt. We are here to get you the compensation you deserve, and the help you need.