Q: What is a personal injury?
A personal injury (sometimes referred to as bodily injury) is any physical or mental injury to a person as a result of someone’s negligence or harmful act.
Some examples of personal injury include:
- Car and truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Dog bites
- Boating accidents
- Home accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Wrongful death
Q: How do I know if I have a personal injury claim?
To have a personal injury case, you must be able to show that you have been injured, either physically or emotionally, by someone else under a negligence, strict liability or intentional misconduct theory. This means someone or some business was at fault for the injury.
Q: Can I get financial compensation in a personal injury claim?
Compensation for your injuries depends on several factors, including physical and mental pain and suffering, economic hardship or financial loss, decreased earning potential and physical impairment, including disfigurement. Depending on the type and extent of your personal injury, you may be eligible for compensatory (actual) damages, and punitive (punishment) damages. The damages may include the following:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Physical disability
- Permanent scars
- Emotional trauma
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment
- Loss of love and affection
- Mental disability
- Property damage
- Out-of-pocket expenses (transportation charges, house cleaning, grass cutting and others)
Q: How much time do I have to present my case?
The statute of limitations is a time period within which you must take action in order to preserve your rights in a claim. The statute of limitations varies depending on the case and may be different in each state. Most often the state’s statute of limitation that applies to your injury is that of the state where your injuries took place. You should consult our attorneys as soon as possible to determine the length of time you have to bring your claim.
Q: How long does this type of case take?
The answer to this question is primarily determined by the complexity of the case. The last thing we want to do is resolve a case while our client is still healing or does not have a good understanding of what their future medical condition will entail. It is not a benefit to our clients to rush settlement of an injury case and then find out post-settlement that they need additional surgery or will have ongoing future medical expenses.
Often the average auto accident injury claim, premises liability case or other types of general negligence case is resolved within anywhere from 6 to 12 months after completion of the recommended course of medical treatment. However, if your case is forced into the court system toward trial, it may take considerably longer.
Q: Will I be able to recover money even if I am partly at fault?
Yes. In many cases accident victims can recover money even if they are partly to blame for the accident. There are, however, many factors that go into attributing a certain percentage of fault to each party involved. You should consult an attorney to discuss the specifics of your case.
Q: What are things I may not know that could hurt my case?
- Giving a recorded statement to the insurance company without consulting a lawyer can badly damage or destroy your case
- Exaggerating or underestimating the extent of your injuries
- Talking to anyone about your case (except us and your doctors)
- Assuming the insurance adjuster wants to help you – the adjuster’s sole job is to save the insurance company’s money
- Witnesses and evidence must be secured and maintained immediately after an accident, or they will be lost forever
Must I report an accident?
Absolutely. You should call the local police, sheriff’s office or highway patrol. At your first opportunity, report the accident to your insurance company. Within ten days, you and the other driver must report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles if:
(a) the damage to either car is more than $500.00; or
(b) anyone is injured.
You should get a copy of the accident report from the police or insurance company.
What should I do if I’ve been injured in an automobile accident?
When a motor vehicle is in an accident, it is important that certain action is taken. The name and address of the operator of each vehicle should be obtained. Additionally, the name and address of the owner of each vehicle involved should be obtained and the license plate number of all vehicles should be recorded. Lastly, the name of the automobile insurance company for each vehicle should be obtained. If possible, obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Obtain photos of the damage to both cars, if possible, or make arrangements to get such photos.
If there has been any type of injury, the police should be called to investigate the accident. The police officer will write a report which includes the details of the accident and the nature and extent of any damages and injuries. Insurance companies will require that a report of the accident be obtained before providing any benefits. It is important to immediately contact your own motor vehicle insurance company to report any property damage or personal injury. If you or a passenger is injured in a motor vehicle accident, prompt medical attention should be obtained.
- Do not leave the scene until police or medical aid arrives. If you have hit a parked car, leave a note and an explanation along with your address and phone number
- If there is an injury, seek medical help immediately. If you know first aid and are able to help, do so. If circumstance allow, you may drive an injured party to medical aid. If the party is in danger by remaining where they are, but they are too injured to be moved, you should move them out of harm’s way
- Gather all the information you can such as: the name of the other driver; their address; vehicle registration; name of the owner or owners of the vehicle, if not the driver; driver’s license number with state and expiration date; birth date; phone numbers (office/home/cell phone); insurance company; names, addresses, and phone numbers of passengers
- If you are aware of witnesses, get their identification information. If they drive off before you speak with them, try to get their license plate number
- If you are given a traffic ticket, it is okay to sign it as this is not an admission of guilt. But, be sure to contact your attorney before you pay any fine or appear in court
- Take note of the date, time, location, road conditions and weather conditions
- Draw a diagram of the accident scene
- Take photos of damage to both cars and any damage caused to any other property
- Write down the facts as you remember them as soon as it is possible to do so
- Describe, in writing, any injuries you may have sustained and keep a running list of any medical providers with whom you treat
What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP)?
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage is part of your Florida automobile insurance coverage and is required by law in the amount of $10,000.00. PIP pays 80% of medical expenses, 60% of gross wage loss, plus all expenses reasonably incurred in obtaining services that you would have performed for the benefit of your household (such as housekeeping and child care) or yourself had you not been injured. PIP also pays reasonable mileage or expenses for transportation to and from doctors’ offices for medical treatment. All PIP payments are made by your own insurance company, regardless of whose negligence caused the accident. That is why PIP is often referred to as No-Fault coverage. PIP is payable for any injury which arose out of the use, operation or maintenance of a motor vehicle (but not a motorcycle). PIP may also be offered with a deductible, which reduces the amount of coverage and increases your out-of-pocket expenses if you are injured in your accident.
Why am I responsible for my PIP deductible?
The Florida Legislature has deemed that in the no-fault or PIP statute, policies with up to a $1,000 deductible are allowed by the insurance companies to be sold to consumers. Although this is the largest deductible allowed, it is not mandatory.
When consumers go to insurance companies to buy insurance, they can elect to not carry a deductible or to have a deductible much smaller than a $1,000 deductible. Unfortunately, if you choose to carry a PIP deductible, you are responsible for that deductible amount even if the accident which caused your injuries was not your fault.
Why does my insurance company have to get involved it the accident was not my fault?
Even when our client is in an accident that is based on the negligence of another person, we still are able to make a claim for personal injury protection benefits, more commonly known as PIP. This is the “no-fault” insurance that the Florida Legislature designated would pay 80% of a person’s medical bills and 60% of a person’s lost wages, up to $10,000.00, whether or not they are at fault.
Your personal insurance also becomes increasingly important in the unfortunately common situation where a negligent person causes an accident and they are uninsured or underinsured. You can then make a claim, provided you have paid a premium for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage with your own insurance company. In these cases, your damages would be paid by your own insurance company as if they have stepped into the shoes of the responsible party.
Can I control whether my car is repaired or replaced?
This can be a difficult issue. For many people, getting back into their own vehicle, as long as it is safe, is a priority. Under the current state of Florida law, the insurance company has the option to either repair or replace your vehicle, depending on whether it costs less to replace your vehicle than to repair it. If the “actual cash value” of the vehicle, as determined by the insurance company’s chosen valuation program, is less than the estimated cost to repair the vehicle, plus any anticipated supplemental repairs, the insurance company will declare your vehicle a “total loss.”
If your car is declared a “total loss,” the insurance company buys your car from you for its actual cash value and then proceeds to have it destroyed or sold for salvage at auction. If you wish to keep the wrecked car, you may purchase it back from the insurance company for its salvage value. The insurance adjuster can deduct the salvage value from the settlement and you can keep the car.
Often, however, the insurance company chooses to repair a vehicle rather than replace it, although it may physically appear “totaled” to you. In this case, if you are concerned about the safety of the repaired vehicle, you should contact our office to discuss your options.
How is the market value of my car determined?
You are entitled to recover the “fair market value” or the “actual cash value” of your vehicle immediately before the accident. Two common sources used to estimate fair market value are Kelley Blue Book and ADP Claims Services software. Other sources of information for market value are the local newspaper or the Auto Trader, which may list the for-sale price of cars of the same make, model, and year as yours. Occasionally, an expert vehicle appraiser is used to help prove the value of your vehicle.
What if I am “upside down” on the loan for my car?
If you owe more money on the loan for the car than the fair market value of the car, you are “upside down” on the loan. If your vehicle is deemed a total loss, the insurance company is required to pay the “actual cash value” of your automobile. It is our objective to make certain that they live up to their requirement to pay you in full.
In a situation where the amount paid pursuant to “actual cash value” does not come close to the amount owed on the loan, you are responsible for the difference between the amount owed on the auto loan and the actual cash value (ACV) paid to the lender by your insurer. The only way to protect yourself from this common occurrence is to carry “gap” insurance when you purchase the vehicle. This type of coverage will cover the “gap” between the ACV and the loan payoff amount.
What kind of parts will be used in the repair?
You have the right to demand that only original manufacturer parts be used in the repair, so if your car is a Pontiac, you should receive genuine Pontiac (GM) parts. Since your car was probably not new at the time of the accident, however, the mechanic may use refurbished or reconditioned parts.
What if my car already had some damage before the accident?
If your vehicle had damage prior to the accident, it can be difficult to determine exactly what portion of the damage was caused by the accident itself. For example, if your car had a mechanical problem, the insurance company may claim that it existed prior to the accident if there is evidence that shows substantial wear and tear. Therefore, it is important that you can prove the connection between the auto accident and the damage you are claiming. Sometimes your mechanic or collision repair personnel will assist by stating an opinion as to the age of body damage or the cause of a mechanical failure.
Will I have to pay the towing and storage costs?
In most cases, unless there is a dispute as to who was at fault in the accident, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident will pay the reasonable towing and storage costs (if necessary) of your car. After evaluating the vehicle, if the insurance company declares the car a total loss, they will have the car moved to a wrecking yard or a free storage area. If you refuse to allow the insurance company to move your car, however, you will have to pay the storage costs from the day of your refusal forward, or you can pay to have it towed to your home. To avoid exorbitant storage costs, it is imperative that your car be moved from the garage or tow yard as soon as possible.
What about license and registration fees that I had to pay to drive the car?
In order to drive your vehicle, you had to pay tag fee and registration fees. You are entitled to be reimbursed for the prorated amount of these costs that are unused. The insurance company should also reimburse you for tag transfer fees and, in some cases, a prorated amount of sales tax on the actual cash value of the car at the time of the accident.
What if I need a rental car? Do I have to pay for it while my car is being repaired?
If you caused the accident, or if there is a dispute over who is to blame, then you must either pay for the rental car yourself or seek coverage under your own insurance policy if rental coverage is available. Many insurance contracts do not provide for rental coverage for their own customers, so you need to contact your insurance agent to determine what coverage exists. If the other driver is at fault, then we will demand that the insurance company for the person who caused the accident provide you with a rental car for the time needed to repair your vehicle. Sometimes, you must pay the rental car bill first, with reimbursement coming from the insurance company later.
What kind of rental car am I entitled to?
The insurance company has to pay for the rental costs of a comparable substitute vehicle. Often, there are disputes as to what qualifies as a “substitute” vehicle. Essentially, it should be a vehicle of similar size and quality, within the confines of what is available for rent.
How can I protect my interests if I have an accident caused by someone else?
Make certain that you act promptly to gather and preserve any evidence and witnesses to help investigators. See a physician quickly to evaluate any injuries. Call Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz for a free consultation regarding your case.