It takes a lot to disrupt a picture-perfect day in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, for far too many people, that shock comes in the form of a traumatizing car accident. When you’ve been a victim of a crash, it’s difficult to know what to do next, and even harder to know how you are going to recover. However, you do have options for recovering financial compensation for both short-term and long-term losses experienced as a result of your accident.
Many people believe they can rely on insurance companies to settle their claims fairly, but this is often not the case. Insurance companies are out to make a profit, which can happen at the expense of what’s fair. Other times, the damages from an accident — the value of property damage, medical bills, lost wages, and even the pain you have had to endure — exceed what insurance legally has to pay. In these cases, a lawsuit may be an option to consider.
Nobody plans on being injured in a crash, and knowing what to do if you are can be difficult. Here are steps you can take to protect your rights when you’ve been injured in a car accident.
File an Insurance Claim
The first step in your car accident injury settlement process should be to file a claim with the insurance company. But which insurance company? If you’re not a Florida native, you might not be used to what happens in a so-called no-fault state like Florida. Only a few other states use the no-fault system in one way or another, so you may be used to filing claims with the other driver’s insurance company.
In a no-fault state, however, you file a claim with your own insurance company. This is the first source of financial compensation in an Orlando car accident. However, the coverage is usually relatively low. Even so, most insurance companies will try to bait victims into settling claims early before they have had time to consider their options or even before the full scope of their injuries has become clear. In many cases, the insurance company will undervalue a claim, and when the victim negotiates for more, they will deny the request. Often, insurance companies will say that victims haven’t provided enough documentation to support the amount they are claiming in damages.
It’s best to speak with a personal injury lawyer immediately after an accident, before you even communicate with your insurance company (beyond filing the initial claim). An attorney can help you understand what documentation you need before you even begin negotiating with insurance. Most importantly, a lawyer will help you understand your rights and options so you can make educated choices.
Begin the Process of Proving Fault
Having a personal injury lawyer at your side even during the insurance negotiation phase, whether you are working with your insurance company or the at-fault driver’s insurance company, puts you in a better position to present a very strong claim. This puts pressure on the insurance company to pay full and fair value for your case.
Dealing with an experienced insurance company can be intimidating, and that’s usually their goal — even if it’s your insurance company. The claims adjuster and attorneys you’ll be communicating with do this every day, and they’ll leverage their knowledge and tools against you for a lower settlement. This stage of the process is best handled by your attorney, especially since some insurance providers will only speak with experienced lawyers to negotiate the settlement.
Most of the time, the insurance company will respond to your demand for payment with a counter-offer, which can be a strong indication that a fair settlement can be reached with a little effort. On the other hand, sometimes the insurance company’s moves make it clear that the case needs to proceed through a lawsuit in order to have the best chance of recovering your losses. Just because a lawsuit is filed does not necessarily mean the case will proceed to trial, but a well-prepared lawyer won’t try to avoid it, either.
If you do come to an agreement, you can finalize the legal part of your ordeal by signing a release of liability, which prohibits you from taking the at-fault driver or their insurance company to court for more money in the future.
Know When You Can File a Lawsuit
If you don’t come to a settlement agreement with insurance directly, especially if you have a case worth filing against a third party, the next step in the process could be for you to file a lawsuit. In Florida’s no-fault system, which is designed to keep lawsuits for “small” accidents out of the courts, you cannot file a lawsuit if you have not experienced permanent injuries from the accident and the total damages are less than $10,000.
When an injury resulting from a car accident is considered permanent, the injured person or their family, in the event of death, is able to sue the at-fault driver for damages. An injury is considered permanent if it results in:
- Significant, permanent loss of a major bodily function
- Permanent injury, according to a reasonable degree of probability
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
How likely is it that the damages from your accident will fall under the Florida no-fault threshold of $10,000? Not very likely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that US crashes resulted in almost $1 trillion in damages in 2010, with an average cost of bodily injury auto accident claims of $15,443. Therefore, you may need to at least consider whether a lawsuit might be your best bet for recovering damages after your car accident.
FVF can provide the information you need to understand your rights and options after you’ve experienced a car accident. Contact us today to schedule a no-cost, informative consultation.