If you are injured in an accident or other incident, there are numerous things you should do to ensure that you receive compensation for medical costs and other damages. While insurance may provide some compensation, it could be denied or fail to provide full payment for all the expenses a personal injury might cause. Florida’s personal injury laws provide several types of compensation to account for economic and non-economic losses. They include provisions that allow victims to seek compensation even if they were partly to blame for the accident.
Contacting a skilled personal injury lawyer, such as those at Tallahassee’s Akbar Thomas Law, should be one of the first steps you take after an accident. Your personal injury lawyer can investigate the accident in-depth to determine fault and appropriate compensation. They will also be instrumental in developing a personal injury claim strategy designed to secure maximum compensation through insurance company negotiations or in court.
Personal injury claims are process driven to a large degree, with specific actions you and your attorney must take to move the process forward. In general, the steps you and your lawyer need to take consist of the following:
Because your health and well-being should be your primary consideration when injured, seek medical care before taking other actions to address the incident. Documented evidence of your medical condition and treatment after the accident will become the primary basis of your claim. Thus, ensure that you keep all medical documents and bills and try to get the contact information of any attending physicians, emergency medical technicians, and physical therapy specialists.
If your injuries resulted from a motor vehicle accident, notify your insurance company as soon as your health is secured and you feel well enough. This will help start the process for receiving Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits as provided under Florida’s no-fault insurance law.
While your personal injury lawyer will investigate all relevant details relating to the accident, any evidence you can collect will help. If your health allows, go over the accident’s before, during, and after details and write them down. If possible, get the contact information of any potential witnesses and take photos relevant to the accident (injuries, damaged vehicle, defective products, etc.).
Once you have hired a personal injury lawyer, they will conduct a full investigation of the incident, including a full assessment of the damages you’ve incurred due to the accident. This will be used to prepare a “demand letter” on your behalf, which is sent to the at-fault party and/or insurance company(ies). The demand letter details the causes of the accident and formally demands payment for your economic and non-economic claims. To resolve the claims without going to court, demand letter respondents can accept the demand and remit payment, reject the demand, or make a counteroffer.
In many cases, the demand letter will lead to negotiations between your lawyer and the opposing party’s lawyer(s), which may lead to a settlement agreeable to both sides. At any time during the personal injury lawsuit process, the opposing lawyers may agree to enter into arbitration or mediation.
Both dispute resolution options allow each side to present their case, introduce evidence, and call witnesses. Mediation is overseen by a neutral mediator whose goal is to encourage successful settlement negotiations. Because mediations are non-binding, neither party is obligated to accept settlement offers. An arbitration is overseen by an arbitrator who acts as a private judge by making a binding decision that resolves the dispute.
If the demand letter is rejected or the lawyers fail to reach a negotiated settlement, your lawyer will initiate a personal injury lawsuit by filing a complaint with the county court where the injury occurred, or the at-fault party resides. Like the demand letter, the complaint describes accident details and all damages you’ve suffered but also asks the court system to render judgment. The at-fault party—now referred to as “defendant”—must admit or deny the allegations in the complaint within a set time frame.
Personal injury lawsuit complaints almost always result in denials from defendants, so the case will now go to the discovery phase. In this phase, lawyers from the opposing sides exchange their respective evidence so that each side can evaluate the other side’s position and determine how to proceed at trial. Before actually going to trial, judges typically encourage the parties to engage in mediation or arbitration, especially in the absence of pre-complaint mediation.
Less than 5% of personal injury claims actually make it to the trial stage and if yours does, it may take three to six months to be heard. During trial, both sides get to present opening and closing arguments, introduce evidence, and call witnesses. Your lawyer’s goal during trial is to prove that the defendant’s negligent actions were responsible for your injuries and should be responsible for paying all costs relating to the injuries. The judge or jury in the trial will make this determination sometime after closing arguments.
If the judge or jury finds in your favor, you will be compensated for all or some portion of the amount of damages requested in the original complaint. Florida personal injury law has a contributory negligence standard that allows judges and juries to apportion responsibility in personal injury cases. Thus, if the judge or jury feels that your actions helped cause the accident and resultant injuries to some degree, they will reduce damages by a proportional percentage.
With more than 15 years of experience helping Tallahassee area clients recover damages for their personal injury claims, the legal team at Akbar Thomas Law stands ready to assess your accident to determine whether you should pursue damages. To learn more, consult with us today at 850-383-0000.