The state of Florida has 15 million drivers on its many interstates, highways, turnpikes, and byways. And these drivers find themselves in about 250,000 crashes per year. You know accidents occur every day, but if it happens to you, do you know what steps to take? Here is a brief overview of Florida auto accident law.
Car Accident First Steps
The first thing to do if you’ve been in a car accident is stop to check if anyone has been injured. Florida law requires you to stop at the scene of the accident, and get help for anyone who is injured. You are also required to report the accident to the local police department, sheriff, or the Florida Highway Patrol if the accident involved any injuries or damage over $500. You must move your car if it is blocking traffic, or call for help or a tow truck if you cannot move it yourself.
Although not necessarily required by law, there are other steps you should take after a car accident in order to ensure your safety and the safety of others, as well as to preserve evidence that may be important down the line. FindLaw provides a Motor Vehicle Accidents: First Steps pamphlet that you can print and keep in your car in case of an accident.
Car Accident Liability in Florida
Most car accidents happen because one of the drivers was legally negligent. Negligence is when someone has a duty to act with reasonable care and fails to do so, causing harm to another person. A negligent person is required by law pay for the harm he causes to another person in proportion to his or her liability for the other person's losses. Different states use different systems to determine liability.
Florida negligence laws use a comparative negligence system to determine the amount of liability in negligence cases. What this means is that each person who is at fault for an accident or injury is liable to the extent of his or her portion of the fault.
Example: if Peter is speeding on I-95 and runs into Denise as she's changing lanes without using her blinker, a court may find that Peter is 60% at fault and Denise is 40% at fault. Therefore, under Florida law, Peter is liable for 60% of Denise’s losses resulting from the car accident. This includes any expenses from injuries or property damage that occurred because of the accident. Equally, Denise is liable for 40% of any of Peter’s losses resulting from the accident.
Car Accident Insurance Claims Florida
Florida law requires everyone who registers a vehicle to maintain automobile insurance, with at least $10,000 personal injury protection (PIP) and $10,000 property damage liability (PDL). Because you will probably be dealing with an insurance company, there are a few things to be aware of if you are involved in a car accident.
It is important, and legally required, to contact the police and make sure an accident report is written to document who is at fault. For your own information, you should record the date of the accident, the police agency that conducted the investigation, and the make, model, tag number, vehicle identification number of any other cars involved. If you can, write down the insurance information of the other driver(s), and contact your insurer immediately. If your car is damaged, you should take it to a reputable body shop for estimates and repairs. If you’ve been injured, get checked out by your family physician or go to your local emergency room if your injuries require immediate care. Be sure to collect any pertinent past medical history that may be of interest to your physician, insurance company, or attorney.
Determining Who is At Fault
After you submit your car insurance claim with the appropriate insurance company, a claims adjuster will determine fault in the accident. In some cases, proving fault for an accident can be relatively easy, while other accidents can be more complicated. Whether it's an insurance claims adjuster or a judge, the person who determines fault for a car accident will use the evidence available to him or her to make the determination. This evidence can include witness statements, police reports, photographs of the scene and the vehicles, and medical records. If a person admitted fault to an insurance company, the claims adjuster will factor that statement in. The insurance company will then either deny a claim or offer a settlement based on the insurance policy and the fault of the parties involved.
Dealing with insurance companies can sometimes be difficult. If you feel that your insurer is not looking out for your best interests, or if you are considering filing a lawsuit, it may be helpful to meet with an experienced Florida car accident attorney about your case. You can also find more general information in FindLaw’s car accident law section.
Contact a qualified attorney.