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Your Fort Myers Personal Injury Case: The Basics

Last updated: December 17, 2013

It's Friday night and your sister keeps text messaging you. She knows you are out celebrating the end of the workweek at the many bars in the Gulf Coast Town Center. What could she possibly want? Just as pick up your phone to call her, you see a strange number. You answer it. It's the Lee Memorial Emergency room. Well, that explains all the texts from your sister. She's been injured and needs you.

If you've looked online for information about personal injury law, you probably know that there are many types of personal injury scenarios. Work injuries, defective products, medical malpractice, dog bites -- the list seems endless.

However, here's some general information to help guide you through the process of a personal injury case in Lee County.

What to Do First?

This one is a simple answer. If you are injured, seek medical attention. Your health should always be your first priority. Try not to minimize any pain or suffering you're feeling. Be completely honest with your doctor and explain how the injury happened. If you are hurt at work, tell your doctor and consider contacting Florida Division of Workers' Compensation.

Do I Have a Case?

You may be wondering if you even have a case. While we can't answer that question for you, we can give you some information that may help you. There are a number of things to think about in Fort Myers to preserve your right to a make a claim. Probably the first thing to keep in mind is that you do not have unlimited time to pursue legal action.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

The standard time limit for a personal injury claim in Florida is four years from the date of the incident causing the harm. There are some exceptions for minors and mentally impaired persons. Remember, even if you have a legitimate claim you may be unable to ever receive compensation for an accident if you are late in filing.

Florida's Negligence Laws: Pure Comparative Negligence

In order to win a personal injury case in Florida, you must prove the other person was negligent or "at fault" for your injuries. There are a number of different ways to prove fault. It will depend on the circumstances of your particular case.

Florida uses a pure comparative negligence rule. Accident cases are often not black and white. It's not uncommon for there to be more than one person at fault. There are some cases where one person is 100 percent at fault and the other person is 100 percent faultless, but many accident cases fall somewhere in between. If you are partially responsible for the incident that caused your injuries, then your potential award at trial will likely be reduced.

The long and short of it is that you can recover money damages even if you are 99 percent at fault, although your recovery is reduced by your degree of fault. In this example, it would be 1 percent of the jury's verdict because you are 99 percent at fault.

Who Decides If and How to Split Up Fault?

Under Florida law, a jury can apportion fault percentages if the case goes to trial. Another way to split up the fault and decide on financial responsibility is in mediation, where lawyers and clients can come together, negotiate and agree on a settlement, avoiding a lengthy and costly trial experience.

What Kind of Damages Are Available?

When deciding if you should even initiate a lawsuit, one question that will come up is, "can I get money to compensate me for my injuries?" There are several types of injuries for which a person can collect damages. The most common types are physical injuries, which include direct trauma to the body.

However, you may also be able to recover for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of consortium. Mental and emotional injuries can also be compensable. You may also collect money for property damages including damages to cars, houses or other personal property.

Punitive damages usually are sought only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure the plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again and also to deter others from similar acts.

How Can I Protect My Rights?

Early on in the process, begin to collect evidence to help your case. Speak to witnesses, keep a journal, and take photos. Here are some things to think about:

  1. Keep a journal and calendar: As soon as possible after the accident write down every important detail you can, including the harm that resulted and its effect on your daily life. Continue to keep notes as your claim progresses and keep track of dates including medical appointments.
  2. Report the accident: Report the accident to the police, your insurance company or, in some circumstances, the person/entity you believe is responsible and get his or her name and address. If you are contacted by the insurance company which represents the responsible person, remember that it is best not to give the company a statement without first contacting a lawyer.
  3. Preserve the evidence: Evidence is the strongest link to winning personal injury cases. Take photos or videos from all angles at the accident scene and of the damages suffered. If injured, consider taking photographs periodically of the injuries.
  4. Obtain medical records: The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives you the right to obtain a copy of your medical records from any medical provider.
  5. Gather the necessary information: Obtain police reports and the identity of any witnesses (name, address, phone number).

Contact a Lawyer

If you aren't sure what to do, a lawyer may be able to help. Lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, this means that you don't pay anything upfront. The lawyer only gets paid if you win your case. A settlement is considered a "win" and your attorney will most likely be entitled to collect their fees.

Going to Court

If you do decide to sue, your lawyer will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of courthouses in the Fort Myers area.

Keep in mind, what happens in court is nothing like what you see on television. Personal injury cases can be long and drawn out and many times, uneventful. For more information, speak to your attorney.