Your parents were coming back from their first Caribbean cruise and you had promised to pick them up. You couldn't wait to see their pictures and hear all about their adventures. You were running a little late heading down to the Port of Tampa, but figured they would take a while getting off the ship anyway. You got all the way to East Kennedy and North 11th Street when all of a sudden you were rear-ended by an SUV. You could hear the crunch of your bumper and feel the jolt to your neck. What are you supposed to do now? Here is some basic information to help you figure out what to do after a car accident in Tampa.
Stay Right There
Under Florida law, in an accident involving injury, death or property damage you must stop, without obstructing traffic more than is necessary, exchange information, and render "reasonable assistance" to any injured party. Failure to comply with these requirements is serious business -- it can be considered a felony in the case of injury or death, and a misdemeanor in the case of property damage.
Make sure everyone is ok. If anyone needs medical assistance, call 911 immediately.
While you are at the scene, exchange all relevant information with the other driver including your name, address and phone number, vehicle registration number, driver's license number, insurance carrier and policy number.
It is also recommended that you collect the contact information of any witnesses to the accident and take photographs and notes.
Even though you might want to apologize, it is better at this point to avoid discussing any liability issues. Those issues will be sorted out later and you don't want to be in a position where you admit guilt unintentionally or unnecessarily.
Here is a useful FindLaw pamphlet on Motor Vehicle Accident First Steps (PDF) with additional information that provides guidance regarding what to do after a car accident in Tampa.
As soon as you can after the accident, you should make a report to your insurance company. According to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles, if you have a vehicle with at least 4 wheels, in order to maintain a Florida license plate and registration, you must have minimum coverage of $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection ("PIP") and $10,000 of Property Damage Liability ("PDL"). Florida is a "no-fault" state, so the PIP covers you regardless of who caused the crash. The PDL covers damage that you cause to others' property.
You should always be honest with the insurance adjusters, but remember that you are not required to accept their settlement offers. Refer to this list of Dos and Don'ts of Car Insurance Claims for more tips.
If you are having difficulty getting your claim resolved, you may wish to participate in mediation through the Florida Department of Financial Services. This brochure(PDF) explains that process in more detail.
If you want to file a complaint or have questions regarding insurance, check out the Florida Department of Financial Services' website.
Depending on the extent of the injuries and damage from the accident you may wish to pursue legal action. Keep in mind that the Statute of Limitations or timeframe within which you must file in a negligence or personal injury action in Tampa and the rest of the state is generally 4 years from the date of the accident.
Your claim will likely be based on the theory that the other driver acted negligently. Basically, negligence means that someone acted carelessly and that carelessness caused or contributed to the accident.
If you were hurt in the accident, you can seek "damages" (or monetary recovery). This could include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.
As the website for the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Hillsborough County explains, depending on the amount you are seeking, your claim will be heard in different court divisions -- county civil for up to $15,000, and circuit civil for $15,000 and more. You can file a claim through small claims for amounts up to $5,000. Here is the small claims form for an automobile negligence action.
Get a Free Legal Assessment
You don't have to figure out what to do after a car accident in Tampa on your own. A legal professional can help you sort out your car accident claim. Fortunately, many accident cases are litigated on a "contingency fee" basis, which means that you will not pay any attorney fees unless and until you win an award or settle your case. You can even have a free consultation with a local attorney to discuss potential claims.
Contact a qualified attorney.