Your Fort Myers Car Accident: The Basics
The intersection of Daniels Parkway and US 41 is always crowded, but that's never stopped you from gunning it to beat a red light. But today you hit the gas when the pickup truck in front of you hit the brakes: crunch! Now your car is a mess, your neck is already having spasms and you are just trying to remember what to do next. The appropriate steps to take after an auto accident are hard to remember, especially after the trauma of a car crash, but this informational guide to Fort Myers car accidents may help.
First of all, you should never leave the scene of an accident you were involved in. You could be criminally prosecuted as a hit-and-run driver if you fail to pull over and exchange information; plus, someone could be badly hurt. Instead, pull your vehicle over to the shoulder if it is still functional to avoid the risk of another accident. Then call 911 if anyone has been seriously injured.
Next, you need to exchange some basic information with every other driver involved in the accident. You must provide your name, address, and vehicle registration number. If you damage any unattended property, including vehicles, you must inform the owner by leaving a note with your name, address, and license plate number.
Smart motorists know that the best way to protect themselves in future litigation is to document the exact circumstances of the accident. You can start by calling the Fort Myers Police Department (239) 321-7700 to create an accident report. Note that Florida law requires you to report any accident that caused over $500 in property damage or where someone was injured. If you don't call the authorities, you should jot down as many details as you can while the incident is fresh in your mind. Include road or weather conditions. Obtain contact info for any witnesses who saw the accident. Also, put that expensive Smartphone to use by snapping some photos of the accident scene and vehicle damage.
Florida has car insurance laws unlike the majority of states. Most states follow a pure "fault" system, where the at-fault driver (and his insurance) pays the repair and medical bills for the accident victims. In contrast, Florida mandates "no-fault" insurance for all motorists for personal injuries, while maintaining a traditional fault system for property damage.
Property damage liability, or PDL, insurance is the more traditional "fault" type of auto insurance. It covers any damage that you, a family member or other covered individual driving your vehicle cause to someone else's property while driving (when you are at fault for the accident). However, PDL does not cover damage to your own vehicle, hence the term "liability." All Florida drivers must carry a minimum of $10,000 in PDL coverage.
The more unique aspect of Florida's insurance law is the mandatory personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage. PIP is called "no-fault" insurance because it will pay medical expenses for you, your family members and individuals riding in your car in the event of an injury causing crash, regardless of who is to blame for the accident. Instead of collecting from the at-fault driver's insurance, you simply collect from your own insurance coverage. Everyone who owns a vehicle must carry a PIP policy with minimum coverage of $10,000.
What Does a Lawyer Do?
The first thing to consider when deciding to file a lawsuit is whether you should talk to an attorney. It is important to note that attorneys in this field typically give free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a percentage of your recovery after you win. That means you pay them nothing up front, and they have every incentive to maximize your settlement. They also don't get paid if they don't win.
The Law of Negligence
A common lawsuit following an auto accident is one for negligence. Negligence law governs accidentally caused injuries. A plaintiff must show that the other party was not exercising a reasonable level of care under the circumstances.
If both drivers are partially responsible for an accident, Florida's comparative fault law will assign fault to each party and diminishes the plaintiff's recovery by the percent he or she is responsible for. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 20% your fault, you will be able to recover 80%, or $800, from the other party. Significantly, Florida is one of 13 states that uses a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the injury was 99% your fault you can still recover 1%.
Filing Your Lawsuit
A plaintiff typically starts a lawsuit by filing a complaint at Lee Justice Center, located at 1700 Monroe Street. A complaint is a brief document that describes the incident, names the parties involved, and requests compensation. A local process server can then hand-deliver a copy of the filed complaint, summons, and Lee County civil cover sheet to all defendants.
Filing in the Circuit Court is the way to go if a suit is worth more than $15,000, or else the County Court handles smaller cases. One should consider filing in small claims court for relaxed procedural rules if a case is worth $5,000 or less.
Statute of Limitations
Don't delay filing your lawsuit, because it grows "stale" four years after the date of the injury. Florida's statute of limitations eliminates your right to recovery once too much time has passed; if you try to file an old lawsuit, the judge may dismiss it without even considering its merits. If you have questions about a particular case, you may wish to direct them to a local car accident attorney.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.