Your Tampa Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Your best friend calls you from Tampa General Hospital. She was just injured at the Hillsborough River while engaging in another one of her weekly "extreme sporting activities." Something about Class II rapids, rough waters, and some idiot in a canoe not following safety rules. She'll never learn, will she? You let her rant on for several minutes before you start doing your own research.
You pull out your smartphone and search for information. There are so many types of personal injury scenarios in Tampa. Let's see, work injures, defective products, medical malpractice, dog bites -- the list is virtually endless.
Here's some general information to help guide you through the process of a personal injury case in Hillsborough County.
Seek Medical Attention
If you are injured, no matter what the circumstances, talk to your doctor. Your health should always come first and foremost. Try not to minimize any pain or suffering you're feeling. If you get hurt at work, contact the Florida Division of Workers' Compensation.
Begin to collect evidence to help your case. Speak to witnesses, keep a journal, and take photos. Here are some things to think about:
- Keep a journal and calendar: Write down every important detail you can. Continue to keep notes as your claim progresses and keep track of dates including medical appointments.
- Report the accident: Report the accident to the police, your insurance company, or the group you believe is responsible. If you are contacted by the insurance company which represents the responsible person, remember that it is often best not to give the company a statement without first contacting a lawyer.
- Take photos: 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.
- 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, 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.
General Outline of a Florida Personal Injury Case
Unless you have been a party to a lawsuit before, it is difficult to know what to expect when you have been injured in a collision or incident. Here's a general description:
- Someone is injured;
- A complaint is filed and served by the plaintiff;
- The defendant may be required to file an answer;
- Both sides gather evidence;
- A pre-trial conference takes place between judge and the attorneys to discuss possible settlement. You may also be able to hire a mediator and settle out of court;
- If there isn't a settlement, trial takes place;
- Either party can appeal the decision to appellate courts.
Florida's Negligence Laws: Pure Comparative Negligence
In order to win your case, you must prove the defendant was negligent or "at fault" for your injuries. There are a number of different ways to prove fault. It will depend on the particular circumstances.
Florida uses a pure comparative negligence rule. If you are partially responsible for the incident that caused your injuries, then your potential award at trial is reduced.
Basically, you can recover even if you are 99 percent at fault, although your recovery is reduced by your degree of fault. Here, it would be 1 percent of the jury's verdict (because you are 99% at fault).
What kind of damages can I claim in a lawsuit?
If you can prove another person was at fault for injuring you, you may be entitled to be compensated for your losses. Here are some examples:
- Past, current, and future estimated medical expenses;
- Any permanent disfigurement or disability;
- Mental distress, including any anxiety and/or depression;
- Interference with your family relationships, called loss of consortium;
- Lost wages from work, including time spent going to and from medical appointments and therapy;
- Any property damaged because of the incident; and/or
- Any other costs that were a direct result of your injury.
The Clock is Ticking...
The standard time limit for most personal injury claims 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 file too late.
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 Tampa.
Keep in mind, what happens in court is nothing like what you see on television. Tough-as-nails Judge Judy won't be presiding over your case, nor will you encounter Spencer Tracy on your jury of 12 angry men. Personal injury cases can be long and drawn out and many times, uneventful. For more information, speak to your attorney.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.