Car Accidents

We Serve Clients in Lakeland and Winter Haven

Straightforward Legal Help From a Lakeland Car Accident Attorney

A car accident has the potential to change your life dramatically in an instant. In the blink of an eye, you go from being in charge of your own life and having everything under control to wondering how you are going to pay your bills and how you’re going to make it through the workday.

Your rent or mortgage still comes due even if you are in the hospital and can’t work. Your family still needs to eat and your children still need to go to school. And the worst part about all of this is that the only reason you are in this situation is because someone else was careless on the road. You need help and you need it now.

This is where a Lakeland car accident attorney from Russo Law can help.  Call us to schedule your free consultation and receive a legal opinion regarding your case.

How We Can Help You

We can help you apply the benefits that you have available on your case in the way that is best for you and we help you put together a strategy for your case. While we cannot go to the grocery store for you or take your children to school, we can give you the information that you need to make the best decisions you can with the situation.

Even a simple “fender bender” has a number of legal hoops that you will have to jump through in order to get compensated for your injury under Florida. This is why you need professional legal help from a car accident attorney on your case. There are several things that need consideration.

Who to Sue and Why?

In Florida, you must sue the right parties who are responsible in a single lawsuit for the proper causes of action.  A driver is negligent if they are speeding, run a red light, fail to stop at a stop sign, make an improper turn, or otherwise do anything improper behind the wheel of a car.

Liability in Rear-End Collisions

For rear-end collisions, Florida has a rebuttable “presumption of negligence” created by case law.  Rear-end collisions are sometimes disputed by insurance companies, particularly when they believe that their driver may have a defense to striking the rear of a car in front.  Available defenses include a mechanical failure of the rear vehicle (i.e. brakes failed), sudden and unexpected stop of the car in front, that the car in front was illegally stopped in the roadway, or that the car in front bears some degree of comparative fault (see Restal v. Nocera, citing Birge v. Charron).

Winning this presumption may be very important to your case.

Vicarious Liability and the “Dangerous Instrumentality” Doctrine

While the driver of a vehicle that causes an accident is legally liable for their “negligence” and can be reached by a civil judgment, the owner of a vehicle is vicariously liable under the “dangerous instrumentality” doctrine and can be reached by civil judgment as well.  Most insurance companies consider the owner of the vehicle primary when it comes to liability because of the dangerous instrumentality doctrine.  Any coverage that a permissive user has is typically excess over the owner’s insurance.

In many car accident cases in Florida, you may have a right to sue people or entities other than the driver.  When a driver causes an accident while on the job, the driver’s employer may be legally responsible for the accident even if the driver was operating their own car.  If an employer does not have an official policy establishing that drivers are “independent contractors” while driving their own vehicles (such as pizza delivery drivers), then the employer may be responsible for the accident when the driver is doing something to benefit the employer.

Accidents Caused by Minors

In an accident involving a minor under the age of 18, the parents may have purchased a car in the name of their child and purchased a separate insurance policy.  They do so thinking that it limits their liability.  However, section 322.09, Fla. Stat., requires that an adult agree to be jointly and severally liable for damages caused by the minor child in a car accident.  Therefore, if the minor child only has a very small insurance policy, you may be making a mistake by settling for policy limits when there is a legal claim (and another insurance policy).

Improper Vehicle Maintenance and Negligent Entrustment

Other claims available may involve negligent maintenance of a vehicle, negligent entrustment of the vehicle to a person who does not have a driver’s license or should not be driving because of a suspended or revoked license, or a failure to secure the keys to a vehicle that allow for it to be stolen.

Holding Ridesharing Companies Accountable

For ridesharing services (aka “Transportation Network Companies” or “TNC’s” under Florida law), such as Uber and Lyft, the cases can get more complex.  Further still, your accident may involve an “autonomous” or “self-driving” car that first became legal in Florida in 2016.

Uninsured Drivers and Your Auto Policy

Finally, you may have to sue your own insurance company for an uninsured motorist claim (because the other driver either didn’t have insurance or didn’t have enough) or because your insurance company denied your claim or improperly delayed in settling your claim.

What Damages Can I Collect?

In a lawsuit, you are able to make injury claims of the following:

  1. Past and future medical expenses
  2. Past and future pain and suffering
  3. Past and future mental anguish
  4. Past and future loss of capacity for enjoyment of life
  5. Disability, including wage losses in the past and earning capacity in the future
  6. Loss of consortium for relationship damages by reason of injury to a spouse
  7. Punitive damages if the at-fault driver was intoxicated or grossly negligent

No-Fault Car Insurance is Your Primary Source of Payment for Medical Expenses

The No-Fault Law in Florida

The next thing you should know is that Florida is a no-fault state (please note that there have been several bills introduced in recent years to repeal the no-fault system for car accidents).  This means that your own insurance company is primary in the event that you are hurt in an accident.  Florida no-fault coverage pays up to your limits (typically $10,000) at 80/20. Therefore, 80% of your medical bills are covered up to $10,000 by no-fault. By the time that your no-fault coverage is exhausted, you will have at least a $2,500 balance with your medical providers.

Emergency Medical Conditions

No-fault coverage got more complicated recently in that claimants without an “emergency medical condition” (“EMC”) are only given $2,500 in no-fault coverage and your no-fault coverage is waived completely if you do not receive treatment within 14 days of your accident. If you have been involved in an accident and are hurt, we urge you to get treatment as soon as possible and contact a Lakeland car accident attorney.

Collateral Source Payments and Resolution of Liens

You may also have medical payments coverage on your automobile policy to cover the 20% balance that is not covered. Your health insurance will pay after your no-fault benefits have been exhausted but will have a lien against any recovery that you make.  These are called “collateral sources” in Florida.

We can negotiate any liens against your case for you, including private health insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.  In some instances, we may even be able to obtain a waiver from a lienholder on your case.

Permanent Injury Threshold For Car Accidents

You should also know that you need to have some degree of permanency to your injuries in order to have a claim for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering for a car accident case in Florida. This is frequently called the no-fault “threshold” in Florida. If your injury does not exceed the “threshold,” then you are not permitted to claim pain and suffering damages at trial.

Permanency is usually determined by a doctor who gives you a rating according to the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.

Listed below are the statutory situations in which the “threshold” is met (Section 627.737(2), Fla. Stat):

  1. Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
  2. Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
  3. Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
  4. Death.

How a Jury Verdict Works In A Car Accident Lawsuit

The next thing you need to know about a Florida car accident is that the person who caused the accident gets a setoff or credit in the amount of your no-fault coverage (see section 627.737, Florida Statutes) and any collateral sources (health insurance, write-offs, write-downs) for which there is no right of reimbursement or subrogation (see section 768.76, Florida Statutes).

This means that the person who causes an accident generally gets an automatic $10,000 setoff or credit. Hence, if the case went to trial and the jury awarded $10,000, then the jury would be unwittingly awarding you nothing at all. It also means that if you have $30,000 in medical bills but health insurance only paid $5,000, then the person who caused the accident is not responsible for the difference between what was billed and what was paid. The jury is never told what is going to be taken out of their verdict.

The jury is also never told if the defendant has insurance or how much money the insurance policy provides for.  Florida law specifically prohibits you from naming the insurance company as a party to the lawsuit (unless it’s a first-party uninsured motorist case) and from even mentioning the word “insurance” at trial in most instances.

As the plaintiff in a Florida car accident case, the deck is automatically stacked against you from the beginning and this is why you will need professional legal help to take on the insurance company.

Maximizing Your Car Accident Case

There are several things that you need to do to maximize your Florida car accident case.  Ideally, you should get emergency medical care and then get appropriate follow up care.  This may include physical therapy or chiropractic manipulation, electrical stimulation, MRI’s, CT’s, EMG’s, and visits with appropriate specialists in order to have your injury properly diagnosed.

You should also always be aware that the insurance company may be watching you to make sure that you are honest.  Insurance companies will frequently follow you to conduct surveillance.  They typically do not disclose that they have done so unless they get evidence that they believe will hurt your case.

If you have them, photographs can play a key role in proving liability in your case when there is a liability dispute.  If the other driver claims that they didn’t do anything wrong, photographic evidence can refute what the other person says.  Having a dashboard camera showing the accident happening, including what you were doing at the time of the accident, is ideal, however, very few people have one.

Documentation Is The Key A Successful Claim

You should remember that the documentation is very important to your case, even if you are not getting better in response to the treatment.  Further, you should attend all of your doctor visits and follow all of your doctor’s advice.  If something your doctor has recommended is not working for you, you may need a modified treatment plan.  Regardless of what you do, you should not stop treatment until your doctor has released you on a “PRN” or “as needed” basis and has qualified you for a permanent injury rating.

While it seems obvious, you must get medical treatment in order for there to be documentation of your injuries.  No-fault coverage will typically be the first level of coverage.  If you do not have access to no-fault insurance or health coverage, we can help you get the treatment that you need for your case with a “letter of protection.”

Central Florida Has Some Of The Most Dangerous Highways In The United States

The I-4 corridor has been found to be one of the most dangerous highways in the country according to studies that have been conducted.  Specifically, the stretch between Tampa and Orlando has the highest number of highway deaths per mile.

No one ever wants to think that an accident will happen to them, however, when it does you will need the best help in taking on the insurance companies afterward.

Contact Us Today for a Free Case Review

As  car accident lawyer in Lakeland, FL, it is my job to show you how the law applies to your case and to help you make the best decisions that maximize the amount that you put in your pocket at the end of the day. You won’t get that if you call one the “medical and legal” referral services.  If you or a family member have been injured in a Florida car accident, it is better to go straight to a qualified attorney to discuss your case. As always, an initial consultation with a Lakeland car accident attorney is free.

Click here for directions with Google Maps

Quick Answers to Common Car Accident Questions

☑ Should I go to the ER after my car accident?

Yes-if you are hurting and think that something might be broken, if you have severe pain, or if you might have bleeding. Going to the ER after an accident could save your life. The ER will typically get x-rays for fractures and may perform a CT scan looking for internal bleeding. Your no-fault insurance will pay for your ER visit at 80/20.

☑ Why does my insurance company have to pay for my injuries if the accident wasn't my fault?

Florida is a no-fault state. This means that your own insurance company is responsible to pay for the first $10,000 in medical benefits on your behalf after an accident ($2,500 if your injury is not an “emergency medical condition”).
Florida No-Fault Insurance

☑ Is a chiropractor going to help me?

If you have a soft tissue injury or a minor disc problem, chiropractic therapy can be very helpful in relieving pain. If you have a significant disc injury, you will need to be referred to a specialist.

☑ The accident was partly my fault. Do I still have a claim?

Yes. Florida is a “comparative negligence” state and the other person is responsible to pay for the damages that they have caused. Likewise, you will be responsible to pay for the damages that you have caused.

☑ The other driver doesn't have insurance. What do I do?

In Florida, you have the option of buying UM coverage on your own policy to cover a situation where you are injured by someone without insurance.
What To Do About Drivers With No Insurance

☑ I have a pre-existing injury or condition. Does that matter?

Under Florida law, you have a right to collect damages if someone else has caused your injury, including making a current condition that you have even worse than it already was.

☑ Can I get attorney fees if I win?

Maybe. A plaintiff in a car accident case does not have an automatic right to attorney fees upon winning. Instead, you might get attorney fees and costs paid for if there was a coverage denial (section 627.428, Fla. Stat.) or you filed a proposal for settlement (or offer of judgment) and the jury returned a verdict that was at least 25% greater than what you proposed.

Check Out Our Blog For More

For recent legal topics, please see our personal injury blog or read our answers to frequently asked questions.  We serve Polk County clients with car accident cases located in the cities of Lakeland and Winter Haven as well as Haines City and Bartow, Florida.

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1135 Lakeland Hills Boulevard
Lakeland, Florida 33805

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