Florida's vast coastline and numerous inland attractions can mean spending a lot of time in the car traveling around the state. However, Florida ranks highly on the list of states with serious and even fatal car accidents, so it is beneficial to know how to handle the aftermath of an accident.
Being an auto accident victim is stressful, and often there is a long road to recovery. Unfortunately, an extensive insurance claim and the settlement and/or litigation process can feel equally as stressful and long. Knowing what to expect during the process, and the right attorney to guide you down that path, can lessen the stress and time your settlement takes.
Your settlement process starts when the accident happens
The steps you take immediately following your accident can help determine how the case ends. Be sure to report serious accidents to the police immediately. Their report needs to be on file. If the crash involves property damage, death or bodily injury, or if it involves a commercial vehicle, the police need to be notified. Do not make this judgment on your own - it is the law.
If possible, document the scene of the accident. Documentation includes:
- photographs from several angles of all vehicles involved
- photographs of the road, being mind to capture skid marks and other damage
- information about the other driver: name, address, phone number, driver's license number and insurance information
- information about witnesses: name, address and phone number
It is imperative to avoid admitting fault or offering too much information. Even a simple statement such as, "I am so sorry. I must not have been paying enough attention," can come back to hurt your case later. Making mistakes at the start of your case can negatively affect the settlement you receive at the end. If you don't believe you were at fault for the crash, then DO NOT agree with anyone that says it was your fault. You also need to call your insurer to report the crash as soon as possible after you have called the police and documented everything you can following the crash. (And if any investigator from any insurer calls you after the crash, don't talk with them without having a lawyer present.)
Working with insurance companies
Your own insurance company will pay a percentage of your medical bills and lost wages under your PIP coverage. It is essential to see a doctor right away to have your injuries on file - not only will this help your case down the road, but in Florida, if you do not seek medical care within 14 days, you lose your right to have your auto insurer to pay for your medical treatment. In Florida, a doctor must also make a determination that you suffered an "emergent medical condition" for you to qualify for all your PIP coverage. If there is no physician's finding of an emergent medical condition, your PIP insurer can reduce the limits it pays to $2,500. Ensure you give the doctor your health insurance information as well as your auto insurance info. Also, confirm that they take your insurance, and get it in writing. Many doctors' offices are refusing to bill health insurance in injury situations because they get paid less.
If you do not have collision coverage, the damages to your vehicle will need to be paid by the other driver's insurer. We recommend that clients photograph all vehicle damage from numerous angles and distances and get estimates for the repair of their vehicle before allowing it to be repaired. If there was a mechanical defect that caused the crash the vehicle should be maintained until an attorney can retain an expert to inspect it for a manufacturer's defect. Your insurer and usually the other driver's insurer will also want to inspect your vehicle's damages.
You should always remember, the insurer doesn't always have your best interests at heart. No matter how friendly, the adjuster is not your friend. Their job is to pay you the least it can pay you, and they are usually good at it.
Do not settle for less than you deserve
It will take months for your insurance company to offer you a meaningful settlement for your bodily injury. Usually, we wait to make a demand on the insurer until after your doctor has determined you are at MMI, maximum medical improvement, meaning you are as good as you are going to get. At its core, a settlement means you accept a set amount of money for your injuries received in an accident caused by another person's negligence. Taking this money also means you are not going to pursue the case any further. Usually no insurer will offer you their last and best offer immediately. Even after you have received a settlement offer, usually there are extensive negotiations after that before you reach a settlement. Sometimes, the insurer never gets to a fair settlement offer, and when that happens, your attorney will need to sue the at fault party, and potentially your insurer for your UM (Uninsured Motorists) coverage, if you purchased it.
An attorney will provide you with their opinion about the reasonableness of any settlement offer. They will discuss the ramifications of the settlement, the net to you if you accept the amount offered (remember the attorney gets a fee for his work, recovers the costs he advances from any settlement), and has to pay all or part (if he can negotiate the amounts down) of any medical bills or liens still unpaid by insurance. Sometimes clients have unrealistic expectations regarding the value of their claim. It is the attorney's job to advise the client based upon their knowledge and experience. Some clients don't want to go to court. But, sometimes taking a case to trial is the only way to obtain fair compensation for your injuries and damage. It is sometimes the only way for an injured person to get justice.
Do I need an attorney to get a fair settlement?
Despite what your friends or relatives may tell you, retaining an attorney is a good idea. They may have received a few thousand dollars in settlement after an accident, but what was their case really worth? Was it worth more?
In any situation, before you decide to take a case on yourself without an attorney, ask yourself these questions: Do you know what to do if the insurer offers you less than what your injuries and damages are worth? If you have UM coverage, how do you perfect the claim and will settlement of the underlying claim potentially affect your UM claim? Were all your doctors paid in full, and did your health insurer pay anything for your treatment? Do you know if there are any liens? Hospital liens? Does your health insurance have a lien? If you accept the settlement and sign a release, will the insurer pay you more money if you overlooked something? (That answer is no by the way). Am I entitled to future lost wages, and if so, how are they computed? Do I get anything for the pain I experienced? What about the pain I'll have in the future? Will I have future medical costs, and if so, how do they get paid? Are there other significant issues I need to consider not listed here? (That answer is yes).
You not only need an attorney, you need the right attorney. You need an experienced attorney that will not only fight for you but one who knows when to settle and when not to. One with trial experience with the type of case you have. One who listens to you and explains a situation and consequences of various actions to you. You need Kim Wells and the Wells Law Group.