Car Accident Settlement Timeline in Stuart, FL

Imagine you are in a rollover car accident caused by a drunk driver who strayed into your lane. You can’t even remember the accident. But you do know this much–it caused you a severe concussion and left you with permanent paralysis in your right arm.

You almost certainly have a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. The unresolved questions are how much compensation you can receive and how long it will take you to get it.

Legal Background

Stuart, Florida, applies specific laws and procedures to car accident settlements. Almost all of these are based on Florida state law. Florida’s no-fault car insurance system exerts a strong influence on the resolution of most car accident claims.

Steps to Take Immediately After the Accident

Your case could turn on what you do immediately after an accident. 

Here are some steps you should take if you can:

  • Gather evidence: Take photos, gather witness information, and cooperate with the police.
  • Notify your insurance company: Report the accident to your own insurance company as per your policy.
  • Consult an Attorney (Optional): This is a really good idea, even for seemingly straightforward cases.

Above all, seek medical attention, even for an apparently minor injury. Don’t even try to gather evidence if doing so would worsen your injuries or endanger your health.

Florida is one of a dozen states that applies a no-fault auto insurance system to car accidents. Under Florida’s no-fault system, every Florida driver must purchase $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance to cover their own injuries.

PIP insurance covers both bodily injury and lost wages, but it does not cover the other driver’s losses. That is what their own PIP insurance is for.

PIP and Driver Negligence

The main advantage of IP insurance is that you don’t even have to ask about fault—PIP pays no matter whose fault the accident was. The only way that fault matters is if the insurance company investigates fault to determine whether to raise your insurance rates. The disadvantage is that you cannot sue an at-fault driver unless a loophole applies (see below).

Property Damage Liability PDL) Insurance

Florida drivers must also carry at least $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) insurance. This insurance is not no-fault-–it applies to damages you might cause to another driver‘s vehicle or other property.

The PIP Claims Process

The PIP claims process works like this:

  • You must seek medical treatment within 14 days of your accident.
  • Keep all of your documentation concerning medical expenses and lost earnings.
  • Submit a claim to PIP along with all relevant documentation.
  • PIP will review your claim and pay up to 80% of your medical bills and 60% of your lost earnings up to the limits of your policy. For most people, the policy limit is $10,000, but you can purchase more if you so desire. To take advantage of any insurance, you must purchase it before the accident.

PIP doesn’t have to pay you the full $10,000. They might offer you less than the amount you believe you deserve. In that case, you will have to haggle with them. This is where a lawyer comes in handy. The only way fault will matter in your claim is if it causes ‘serious’ injuries (see below) or if the insurance company tries to blame you for the accident so they can raise your rates.

The PDL Claims Process

If you want to claim for property damage, you will have to file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s PDL insurance:  

  • Exchange insurance information with the at-fault driver, preferably at the scene of the accident. If you are too seriously injured to do this, the police will do it for you. 
  • Report the accident to the police if your property damage exceeds $500. These days, even a scratch could exceed $500 in value. This is also a legal requirement. Of course, the police are likely to arrive at the scene of the accident even if you don’t report the accident to them, in which case you won’t need to worry about it. You must report the accident, however, even if you hit a parked car in a mall parking lot.
  • If the police arrive at the scene of the accident, they will prepare a police report for you. Cooperate with them as much as you can.
  • Since PDL insurance is fault-based, you will have to prove that the other driver is at fault to win compensation. That might result in an insurance company’s ‘lowball’ offer. In this case, you will need to haggle with them to increase your settlement value.

If the accident was your fault and the other driver is claiming against your PDL policy, your PDL insurance company might try to raise your insurance rates.

“Serious” Injuries”: The Loophole in Florida’s No-Fault Auto Insurance System

Florida law offers a loophole in its no-fault system. You can sue for damages if your injuries are ‘serious’, as Florida law defines that term. 

Under Florida law, your injuries are ‘serious’ if they result in:

  • Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
  • Permanent injury;
  • Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; or
  • Death 

In the latter case, your estate’s personal representative (executor) can file a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death lawsuit can take place at the same time as a manslaughter prosecution.

Bodily Injury Liability Insurance: Florida’s Insurance Blind Spot

Florida is one of only a handful of states that does not require its drivers to purchase bodily injury liability insurance. This won’t matter, of course, as long as PIP will cover all injuries. It becomes a problem if the cost of your injuries, including lost earnings, exceeds $10,000.

If the at-fault driver was driving a commercial truck, you should have access to plenty of insurance to pay your claim.

The Insurance Claim Process

As mentioned above, if you suffer a ‘serious’ injury caused by the other driver, you have the right to sue the at-fault driver. You initiate the claims process by sending the insurance company a demand letter, which your attorney should draft and sign. 

The insurance company will respond by:

  • Issuing a “reservation of rights” letter, where they reserve the right to deny your claim if it lacks merit. This is routine.
  • Investigating your claim. They will probably ask you for documentation.
  • Assessing liability and determining your damages.
  • Issuing an initial settlement offer. This offer will almost certainly be far lower than the actual value of your claim. 
  • The insurance company will probably try to blame you, at least partially, for the accident. Even if the accident was partly your fault, you should receive a partial settlement as long as the accident wasn’t mostly your fault.
  • Negotiating your claim after you send a counteroffer. Although you should let your lawyer handle negotiations, only you have the right to accept a settlement offer.
  • Signing a settlement agreement, which your lawyer should approve. Of course, you need to sign it too.

It will probably take a few weeks for you to get your money.

Time Out: The Lawsuit Strategy

If you don’t have enough evidence, you can file a lawsuit. This will allow you to complete the pretrial discovery process and use the evidence you gain to force a settlement. You can win a lot more money in a lawsuit than you can in a PIP settlement.

Contact a Stuart Car Accident Lawyer for a Free Consultation

Under the contingency fee system that most lawyers use, you pay nothing upfront. If you win, you pay your lawyer a percentage of your recovery (settlement or verdict) in legal fees. If you lose, your legal bill will total precisely $0.00. 

Contact Kibbey Wagner Injury & Car Accident Lawyers Stuart for a free consultation with a Stuart car accident lawyer at (772) 444-7000 and learn more about how we can help with the car accident settlement process.