If you’ve recently been in a Fort Lauderdale car accident, you may be wondering whether this ordeal will eventually wind up in a courtroom trial.
While every case is different, the most probable answer is: No.
That’s not to say it’s impossible. But the truth is, most Fort Lauderdale car accident cases never even become lawsuits – let alone make it all the way to trial.
Why is this? A few reasons include:
- The crash wasn’t that serious. Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to car accidents. All drivers are legally required to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection insurance coverage that will pay for a portion of medical bills and lost wages – regardless of who was at-fault. The whole point of this system is to reduce the number of car accident lawsuits, which have the potential to significantly clog up the courts. That doesn’t mean you can’t sue someone for negligence if you’re hurt in a Florida car accident. However, F.S. 627.737 requires plaintiffs to meet the serious injury threshold in order to do so. That means the crash resulted in one of the following: Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function; Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability; Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; Death. But even without the serious injury threshold, it’s unlikely that many minor Florida car accident cases would go to trial because it wouldn’t be cost effective. Unless the financial compensation at stake is fairly high, going to the expense and trouble of a trial would make little sense.
- There may not be much in dispute. With many car accidents, it’s often clear who was primarily at-fault. Not always, of course, but if someone runs a red light or rear-ends another car or makes an abrupt lane change, liability for that crash is fairly easy to determine. Lawsuits – and trials – are more of a last resort. Claimants start by filing the insurance claim. You only sue when key issues – such as liability or the amount of damages – are disputed (usually by way of the insurance company refusing to pay what the claimant says they’re owed). Even if one party was clearly in the wrong, the defending insurer may argue the plaintiff was still partially responsible. This is called comparative fault. In Florida, F.S. 768.81 was recently amended to establish a system of modified comparative fault with a 51 percent bar. That means if you’re injured and you were partly at-fault for the crash, you can still collect damages from the other at-fault party – but only proportionate to their own liability. It’s a means of reducing the amount of money the insurer has to pay. If you’re more than 50 percent responsible for the crash, you can’t collect anything at all. If the question of comparative fault is fiercely contested, that can be one reason for litigation. Sometimes cases go to trial solely to determine how much money the plaintiff should receive. But often, an experienced injury lawyer can negotiate a fair payout without needing to resort to a lawsuit.
- Litigation – and especially trial – is expensive. Lawsuits – and especially trials – are costly. Many courts are backlogged, sometimes years. Pretty much every party involved wants to avoid trial if they can. The longer the case drags on, the more the bills pile up – medical invoices, attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, court fees, etc. Plus, both sides lose a degree of power by handing the case over to the discretion of the judge. Sometimes there’s no avoiding that – and it can turn out well for the plaintiff. But usually, both parties can reach a more mutually agreeable, cost-effective resolution if they can negotiate a fair settlement on their own – out-of-court. Ensuring that you DO get a fair settlement, though, requires the assistance of a Fort Lauderdale injury lawyer. The more serious the injuries you sustained, the more imperative it is to hire a lawyer to protect your rights and best interests. If that means a trial – so be it, and you should hire a lawyer who’s prepared for that possibility. However, if they can successfully negotiate a fair settlement without litigation, that’s often to your benefit.
- There’s no case for punitive damages. For the most part, damages awarded in Florida crash cases are compensatory. That means the person injured by another’s negligence is being compensated for the harm caused. Crash victims can claim compensatory damages for things like property loss, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional trauma, loss of consortium, etc. It’s only in rare situations that a plaintiff can sue punitive damages. Such damages compensate the claimant – but the intention is actually to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior, such as gross negligence or intentional misconduct. As noted in F.S. 768.72, you cannot pursue punitive damages in a Florida injury lawsuit without permission from the judge. The only time this really comes up in crash cases is when the other driver was impaired. The Florida Supreme Court particularly singled out DUI cases as uniquely qualified for punitive damages in the 1976 case of Ingram v. Pettit.
If you have been injured in a Fort Lauderdale car accident and aren’t sure whether you need a lawyer, we can help answer your questions in a free initial consultation. We’ll offer a frank assessment of the viability and value of a potential case based on the initial facts, and provide you with insight to help you make an informed decision about your next steps.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Ingram v. Pettit, Dec. 9, 1976, Florida Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Will a Pre-Existing Injury Kill Your Fort Lauderdale Injury Claim? June 10, 2023, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog