Car accidents are traumatic experiences. They can be frightening, stressful, and disorienting. In the immediate aftermath, when you realize not everyone is Ok, it can be an almost automatic response to blurt out, “I’m sorry.” Even if you know you haven’t done anything wrong, even if you know it was the other driver’s fault, you might still slip and say, “I’m sorry.”
Lots of us were raised to apologize anytime we think someone has been hurt or inconvenienced, even if we didn’t directly cause their pain. And it’s one thing to say you’re sorry if you accidentally bump into someone in the grocery store or step on their toe in a movie theater aisle. But offering a mea culpa following a Fort Lauderdale car accident can cause you problems down the road when it comes to determining legal responsibility for the crash.
To be clear, whatever spontaneous utterances you make at the scene of the crash won’t be the last word in the case. Liability (or fault) is going to be based on the totality of the evidence. But an apology from one of the drivers involved can be used as a piece of evidence.
Florida’s a No-Fault State, But Fault Still Matters
Despite efforts in the most recent legislative session, Florida remains a no-fault state when it comes to car insurance. What that means is that vehicle owners are required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that will cover up to $10,000 in damages, regardless of who is at-fault. However, $10,000 only goes so far in a serious crash.
If your injuries meet the criteria as outlined in F.S. 627.737, you can step outside that no-fault system and pursue damages against the at-fault driver(s). But fault will be a key element in your ability to collect. You have to prove the other driver was negligent in causing the crash or exacerbating your injuries. That means establishing the other driver owed a duty of care, breached that duty, and the breach of duty resulted in your damages.
Florida is a pure comparative fault state, which means you can still collect damages even if you partially share some of that blame. However, the amount of financial damages to which you are entitled will be reduced proportional to your fault. So if you are 20 percent liable and the other driver was 80 percent, you are only entitled to collect 80 percent of your total damages from that driver. You want to be able to collect 100 percent of your damages. Telling the other driver “sorry” at the scene of the accident (or at any point thereafter) is evidence that can be used against you to establish that you bore at least some responsibility for what happened. That can proportionately reduce the amount of damages that you are entitled to receive.
Refrain From All Apologies
Even if what you meant by, “I’m sorry” was, “sorry that you’re hurt” or, “sorry you’re upset” or, “sorry this happened,” it can easily be interpreted as, “I’m sorry for causing you this pain/inconvenience/etc.”
Bear in mind that insurers are in the business of protecting their bottom line. They will not be bothered by using your well-intentioned niceties against you if it means they can pay out less.
If at all possible after a crash, avoid apologizing. Instead, if you’re able, simply ask the other motorists/passengers if they are injured, and then do whatever you can to ensure help is on the way. This is the best way to demonstrate your care and concern for their welfare, while also side-stepping having your well-meaning words misconstrued.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
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