Steps in the Personal Injury Lawsuit Process in Florida
An Orlando personal injury attorney explains what to know
Accident victims who have been injured due to the negligence of others often want to make healing their priority, but insurance companies get in the way by making them fight tooth and nail for the compensation they’re legally entitled to.
On top of that, it’s nowhere close to a fair fight. Reducing and denying injury claims is all in a day's work for insurance adjusters. Unfortunately, the outcome of settlement negotiations with an insurance company will often determine whether a person can pay for the short- and long-term costs associated with the accident. Often, filing a personal injury lawsuit (or at least having it as an option in your back pocket) is the only way to get the insurance company to stop playing games and recover the compensation you deserve.
If you’ve been injured in Florida and want to file a lawsuit to recover your losses, there is too much at stake to go through the process alone. You need experienced legal representation from a personal injury attorney who knows Florida’s laws and has the experience to aggressively advocate for your best interests throughout the entire process.
Florida’s liability laws are complicated and evolving. While every personal injury claim is different, a lawyer can always help by investigating your accident, finding and preserving evidence, building a strong case based on hard facts, negotiating with the insurance company, and representing you in court, if necessary. Here are some general steps in the personal injury lawsuit process.
Incidents that can lead to personal injury claims
When you are seriously injured in Florida due to someone else’s negligence, you need to seek immediate medical attention. After that, one of your first steps is to file an injury claim.
Personal injury claims often involve:
- Car accidents: By far the most common type of injury claim, car accident claims involve severe injuries sustained by a victim due to the negligence of another driver. In Central Florida, bad crashes are common on Florida State Road 50 (Colonial Drive) and the stretch of Interstate 4 that runs through Orlando. Many people are also severely injured or die in auto accidents on U.S. Route 192 and Interstate 95.
- Slip and falls: Property owners and managers have a legal responsibility to keep their premises reasonably safe from hazards. When they fail to do that, the result can be a severe injury. A slip and fall in a parking lot, bar, restaurant, grocery store, amusement park, shopping mall, or apartment complex can cause painful injuries that result in piles of medical bills and other expenses.
- Product liability: Products with defective designs or faulty parts can be dangerous and cause serious injuries to the people who use them. Companies that sell dangerous products can be held legally responsible for a victim’s damages.
- Third-party claims for workplace accidents: While someone who is injured on the job can pursue workers’ compensation benefits, those who are hurt at work due to the negligence of a third party (e.g., a subcontractor) may also file a personal injury claim against the at-fault party for damages not covered by workers’ comp, such as pain and suffering.
- Wrongful death: Certain family members may be eligible for compensation if their loved one died in an accident due to negligence. Wrongful death claims can help the victim’s family recover compensation for funeral and burial costs, the deceased’s medical expenses, and future losses associated with the family member’s death (e.g., loss of inheritance, loss of companionship).
Often, your attorney will be able to negotiate a fair settlement that covers the cost of all your accident-related expenses. But if the insurance company won’t budge, the threat of a personal injury lawsuit can help your cause. If that doesn’t work, your lawyer can file a lawsuit and take your case to court. While some cases will settle after a lawsuit is filed, those that don’t will ultimately be decided by a judge or jury.
Calculating the Value of Your Claim
Many accident victims face a long road to recovery, and sometimes, their injuries are so severe that they will require extensive (and expensive) medical treatment. Thus, calculating the total cost of all your losses is a critical step in the personal injury lawsuit process.
Any compensation you receive for your injuries should include money for your short-term medical expenses, such as hospital visits, doctor bills, surgery, physical therapy, and prescription medication.
But you also need to consider your long-term expenses. Are you permanently disabled? Will you need to alter your home or vehicle to accommodate your injury? Are you no longer able to work in the same capacity? How will your injury affect your day-to-day living?
In Florida, you can also seek compensation for pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, bodily injury, sickness, and disease that result in:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury within a “reasonable” degree, meaning the damage must be significant
- Significant scarring or disfigurement
- Caused death
These are all things that need to be factored in when determining the true cost of your accident, which is why having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side can make all the difference.
Studies show time and again that people who hire attorneys get more for their claim compared to those who don’t. One of the most important things a personal injury attorney can do for you is calculate the real cost of your recovery now and in the future and negotiate to get you what you need.
Comparative negligence in Florida personal injury claims
Florida is a “pure” comparative negligence state for personal injury claims. That means you can file a claim for compensation for your injuries even if the accident was partially your fault, but your recovery will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you have $100,000 in damages but are 30% at fault, then your award would be reduced by 30% and you would receive $70,000.
Some states have a “bar” on recovery for people who are more than 50% or 51% at fault for their injuries, but Florida does not. In theory, even if you are found 90% at fault for the accident, you can still pursue compensation for the 10% that was not your fault (although this is usually not practical given the costs of litigation).
Building Your Case
The four things your attorney must prove in a personal injury case are:
- Someone owed you a duty of care (obligation to protect you and the public from hazards)
- That duty of care was breached
- This breach directly caused your injuries
- Your injuries were substantial enough that you have financially quantifiable damage
A strong personal injury claim is built on facts and evidence. Common types of evidence include:
- Police accident reports and incident reports
- Pictures and/or video (e.g., surveillance footage, clips from a security camera)
- Photographs of your injuries
- Eyewitness testimony
- Testimony from accident reconstruction specialists, medical experts, etc.
- Physical evidence (e.g., a defective product, a broken stair, etc.)
- Documents that show the victim’s economic damages
Keep in mind that over time, evidence can weaken or disappear. The memories of witnesses can fade. Security footage can be overwritten or deleted. Important documents can be lost. That’s why if you’ve been injured, it’s critical to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. The sooner a personal injury lawyer can get started on your case, the sooner they can gather and preserve important pieces of evidence to support your claim.
Get the Compensation You Deserve
When insurance companies refuse to make reasonable settlement offers, accident victims can seek the compensation they’re entitled to by filing a personal injury lawsuit. But the process is complex, and if you’re not careful, you could end up losing out on the money you need and deserve.
If you’re in Longwood, Orlando, or anywhere in Central Florida and you were injured in an accident due to negligence, you have recourse through the civil justice system. The key is to act fast so you don’t miss important legal deadlines, known as the statute of limitations.
In Florida, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is generally four years from the date of the accident, though there are exceptions. To get a clear understanding of your legal rights and options in Florida, your best option is to talk to a personal injury attorney in your area.
Discover what the Law Offices of Scott M. Miller can do for you. Contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced Orlando personal injury lawyer. Our office is located in Longwood and we proudly serve clients throughout Central Florida.