How Much Can I Sue Someone for a Car Accident in Florida?
Florida law specifies no limit as to how much you can sue for a car accident. Some claims have a small value, such as $10,000 to $15,000, while others can command settlements and awards in the seven- and eight figures. Though juries can award large amounts in extreme cases, certain legal and financial considerations constrain the amount each plaintiff may collect.
At the beginning of a car accident case, your personal injury lawyer assesses your claim and estimates its value. The estimate takes several factors into account, including the cost of medical treatment, property damage, lost income, the level of pain and suffering, and whether punitive damages apply.
Though plaintiffs sue for all the full value of their damages, Florida’s comparative negligence law makes it possible for the defense to force the reduction of damages because the plaintiff bears partial fault. Additionally, the limits of the defendant’s insurance policy, the value of his assets, and his income level impact what a plaintiff ultimately collects.
What Damages Can You Sue For in Florida?
Florida differs from many states in that it imposes a no-fault car insurance rule. According to this law, each party’s insurer must pay the economic damages of its client regardless of fault. As a result, you have no standing to sue for economic damages when your insurer has already paid them.
Economic damages include the following:
- Property damage
- Medical bills
- Lost income
For instance, if another motorist hits you and your damages are limited to property damage and a few medical bills, your insurer picks up the entire tab, minus your deductible. In that case, you cannot bring suit against the other driver.
On the other hand, the no-fault car insurance rule has no mandate for your insurer to cover general damages, such as pain and suffering. Therefore, if the other driver is at-fault and you sustain hefty general damages, you can bring suit for a substantial sum.
General damages include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
You can sue for liquidated damages for each of these categories, provided you have evidence of damages. The more clear and convincing the evidence of your general damages, the more your claim is worth. Therefore, proving these damages resulted from the injury is essential.
General damages form the basis for a personal injury claim in Florida. Personal injury plaintiffs’ attorneys focus on discovering all of the impacts the injury has on their clients’ lives and extrapolate a number to demand based on this investigation.
Proving Pain and Suffering in Florida
An auto accident can change a victim’s life for the worse. Often, the plaintiff suffers intense physical pain, requires long, effortful hours of rehabilitation undergoes taxing surgeries, and endures long, dreary, uncomfortable hospital stays. In the worst cases, they may languish in intensive care and then continue to suffer major- and chronic injuries for months or years afterward, sometimes for a lifetime.
To determine your level of pain and suffering, your personal injury attorney interviews you and your family members to gain a strong understanding of the situation. He may request that you keep a journal chronicling the pain you endured. Medical records also provide valuable evidence. For example, a doctor’s diagnosis and explanation of the pain the condition causes go a long way in swaying a jury.
Proving Emotional Distress
Few people can endure a serious injury without experiencing concomitant emotional distress. Physical agony naturally causes a person to experience frustration, dread, anxiety, depression, and other common emotional distress symptoms. Additionally, confinement in a hospital, rehabilitation center, or home provokes feelings of boredom, isolation, and missing out on life.
Accidents can also leave victims in financial distress, a situation that naturally provokes anxiety and feeling of unhealthy stress, especially when experienced by an incapacitated person without the ability to act on the situation. Bills may pile up, and victims may face terrible consequences, such as auto repossessions, creditor lawsuits, ruined credit, evictions, and foreclosures.
As with pain and suffering, your personal injury attorney will interview you and your family regarding the emotional distress suffered. Medical records can show how the injury resulted in the incapacity that lead to the distress. Also, evidence of distressing situations resulting from the injury can be incisive.
Proving Loss of Enjoyment of Life in Florida
It’s difficult or impossible to maintain the level of enjoyment of life experienced before a serious injury. Victims often find themselves trapped in hospitals for extended periods, sometimes, needing to return for additional treatments or surgeries. No one enjoys spending long days in a hospital.
After returning home, plaintiffs find themselves unable to participate in the activities and events that define and create meaning in their lives. For example, an accident victim may be very dedicated to his job and suddenly become disabled, often for long periods or permanently. This can have dire impacts on future career prospects, leaving the plaintiff unable to enjoy the benefits of advancement.
Many people thrive on pursuing their passions, whether they be sports, the arts, or other hobbies. Some accident victims find themselves unable to participate in these pastimes for months, years, or permanently, severely diminishing their enjoyment of life.
Most painful for many accident victims is the loss of ability to participate in family life. Injuries can make it difficult or impossible to supervise and spend time with children and attend family events, such as dinners, reunions, and weddings. Plans made with spouses may need to be canceled. Unarguably, a person rendered unable to engage in these pursuits suffers a loss of enjoyment of life.
Proving Loss of Consortium
Loss of consortium stems from a personal injury interrupting fundamental relationships. For example, a husband and wife may have a close and affectionate relationship and have made plans for a lovely retirement. However, when one of them is struck by a reckless driver, those plans go out the window. Instead, the permanently disabled victim must live in an assisted care facility. Clearly, large loss of consortium damages apply.
Totaling the Damages in Florida
Your personal injury attorney will help you determine a figure for each damages category and total them, giving you an amount to sue for in a Florida car accident lawsuit. However, the amount you sue for and the amount your receive may differ because of comparative negligence, a jury’s determination that your damages are worth a lower figure, and insurance policy limits.
Comparative Negligence and Personal Injury Settlements and Awards in Florida
Florida is a modified comparative negligence state. According to this framework, courts can split the liability for an accident between the plaintiff and the defendant on a percentage basis. For instance, a court may find that the defendant is 90% responsible and the plaintiff 10%. In that case, the plaintiff receives 90% of his damages.
Defense attorneys press hard to transfer as much of the blame as possible onto the plaintiff. Each 1% of a comparative negligence argument they win decreases their liability by 1%. As a result, they often exaggerate the plaintiff’s level of responsibility or fabricate it. To combat this, your personal injury lawyer gathers extensive evidence during the discovery phase showing the defendant’s full culpability.
The Jury’s Determination of Damages in Florida
General damages, such as pain and suffering, require juries to use subjective reasoning to decide on the appropriate level. Since they cannot feel what the plaintiff feels, they must do their best to understand the impact on that person’s life and quantify it. For obvious reasons, this leads to the plaintiff’s- and defendant’s lawyers arguing vastly different positions on the level of damages.
Since Florida is a no-fault car insurance state, this makes verdicts less predictable. Compensatory damages have more precise dollar figures because they are based on damage to property, medical bills, lost income, and other more easily quantifiable impacts.
The limits of the defendant’s car insurance policy constrain the damages you can realistically collect in many cases. While the at-fault driver is legally responsible for paying the difference between a court award and the insurance limit, enforcing the order can be successful only if the defendant has substantial assets or income.
For example, if you are hit by a driver with low income and no assets, collecting may be impossible unless his circumstances drastically change. On the other hand, a defendant who owns a home with substantial equity could be forced to sell it to pay the out-of-pocket portion of a judgment.
For this reason, it’s always advisable to carry uninsured and underinsured motorist protection. Though your insurer must cover your economic damages, you may be due other forms of compensation from the other motorist. However, if that person is uninsured or underinsured and indigent, you may find it impossible to collect. Carrying enough of this type of coverage provides peace of mind and financial security.
If you have significant income or assets or both, it’s always a good idea to carry insurance limits far higher than the state minimum. Should you cause a major accident, the minimum can be vastly outstripped, leaving you vulnerable to property seizures and wage garnishments. Also, consider an umbrella policy. Umbrella policies provide additional liability protection in the millions, allowing you to protect your assets if you become liable for an extremely severe accident.
Florida law allows you to collect substantial general damages through a lawsuit, though your insurer must pay your economic damages. In many cases, general damages far outweigh the economic ones, making it worthwhile to pursue legal action. The amount you can sue for depends on the severity of the injury’s impact on your life. The amount you can collect depends on comparative negligence and the at-fault motorist’s insurance limits and financial condition.
Contact Florida Car Accident Attorney
It’s always wise to seek a legal consultation after a serious injury accident. Rosen Injury Law’s crack car accident litigation team can help you determine your damages and pursue them in court.
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