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Are you looking to learn more about Personal Injury Law in Florida but not sure where to start?

In this guide will explain to you everything you need to know about Florida Personal Injury Law from A-Z.

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Chapter 1:
What Is Personal Injury and How Is it Defined in Florida?

Florida personal injury laws hold individuals, businesses, and governments accountable when their negligence or intentional actions injure others. These laws pertain to the civil side of the legal system, so no criminal penalties are attached. Instead, defendants must provide monetary compensation to the victim.
Some personal injury or wrongful death claims have a parallel case in criminal court, though they represent a minority. Most personal injury cases have a basis in an accident rather than a crime. However, if your injury resulted from a crime, you can pursue the perpetrator in civil and criminal court. Each case exists separately, and the result of one has no bearing on the outcome of the other.
Not all people have liability. Liability only exists when a legal duty of care applies. Drivers have an assumed duty of care toward others while operating a motor vehicle. Likewise, homeowners have a duty of care toward guests.
Florida courts establish a duty of care through the common law process. Under this system, precedents rule. The courts follow previous rulings in deciding cases. For example, extensive case law establishes drivers’ and homeowners’ duty of care.

Types of Personal Injury Claims

A claim can arise from almost any incident that causes an injury. Whether the plaintiff wins depends on his evidence of the defendant’s responsibility and existing case law. Most kinds of accidents have precedents; however, a precedent-setting case may ensure if a unique situation exists.

The following represent the most common types of personal injury claims:

Vehicle Accidents

If you’ve driven recently in the Fort Lauderdale region, you can understand why vehicle accidents account for the largest share of personal injury cases. Almost everyone drives or rides in vehicles, the streets bear heavy traffic, and many drivers make bad decisions or proceed recklessly. 

Florida law has multiple statutes relating to auto accidents, such as requirements for auto insurance and remaining at the scene of a collision. In addition, as with other personal injury claims, auto accident cases are subject to comparative negligence, which allows for the splitting of liability when both parties contributed to the cause.

For example, many accidents happen because the defendant fails to yield the right of way. Clearly, the accident is this person’s fault. However, the plaintiff may have partial fault, such as if he was speeding. In this example, the court is likely to find the defendant majority at fault but assign some liability to the plaintiff, such as 20%.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice cases make up a large share of personal injury claims. They occur when a healthcare provider departs from accepted medical standards, and a patient suffers a bad outcome as a result. Florida law recognizes that all hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers have a duty of care that requires adhering to accepted standards. The key to winning resides in proving the breach of this duty and relating it to specific harms.

Dog Bite Claims

Dog bites serve as another example of a common personal injury. Florida law establishes a duty of care for dog owners to others that come into contact with their animal. If the dog bites, the owner is liable. It is up to the owner to properly train and restrain the dog through leashes, and fences, and keep it off other people’s property or public areas without supervision.

Dog bite claims differ because the law assumes negligence on the owner’s part. Therefore, the plaintiff need not prove that the owner was negligent. Nonetheless, this presumption does not mean the plaintiff wins automatically.

Certain exceptions can result in a case dismissal. For example, the defendant could claim the dog was not his or that a different dog bit the plaintiff. Also, no duty of care exists when a dog bites a person committing a crime, such as assault or burglary.

Premises Liability

Premises liability claims hold owners liable for injuries sustained by others on their property. To succeed, a premises liability case must prove the owner’s negligence. Without negligence, the case fails even if the injury undoubtedly happened on the premises.

For instance, someone who slips on a wet floor at a business may have a negligence claim. The business bears responsibility for keeping the floor free of hazards. Then again, if a customer trips of his own accord, there is no negligence and, therefore, no case.

Nursing Home Abuse

Unfortunately, senior citizens often receive substandard care and find themselves subject to abuse by caregivers. This vulnerable population cannot fight back like a younger adult, often resulting in an extended pattern of neglect and abuse that kills. Typical forms of nursing home abuse include hitting patients, stealing their personal property, denying medical care, and failing to provide adequate nutrition and hydration.

Product Liability Laws

Defective products can leave people hospitalized, in pain, and unable to work. Product liability claims often stem from vehicles and auto parts, bicycles, housewares, yard tools, construction equipment, and other potentially dangerous products.

Personal injury law covers a lot of ground, from auto accidents to product liability and from minor injuries to wrongful death. Florida law enshrines the right of plaintiffs to seek recompense for their damages. The responsible parties must make the victim whole.

Chapter 2:
What Are the Most Common Types of Personal Injury Cases in Florida?

Each year, thousands of Floridians suffer severe personal injuries that require extensive medical care, leave them unable to work, and cause tremendous pain and suffering. Often, these injuries result from someone else’s negligence. When another’s actions or inactions cause you harm, you have the right to seek compensation under Florida Law.

The types of personal injury cases range from run-of-the-mill minor auto accidents to tragic wrongful death cases based on nursing home neglect and abuse. The most common include the following:

  • Auto accidents
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Premises liability
  • Dog bites
  • Product liability
  • Assault and battery

Auto Accidents

Auto accidents in Southern Florida send thousands of innocent drivers to the hospital every month. Motorists often make bad choices, especially when fatigued, stressed, or distracted. When they cause severe harm, victims become eligible for non-economic damages.

Florida is a no-fault auto accident state. This policy requires insurance companies to pay economic damages to their customers regardless of fault. However, victims can seek non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in court.

But auto accidents leave room for defendants to argue comparative negligence. Many accidents have multiple causes. For instance, the primary cause may be the defendant’s failure to yield to oncoming traffic while completing a left-hand turn. However, the other driver may have been distracted, resulting in a failure to brake to avoid an accident.

Courts must determine how to split the liability when fault seems indicated for both sides. Comparative negligence allows juries to allocate damages in any proportion. For example, they may find the motorist with primary liability 75% at fault and the other motorist 25% liable. In that case, the driver with lesser liability receives 75% of his damages.

Insurance companies often assert comparative negligence when no reasonable rationale for this argument exists. They hope to force a lower settlement by dragging out the case, tempting plaintiffs with financial challenges to accept less than adequate compensation.

Personal injury lawyers fight against these specious arguments by finding strong evidence, negotiating from strength, and relentlessly pursuing cases.

Nursing Home Abuse

Seniors hope for a comfortable and peaceful retirement. These final years offer the chance to be close to loved ones, reflect on life achievements, and find contentment.

Nursing home abuse robs victims of the peace, joy, and respect they have earned. Instead of being treated with dignity, they suffer insults, assaults, thefts, malnutrition, dehydration, and defilement. These monstrous humiliations are immoral and illegal. Personal injury attorneys fight to bring perpetrators to justice.

Premises Liability

Businesses and residential property owners must safeguard the people on their property. Responsible property owners routinely inspect their premises to ensure it contains no hazards and take pains to keep guests or customers away from hazards. When they neglect to protect those on their property, they incur premises liability.

Most homeowners have insurance policies that cover this type of liability. Additionally, businesses carry commercial liability policies that pay plaintiffs who bring premises liability suits. Because of this, plaintiffs have an excellent chance of collecting a settlement.

However, before they can take home a check, they must prove that the owner acted negligently. If the injury is at no fault of the owner, no premises liability claim exists.

For example, a homeowner who allowed guests to use an unrepaired stairway may have liability if someone falls. On the other hand, if a person simply trips on a perfectly good step, the owner may have no responsibility.

Dog Bites

Florida law requires pet owners to keep others safe from their animals. Dog owners cannot evade responsibility by claiming they kept the dog adequately restrained or trained to refrain from biting people. So long as you prove that the defendant’s dog bit you, your claim likely succeeds.

As with premises liability, most defendants have an insurance policy that covers dog bite liability. For instance, an individual may have this coverage as part of a homeowner’s insurance policy. Likewise, a business that has guard dogs likely has insurance in case their animals mistakenly bite an innocent person.

Assault and Battery

While most people victimized by a criminal assault expect the police to arrest the perpetrator, they often forget that the culprit also has civil liability. Unlike most personal injury claims, this type of case stems from the intentional actions of the perpetrator, not negligence. Because of this, juries tend to be sympathetic toward the plaintiff and want to hold the bad actor responsible.

Because they involve malice, assault and battery cases can yield punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to deter others from committing similar acts, and a large verdict against an assailant sends a strong message.

Product Liability

Many accidents result from faulty products. Defective tires cause collisions; substandard airbags fail to protect vehicle occupants, and poorly designed housewares lacerate fingers.

Manufacturers must ensure the safety of their products when used as intended and recall dangerous products from the market before they hurt someone. Failure to do so justifies a personal injury lawsuit.

Many types of incidents lead to personal injury. Regardless of how the injury happened, if there was negligence, recklessness, or intentional action on the part of another person or business, you may have a personal injury claim.

Chapter 3:
How Does Florida’s Statute of Limitations Affect Personal Injury Cases?

Florida law establishes a four-year statute of limitations for most personal injury claims. The time limit in the Sunshine State is longer than many others. For example, California allows only two years.

While this extended statute of limitations provides good news for personal injury plaintiffs, it is never wise to delay filing a claim longer than necessary. Four years allows much time for evidence to disappear and witnesses to forget. If you wait to file a case until the statute of limitations is near, the production of evidence can prove more difficult, weakening your position.

Also, on average, personal injury claims take one to two years to settle, and trial cases add several years to this timeline. A plaintiff who waits four years to file a claim may receive no compensation for 5 to 6 years or more after the incident.

For most injured people, this represents an unacceptably long time without compensation for out-of-pocket medical expenses (except in auto accident cases), suffering lost income and enduring a diminished ability to live a whole life.

Instead of waiting, consult an attorney as soon as possible. Litigation is a slow process, and the sooner you start it, the sooner you can defray your injury’s economic and non-economic costs.

Understanding the difference between filing a lawsuit and an insurance claim is essential. Most insurance claims must be filed promptly or face rejection. Failure to file a timely claim can destroy your ability to pursue compensation in court, even if you meet the four-year statute of limitations.

Also, while four years serves as the typical statute of limitations, different deadlines apply to varying situations. In some cases, these exceptions shorten the statute of limitations, while others extend it.

Different statutes of limitations apply in the following situations:

  • Wrongful death
  • Plaintiffs under 18
  • Incapacitated plaintiffs
  • Defendants have left the state
  • Delayed discovery

The Difference Between lawsuits and Insurance Claims

Plaintiffs file personal injury lawsuits in Florida state court. These lawsuits name as defendants the individual(s) or business(s) that caused the accident and, when applicable, their insurers. Most defendants have an auto-, homeowners-, or commercial liability policy covering the damages.

As a result, the typical case becomes a battle between the plaintiff’s legal team and the insurer’s.

After an injury, you must review your insurance documents to know the deadlines for filing a claim. This is particularly important for auto claims. Filing a claim with your insurer within the timeframe secures your right to pursue full damages until the statute of limitations expires.

Also, Florida law requires those injured in an accident to receive medical care within 14 days or forego the right to pursue reimbursement for expenses. Because Florida is a no-fault car insurance state, your auto insurer pays your medical costs regardless of fault. You must file a claim and seek medical treatment within the allotted time to collect compensation for these harms.

Though most cases involve an insurer, you can pursue a lawsuit against an uninsured plaintiff, but you need to ensure that they are not judgment-proof (unable to pay). Also, some personal injury debts can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Unfortunately, those without insurance tend to have limited income and assets, making the filing of a claim fruitless. For this reason, it’s always advisable to carry substantial uninsured and underinsured motorist protection and health-, disability-, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Some households also need the protection of umbrella insurance.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Many exceptions alter the statute of limitations in Florida injury cases:

Wrongful Death

Wrongful death claims differ from other personal injury claims in that the family files the case and receives damages for their losses. Families must adhere to a 2-year statute of limitations in filing a lawsuit.

Plaintiffs Under 18

When the plaintiff is a minor, the statute of limitations clock is tolled until that person(s) 18th birthday. Therefore, minors, in most situations, have until they turn 22 to file a case. However, this timeline can be shorter or longer if the case has other factors that change the statute of limitations.

Incapacitated Plaintiffs

Some injuries leave patients temporarily unable to bring a claim, or the injured party may suffer from another malady leading to incapacitation. When incapacity strikes the victim, the clock tolls until she can make decisions.

Defendant(s) Left the State

The law also tolls the clock when defendants leave the state because they cannot receive service of a Florida lawsuit during that time. When an insurance company is a defendant, this is not a concern. However, if you were pursuing an uninsured defendant, you may need the statute of limitations extension.

Delayed Discovery

Some injury symptoms manifest long after an incident. For instance, a plaintiff might contract cancer from contaminated drinking water but experience symptoms years after the exposure. In that case, the four-year clock starts when the plaintiff becomes aware of the condition.

Other factors may alter the statute of limitations in your case. Therefore, it’s advisable never to assume the time has passed. A personal injury lawyer can confirm whether the statutes have run in your case. But it is always wise to consult an attorney as soon after an injury as possible to build a strong case and avoid missing any deadlines.

Chapter 4:
What Kind of Compensation Can I Receive for a Personal Injury Claim in Florida?

Florida law allows personal injury victims to pursue economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic damages include medical bills, lost wages, and other financial harms, while non-economic damages cover intangible losses, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages apply only if the defendant caused the injury through outrageous misconduct.

Auto accidents differ somewhat in available damages because Florida is a “no-fault” car insurance state. Under this policy, insurers pay their customer’s medical bills regardless of fault. Accordingly, when medical bills are the only legal entitlement, the victim must rely on his own personal injury protection (PIP) policy. PIP policies also cover lost income.

However, the opposing insurer often refuses to pay a fair settlement for non-economic damages, including pain and suffering. When this occurs, a lawsuit may be the only method that brings about total compensation for the victim.

Auto Accident Damages

Florida’s “no-fault” car insurance law presents a double-edged sword for injury victims. On the plus side, your insurer pays your economic damages regardless of fault. Also, when another driver hits you, you avoid a protracted legal fight to receive those damages. However, you may end up with less than states that do not have a no-fault system because of Florida’s auto insurance damages caps.

PIP policies in Florida pay the following benefits:

  • 80 percent of reasonably-incurred medical expenses related to car accident injuries
  • 60 percent of lost income resulting from the accident and injuries, and
  • $5,000 in death benefits (paid to the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate or their relatives)

These limits often leave victims with substantial out-of-pocket expenses. However, if you have serious injuries, you can bring a lawsuit for non-economic damages that more than compensate for these out-of-pocket costs.

For wrongful death cases, the family can bring a lawsuit for the damages they suffered because of losing a loved one. These damages can total in the hundreds of thousands or millions.

Requirements for Seeking Non-Economic Damages in a Florida Auto Accident Case

Not all car accident claims qualify for non-economic damages. The law strictly limits the pursuit of these damages to the following circumstances:

  • Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
  • Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability
  • Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or
  • Death

When one or more of these criteria is met, the plaintiff can bring a claim for non-pecuniary damages that include the following:

Pain and Suffering

Injuries of this magnitude cause tremendous pain for the victim. Physical agony and the inability to return to their former life take a terrible toll on victims.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Life offers many enjoyments, including spending time with loved ones, pursuing career goals, reaching financial milestones, participating in cherished activities, and many others. Significant compensation is warranted when an injury robs a person of their joy in living.

Emotional Distress

Physical injuries come with emotional distress. Being hurt, facing medical bills, and possibly becoming disabled are challenges that distress anyone. In addition, many injured people become isolated, leading to additional emotional pain.

Punitive damages rarely apply to car accident cases. However, the courts may apply them to a defendant who caused a severe accident through terrible misconduct.

Damages in Other Personal Injury Cases

Other types of personal injury claims, such as slip and fall cases, allow you to take the defendant or insurance company to court for economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic harms come to mind when many people think of personal injury damages. It seems obvious that a person injured by another’s negligence should receive reimbursement for medical bills and lost income. With economic damages covered, the victim avoids paying out of pocket for someone else’s mistake.

Therefore, personal injury claimants can pursue full reimbursement of their medical expenses related to the accident. They can also claim lost income, including wages, salaries, benefits, business-, and self-employment income.

Non-Economic Damages

As with auto accident claims, plaintiffs in other personal injury cases may seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress. The key to winning non-economic damages lies in demonstrating the severity of the agony, harm, and loss. Medical records, witness testimony, and a journal detailing pain and suffering help to illustrate the justice of non-economic damages.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages focus on holding the defendant responsible and deterring others rather than making the victim whole. Because of this, courts do not apply them to average accident cases where there is no intent to harm or disregard for others’ safety involved. However, exceptional circumstances based on intentional actions or extreme recklessness can yield punitive damages.

Florida accident victims can seek economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. However, Florida’s no-fault car insurance law curtails the ability to pursue damages in auto accident cases. As a result, punitive damages apply only in rare circumstances. For a complete understanding of the damages Florida law may entitle you to, consult a personal injury attorney.

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