Suffering injuries in a car accident is always a painful and frustrating experience. At best, they are a significant inconvenience, eating up time you did not have to spare. Yet the consequences of many traffic collisions are far worse. A bad crash can turn your life upside down in an instant. Finding out the person who caused the accident does not have auto insurance can make a terrible situation into one that feels impossibly overwhelming.
How will you afford your bills? What options do you have to hold the at-fault driver accountable for their negligence? Is there anyone you can turn to for help? This blog will provide you with the answers to those questions. Understanding how uninsured and underinsured car accident claims work will allow you to recognize what steps you can take to navigate this challenging and frustrating situation.
Car Insurance Laws in Florida
Like nearly every state, Florida requires motorists to carry auto insurance. As a minimum, all motorists in the state must purchase:
- $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage – This insurance can compensate drivers for 80 percent of medical expenses resulting from any injuries they receive in a crash, regardless of who is at fault. PIP also allows drivers to claim 60 percent of earnings they lost as a result of missing work due to their injuries, up to a limit of $10,000. To claim this compensation, you must seek medical attention within 14 days of suffering injuries in an accident.
- $10,000 in personal damage liability (PDL) coverage – PDL pays for damage another person’s property sustains when your car is in an accident. This coverage applies whether you or another person is driving your vehicle at the time of the collision.
Florida’s No-Fault Car Accident Law
Because Florida is a no-fault car accident state, any driver involved in a traffic collision must file a claim with their own insurance provider first. However, many accident-related injuries require extensive treatment that can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. Because PIP coverage will only reimburse you for a small portion of these expenses, you will need to look to other sources of compensation if your injuries are severe.
If you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM), you can file a claim with this policy for additional compensation. You likely have this coverage unless you rejected it in writing. However, if you do not have UM/UIM coverage, you might need to consider filing legal action against the underinsured or uninsured driver who is at fault for your losses.
Uninsured and Underinsured Drivers in Florida
According to the most recent data available from the Insurance Information Institute, Florida has the highest proportion of uninsured drivers in the country at 26.7 percent. This figure is more than double the national average of 13 percent. As such, if you get in an accident, there is a one-in-four chance that the other driver lacks insurance.
However, you may face trouble even if the at-fault driver has the minimum legal coverage. Florida does not mandate bodily injury (BI) liability insurance. As such, even drivers who have the minimum legal coverage may lack sufficient insurance to compensate those they injure. If you suffer injuries in an accident and your PIP coverage does not fully cover the expenses, a driver with minimum coverage will not have a policy that can compensate you for the remainder of your losses.
In such situations, your only option for recovering the compensation you deserve may be to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Factors Determining Liability
To be eligible to file a lawsuit against the other driver, you must first establish that your injuries meet the severity threshold established by the state’s tort exemption. Next, you must show that the other driver’s negligence led to your accident-related injuries and losses.
Having an experienced car accident lawyer on your side will help you do so. They can work with experts to establish the severity of your injuries and prove they meet the necessary threshold. Next, they will conduct the necessary investigations to determine that the accident resulted from the other driver’s negligent behavior.
Negligence is a legal term that means failing to exercise the necessary care a given situation warrants. In the context of driving a car, that could mean speeding, failing to check blindspots before merging, or running a red light. Here are some other common examples of negligent behavior on the road:
Drunk Driving (DUI)
A blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher is illegal for anyone who gets behind the wheel in Florida. Not only may they face criminal charges, but you could hold them accountable for your accident-related losses.
Driver distraction is among the most common causes of accidents on Florida’s roads and highways. Although Florida law prohibits drivers from texting behind the wheel, people frequently get into accidents because of illicit cell phone use. Other examples of driver distractions include eating, operating a GPS device, and reaching into the back seat for a lost item. If an investigation determines that a driver’s distraction led to your injuries, you can sue them for negligence.
At the criminal level, Florida law defines reckless driving as the operation of a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” In addition to the criminal charges the reckless driver will likely face, you could file a lawsuit against them, seeking compensation for the harm they caused you. You could also request punitive damages, which punish the driver financially for their egregious behavior.
When the At-Fault Driver Cannot Cover Your Losses
Some uninsured and underinsured drivers lack coverage simply because they have let their policies lapse without renewing them. However, many motorists are in this position because they cannot afford the monthly insurance bill. These individuals are therefore unlikely to have much money. However, this does not preclude you from filing a lawsuit against them. If their negligence caused your injuries, you deserve to hold them accountable.
A knowledgeable Miami car accident attorney can help you understand your options if you find yourself in this situation. For example, a successful lawsuit may conclude with a judge’s order for the at-fault party to pay you in monthly installments. Alternatively, a lawyer can investigate whether the uninsured motorist holds assets, such as property, investments, or valuables. If so, the court may order the liable party to liquidate their assets to pay for your compensation.
Additionally, the other driver might not be the only one liable for your injuries. For example, you could hold their employer liable if the crash happened within the scope of the at-fault driver’s employment. Alternatively, your lawyer can file a claim against a manufacturer if a defective car part played a role in the crash.
Compensation You Can Claim after a Car Accident in Florida
When you file an accident claim or lawsuit against a negligent driver in Florida, you can demand compensation for a wider range of losses than you could obtain via your PIP coverage alone. While your own insurance may only cover 80 percent of your injury expenses and 60 percent of lost earnings (up to $10,000), a successful claim or suit against the at-fault driver can allow you to recover the full extent of your losses.
Your compensation may include:
- Medical bills
- Lost earnings due to missed time at work
- Property damage
- Rehabilitation, including physical and occupational therapy
- Mental health therapy
- Reduced income capacity due to disability or disfigurement
In addition to these economic losses, a successful lawsuit can provide you with compensation for non-economic damages, including:
- Physical and psychological pain and suffering
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Disability and permanent impairment
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Finally, in cases where the at-fault party demonstrated wanton or reckless regard for human life, a lawsuit might allow you to recover punitive damages. These damages punish the driver for their inexcusable behavior rather than compensate you for something specific.
Determining what types of damages you can recover in your case and calculating the value of your losses can present significant challenges for anyone who is not thoroughly familiar with personal injury law. An experienced Florida car accident attorney can help you understand how much compensation you can claim and will fight aggressively for the full amount.
How a Florida Auto Accident Attorney Can Help You
One of your first steps after suffering injuries in a car accident in Florida should be to seek legal help. The state’s insurance laws can create frustrating complications for anyone seeking compensation for their accident-related expenses. A seasoned attorney understands what steps you can take to improve your chances of a full recovery after you have been in an accident with an underinsured driver.
They can help you by:
- Ascertaining whether you have grounds for an insurance claim or lawsuit
- Investigating the circumstances and causes of the accident
- Determining which party or parties were liable for your injuries
- Examining police reports
- Gathering necessary documents to present to the insurance companies, such as your medical records and employment information
- Negotiating with the insurance adjuster for the maximum possible compensation
- Filing a lawsuit against anyone who bears liability if insurance will not cover your losses
Deadline for Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit in Florida
Florida’s statute of limitations allows a maximum of four years to file a car accident lawsuit. While this should be plenty of time to build a strong case, there are still reasons to act quickly. Critical evidence can go missing, and witness memories will fade over time. As such, you should speak with an attorney about your claim as soon as possible.
Steps to Take After a Collision with an Uninsured Driver
Before filing legal action, you should take the following steps to protect yourself and optimize your chances of recovering the compensation you deserve.
Seek Medical Attention
Ideally, anyone who has been in an accident should seek immediate medical attention. Even if you do not believe you have suffered any harm in the crash, a doctor’s examination can discover injuries that might otherwise remain invisible for several days or longer. The adrenaline rush from being in a traffic collision can mask the pain you might otherwise feel.
If you wait too long to seek medical help, your access to PIP compensation might expire. Furthermore, insurance companies will cast doubt on the link between the crash and your injuries if there is a significant time gap between the two. Insurers are always looking for reasons to deny claims. Do not give them another one by failing to get early treatment.
Review Your Insurance Policy
Many people are unaware of the specific coverage their policy offers. Insurance can be confusing, and the passage of time can make you forget about the details of your policy. You might find that your car insurance offers protection from accidents involving uninsured or underinsured drivers.
Speak to an Experienced Florida Car Accident Attorney
Many people who have been in an accident with an underinsured driver feel so perplexed about filing a claim that they put off taking action until it is too late. Others might believe that their circumstances make their chances of successfully recovering compensation so unlikely that they dismiss the possibility of a lawsuit out of hand.
Yet before you give up hope, speak to a seasoned car accident attorney about your situation. An experienced lawyer with thorough knowledge of Florida personal injury law can explain your legal options to you, which might be more extensive than you assume. Having an attorney on your side can allow you to focus on recovering your health rather than worrying about the legal processes involved in filing an accident claim or lawsuit.
The Bottom Line
Nobody should have to shoulder the financial burden of an accident they did not cause. If you suffered injuries in an accident caused by an underinsured driver, you can improve your chances of recovering compensation by seeking medical treatment and consulting with a legal professional. Although life after an accident can feel overwhelming, you do not have to face these challenges alone.