What Should I Do If Someone Sues Me After a Car Accident in Florida?
If someone sues you after a car accident, you need to act quickly. Although there are no guarantees, all the right moves could bring favorable results. You might win a dismissal of the lawsuit, or you might even win compensation from the plaintiff (the plaintiff is the party suing you).
Understand Florida’s “No Fault” Auto Insurance System
Florida operates a “no-fault” auto insurance system. Typically, the victim of a car accident doesn’t sue the at-fault party for injuries. Instead, the victim files a claim against their own no-fault insurance policy, known as Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. Florida requires its drivers to carry at least $10,000 in PIP insurance.
An injury victim cannot sue an at-fault party for personal injury unless their injuries are “serious,” as defined by Florida law. Permanent loss of an essential bodily function (eyesight, for example) is probably enough, as is serious disfigurement (loss of a limb, for example). Which injuries qualify as “serious” is an issue that lawyers argue about. If the injury is serious, the victim can immediately file a lawsuit against the defendant.
Florida’s no-fault system does not apply to property damage. The victim of property damage can immediately file a third-party claim against the at-fault party’s Property Damage Liability (PDL) insurance policy. All Florida drivers must carry at least $10,000 in PDL insurance.
Review Your Insurance Coverage
Take an inventory of your insurance coverage and carefully read the terms of any policy you have. It is best to have a lawyer look it over to uncover any non-obvious implications of the policy language.
Do You Have Auto Liability Insurance?
Florida is one of only two states that does not require its drivers to carry bodily injury liability insurance. If you purchased only the legally required amount of insurance, someone other than you suffered a serious injury, the claim against you is large, and the evidence against you is strong, you face the possibility of losing your personal assets to pay off a personal injury lawsuit judgment.
Don’t Talk to the Plaintiff or Their Insurance Carrier
Your insurance policy likely requires you to notify them of a lawsuit against you. Give them as little information as possible until you hire a lawyer.
Contact a Gainesville Personal Injury Lawyer (Immediately!)
Contacting a Gainesville personal injury attorney should be second in priority only to seeking immediate medical treatment for any injuries you suffered. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this step.
Schedule a Free Consultation
Almost any personal injury lawyer will offer you a free initial case consultation. Take the offer so that a personal injury lawyer can explain your options.
File an Answer With the Court
You probably learned of the lawsuit against you through personal service of a summons and a copy of the original complaint. In most cases, you have only 20 days from the date of service to file an answer to the plaintiff’s initial complaint. It is best if a lawyer drafts the answer for you because the answer is an essential legal document.
Direct All Further Inquiries to Your Lawyer
Once you formally retain a lawyer, your lawyer should send a letter to all interested parties. The letter should state that the lawyer is representing you and that they should direct all future correspondence to your lawyer.
The next stage of your defense is to gather evidence. Hopefully, you took photos of the accident, any property damage, and any personal injuries. Of course, this might not have been possible if you were seriously injured. Your lawyer will also want the names of witnesses to interview. Cooperate with your lawyer to collect any other relevant evidence.
The Pretrial Discovery Procedure
Inevitably, some of the evidence you need, including testimony, will be in the plaintiff’s possession. The pretrial discovery procedure is a way for both parties to gather evidence that is in the possession of the other party. Pretrial discovery begins only after a lawsuit is filed. You may demand evidence from the plaintiff, and you may seek the court’s help if they refuse to cooperate. The plaintiff can do the same to you.
Consider Filing a Counterclaim
A counterclaim is a procedural move in which you “do unto the plaintiff” as the plaintiff has done unto you. In a counterclaim, you reverse the liability by claiming that it is the plaintiff, not you, who is liable for the accident. If you can prove your counterclaim, the plaintiff might have to pay you compensation instead of the other way around.
Begin Settlement Negotiations
Once both sides have gathered evidence, see if the plaintiff is interested in settling the claim out of court. Even after a lawsuit is filed, you can still settle your claim any time before the court issues a final decision.
There are many defenses to a car accident claim. Following is a list of a few of them.
Expiration of the Statute of Limitations
Florida’s statute of limitations was recently changed for personal injury cases. There is a two-year time limit if the accident occurred on or after 3/24/2023, and a four-year time limit otherwise. The expiration of the statute of limitations period will kill any personal injury claim.
No-Fault Insurance Applies
The court will dismiss the case if the plaintiff’s injuries were not “serious” as defined by Florida law. In most scenarios, this is a legal judgment call.
Failure To Mitigate Damages
The defendant didn’t take reasonable steps to limit their damages. For example, they might have failed to:
- Seek immediate medical treatment;
- Follow doctor’s orders;
- Wear a seatbelt; or
- Wear a helmet (in a motorcycle accident).
The plaintiff should not receive any damages that they could have avoided through the exercise of reasonable care.
Your Actions Did Not Cause the Accident
Causation is a critical element of most personal injury claims. Even if you were driving drunk, for example, you are not liable for any accident you could not have avoided or mitigated even if you had been sober.
If the plaintiff was partly at fault, the court can deduct their compensation based on their assigned percentage of fault. If they were 35% at fault, for example, the court will deduct 35% of their damages. You will also qualify to demand that the plaintiff pay you 35% of any losses you suffered. Further, if the plaintiff is 51% or more at fault, they cannot recover any damages under Florida’s new modified comparative negligence system.
Legal Counsel Can More Than Pay for Itself
Successfully defending a lawsuit could save you thousands of dollars or even more. Turning the tables by suing the plaintiff might even win you substantial compensation. The last thing you need to do for a substantial claim against you is to try to defend yourself without legal counsel.