- Were you hurt in a motor vehicle accident?
- Are you wanting to file a lawsuit to receive compensation?
- You may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver to receive damages.
Typically, this process starts with filing a claim with the other side’s insurance company. If a fair settlement cannot be negotiated, then a lawsuit may be filed – and the case may go to trial. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to more than a year to resolve a car accident claim.
At the Distasio Law Firm, we advocate for the rights of Floridians who have been injured in all types of accidents – including car crashes. We offer free initial consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a Tampa car accident attorney, give our law offices a call today (813) 259-0022.
When to File a Car Accident Lawsuit
If you have been hurt in an auto accident, you may be unsure about what your rights are – and if you can even file a lawsuit. Generally, if another driver – or someone else – was somehow responsible for the crash, you can file a claim against them for your losses.
These claims are usually based on a theory of negligence, which is the failure to use the level of care that a reasonable person would use in a similar situation. You can also consider negligence to be a type of carelessness. In some cases, a personal injury lawsuit can be based on intentional or reckless conduct – such as a drunk driving accident.
Negligence can take a number of different forms. A person could be negligent in not paying full attention to the road, perhaps because they were texting and driving or because they were dealing with their kids in the backseat of the car. Negligence can also include things like speeding, failing to yield, backing up without checking to make sure that it is safe, and changing lanes unsafely.
In some cases, something other than another driver’s actions can cause a motor vehicle accident. For example, if you are involved in a single-car accident because your brakes malfunctioned, then you may be able to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, retailer, or distributor of the brakes. If you crashed because of a poorly maintained road, you could potentially file a claim against the government agency responsible for maintaining that road.
Determining fault in a Florida car accident case can often be difficult. In some cases, there may even be more than one person responsible for a collision. Even if you were partially at fault, you may still be able to seek financial compensation through Florida’s comparative negligence laws.
If you have a question about whether you can file a lawsuit for your losses, the best course of action is to reach out to a Tampa car accident attorney as soon as possible. They will listen to your story and advise you of your legal rights and options for pursuing a claim.
The Personal Injury Lawsuit Process in Florida
The personal injury lawsuit process typically begins with a free consultation with a personal injury law firm. During this appointment, your lawyer will explain your rights and give you a ballpark estimate of the value of your claim. If you decide to hire the firm, then they will get to work right away to build a strong case.
Your attorney will begin with an investigation to understand exactly what happened to cause the accident – and who may be at fault. They will review accident reports, view photos and videos of the scene, interview witnesses, and analyze medical records. At the same time, they will research Florida law to build support for your claim.
Once the investigation is completed, your Tampa car accident lawyer will draft a demand letter that will be sent to the at-fault party’s insurance company. A demand letter has three main parts:
- a factual description of how the accident occurred;
- a legal explanation for why their insured is responsible; and
- a demand for damages (compensation).
In most cases, insurance companies will respond to a demand letter with a counteroffer, beginning the negotiation process.
These negotiations often center around the amount of compensation that you may be due. In a personal injury case, you may be entitled to 3 types of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic and non-economic damages are considered compensatory because they pay you for the losses that you have suffered. Punitive damages punish someone who acted intentionally or recklessly.
Economic damages cover direct financial losses. They include things like property damage, lost wages, reduced earning capacity, medical bills, and future medical treatment. They are usually supported by documentation like invoices, bills, estimates, and pay stubs.
Non-economic damages pay for intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, scarring, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life. These can be harder to prove because you don’t get a bill for your trauma. However, they are just as important – if not more so – than economic damages. Your attorney can put together a claim for non-economic damages based on their experience with similar cases.
Finally, punitive damages are available in the more unusual cases where the at-fault party acted intentionally or recklessly. A good example of where punitive damages may be appropriate is in a driving under the influence accident. Punitive damages are usually awarded by a jury and are not part of a settlement.
Dealing with Insurance Companies
Insurance companies often try to minimize the amount of damages that they have to pay out – particularly non-economic damages. Your lawyer will fight to ensure that you get a fair settlement. If the insurer refuses to give you the money that you deserve, then it may be necessary to file a lawsuit.
Filing the Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit does not mean that your case will go to trial. Instead, it is a way to protect your legal rights while continuing to negotiate. Florida has a time limit, known as the statute of limitations, for filing a personal injury lawsuit. If you don’t file a claim within that time period, then you will lose your right to do so. Even if your attorney advises you that it is necessary to take this step, it is important to remember that most personal injury cases are resolved outside of the courtroom.
Motions and Discover
Once the lawsuit has been filed, the parties will file motions with the court and exchange information in a process known as discovery. Discovery usually consists of 4 parts:
- Depositions: sworn oral testimony of the parties and witnesses
- Interrogatories: written questions
- Requests for production: written requests to produce evidence
- Requests for admission: written requests to admit or deny certain things
Discovery can often help the parties clarify their positions, and move them closer to an agreement.
In the rare event that your lawyer cannot negotiate a settlement, it may be necessary to go to trial. In court, your Tampa personal injury lawyer will make arguments, question witnesses, and introduce evidence before asking a jury to return a verdict in your favor.
Working with a board-certified trial lawyer – such as our founder Scott Distasio – can increase the likelihood of a successful outcome in court. It may also increase the odds of a settlement because the insurance company will know that you are ready, willing, and able to go to trial – and to win. Personal injury law firms handle cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that you pay nothing upfront, and only pay a fee if they recover money for you. The attorney’s fee will be a percentage of your total recovery via settlement or verdict at trial.
Contingency fee agreements mean that it is possible for anyone to hire a lawyer, even if they don’t have the extra funds to pay an hourly fee. They also mean that your interests are aligned with your lawyer’s, because you both want to recover as much money as possible and as quickly as possible. With these arrangements, you can – and should – hire an attorney to help you get the compensation that you deserve for your losses.
Timeline for a Car Accident Lawsuit
When people first hire a lawyer, one of the first questions that they have is how soon they can expect a settlement check. The answer to that question depends on several factors.
If liability is clear and the insurance company accepts responsibility, it may take a matter of just a few weeks to settle a car accident claim. This outcome is more likely when the accident victim has relatively minor injuries.
If there is some question about liability or the extent of an injury victim’s losses, then it could take months or longer to achieve a settlement. For example, if the insurance company is insistent that your injuries aren’t as bad as you claim, then it may take longer to negotiate an agreement. This often occurs in cases where a person has a large claim for non-economic damages, as insurance companies like to use a multiplier formula to come up with a number for these losses – and often try to make sure that the number is as low as possible.
If the case goes to trial, then it could take a year or longer to achieve a final resolution. Going to trial means that the parties are at the mercy of the court’s schedule. Particularly with COVID-related backlogs, it could take a substantial amount of time to get hearings and trials scheduled.
The pretrial process can often take time. It can be difficult to schedule depositions with witnesses. Each side also has a timeline for responding to written discovery requests, and may even ask for extensions. This can lengthen the amount of time that it takes to either negotiate a settlement or get to trial.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables that affect the personal injury lawsuit process. Your Tampa car accident attorney should keep you updated about where you are and what you can expect at each step of the way. While it can be frustrating to wait, it is often the best way to get the compensation that you deserve for your injuries.
How The Distasio Law Firm Can Help You
Being in a motor vehicle accident can be incredibly traumatic. You may have a vague idea that you could file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, but still be unsure of where to even start. A Tampa personal injury law firm will work with you to protect your rights and help you get maximum compensation.
With offices in Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and Largo, the Distasio Law Firm represents injury victims throughout West Central Florida. We offer free initial consultations and never charge a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule an appointment with a Tampa car accident lawyer, give us a call at 813-259-0022 or fill out our online contact form.