The purpose of this blog is to explain the settlement process in an auto accident case that occurs in the state of Florida. While no two cases are similar, this writing should provide a general overview of what lies ahead for you and your Melbourne-based attorney in the wake of your auto accident in Melbourne.
What is a settlement?
A settlement occurs when you and the other party or parties to a car accident agree on a sum of money to be paid in the form of compensation, absent of any involvement by the courts. As part of the settlement, you will not be able to sue the other party for injuries – present or future – resulting from the accident, so any agreement should be weighed heavily by you and your lawyer.
- Why a settlement appeals to accident victims: It’s likely that an auto accident has drained more than just your energy. Hospital bills and other expenses are piling up, and injuries likely have kept you from working and providing as usual for yourself and your family. Rather than wait years for a lawsuit to play out, accepting a settlement could allow you to pay all your bills with money left over to help ease your pain and suffering. A settlement often helps avoid the emotional roller coaster of a trial and guarantees that you’ll be paid something.
- Why a settlement appeals to insurance companies: They see hundreds of car accidents each day, and usually know fairly early whether or not your case is strong. Even if you have a solid case, some insurance companies hold out hope that you’ll sign a low-ball settlement before you can retain counsel to find out. They often settle when they know the evidence is stacked against their clients, or if their calculations suggest they’ll spend a small fortune monetarily, and time-wise, defending your claim. If they feel strongly that they will lose a case, they’d rather pay a set amount and focus their time and money on fighting easier claims.
First, there is an investigation into what actually happened. This is where reports are reviewed and witness statements are read. Photographs of the scene, the area where the accident took place and medical records of the injured parties are considered. Then, experts are consulted, including doctors who performed examinations after the accident, accident reconstruction specialists and even civil/mechanical engineers. After all of this has been reviewed, the insurance policies of all drivers are considered. Florida is an ‘at fault’ state, meaning that if injured drivers are unable to obtain full compensation through the negligent driver’s insurance company, they may need to pursue it through their own provider. That’s why most injury victims in Melbourne retain car accident lawyers to file a lawsuit, hoping to make up the difference in lost wages, medical bills and pain and suffering.
What if an agreement can't be reached?
If a settlement is not reached outside of court, the attorney may suggest filing suit. The plaintiff is advised not to settle before speaking with counsel, because it is in the insurance company’s best interest to offer the lowest settlement possible. If the case goes to court, it will be heard by a jury. A lawsuit can be settled even after a it’s filed, and this often occurs once the negligent party’s insurance company sees that you’re serious. A lawsuit – and sometimes even an inquiry or two by a lawyer – could lead to a settlement.
You don't have much time
After an auto wreck, time feels like it stands still, even when it’s flying. According to Florida Statute 95.11, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within four years.
- one (1) year after the accident if a personal injury is involved’
- three (3) years after the accident involving a vehicle or property damage.
If a lawsuit is not filed within these time-frame – known as the statutes of limitation – it is extremely difficult to hold the other party or parties financially responsible. Always report accidents and injuries right away, and arrange to speak with a Melbourne car accident law firm as soon as possible.