Personal Injury Lawyer
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Accidents happen. Cars and trucks sometimes collide. People may slip or trip and fall. Injuries occur in the workplace. When an accident occurs as a result of someone else’s negligence, the accident victim may have what state law identifies as a personal injury. Many accidents in Florida are covered by insurance. Nevertheless, insurance often has limitations in place that determine the types of damages for which an accident victim may receive compensation. Insurance policies also limit the maximum payout an accident victim may receive. Similar to other states, Florida’s laws permit personal injury accident victims to file a claim in civil court to receive compensation for their injuries. Some people may find the insurance route to be more straightforward. For others, there are several advantages to filing a personal injury claim in civil court. Tampa personal injury lawyers are available to help accident victims determine the best approach to receiving the compensation to which they are legally entitled.
Filing an insurance claim after an accident
Most Florida drivers are familiar with the concept of car insurance. In the event of an accident, the involved parties exchange insurance information and contact details. Florida law requires all vehicle owners to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance coverage. Because PIP is a no-fault policy, people who are involved in an accident may file a claim to receive compensation for their injury without regard to whether the accident victim was at fault. However, there are major limitations when it comes to filing a PIP claim. These policies tend to have much lower payout limits. PIP also typically compensate victims for a specified percentage of their expenses up to the policy limit instead of covering all losses. In addition to filing a PIP claim with his or her own insurer, the injured party may also receive compensation through the other party’s Bodily Injury Liability (BIL) coverage. If the other party does not have BIL coverage, the accident victim may be able to receive compensation by filing a claim under his or her own Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. BIL and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverages are not required in Florida. Therefore, accident victims may find themselves requiring a remedy they are unable to receive through insurance. Accident victims should always consult a personal injury lawyer and consider seeking legal remedy through the civil court system.
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Other types of insurance that covers personal injuries
There are several other types of insurance that may cover injuries sustained in a personal injury accident. Certain types of insurance policies cover personal injuries if the accident occurs on the policyholder’s property, at a place of business, or while on the job. Examples of other insurance coverages that are applicable in certain personal injury cases include:
- Homeowners insurance
- Commercial insurance
- Umbrella insurance
- Workers compensation insurance
Filing a personal injury claim in a Tampa civil court
The civil court process can often be confusing to people who do not have a legal background. Civil court is the venue in which parties seek legal intervention outside of criminal conviction. Contractual disputes, requests for compensation, and petitions to compel an individual or entity to take certain actions are among the legal cases that are adjudicated in civil court. In some instances, a single incident may result in both civil court and criminal court action. Nevertheless, the two court systems operate independently. Accident victims may seek compensation for property damage and for physical injuries in civil court.
Compensation for personal injuries in civil court
There are several types of damages an accident victim may receive if he or she prevails in a civil court claim. Types of damages awarded in personal injury claims are:
General damages and special damages are categorized as compensatory damages, meaning they are intended to compensate or pay the victim for losses incurred. General damages often compensate the accident victim for more subjective losses, including:
- pain and suffering
- loss of enjoyment of life
- mental anguish
- loss of care and companionship
- future pain and suffering
Special damages, on the other hand, directly compensate accident victims for direct, more readily quantifiable losses the victim incurs as a result of the other party’s conduct. Examples include:
- medical expenses
- lost wages
- cost of ongoing medical support
- future lost wages
Calculating lost future earnings and future medical expenses can be more challenging. Nevertheless, courts consider several factors, including testimony from expert witnesses when estimating future amounts.
Punitive damages in Tampa personal injury case
In certain types of cases, a court may order the defendant to pay punitive damages. Judges order punitive damages in cases in which the plaintiff behaved especially egregiously. Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the victim. Instead, defendants are ordered to pay these additional amounts to discourage parties who are similar to the defendant from behaving similarly. Although these damages are not designed to compensate the accident victim for his or her loss, punitive awards are generally paid to the victim.
Types of personal injury cases
handled by Couture Law P.A.
There are several types of personal injury accidents for which the injured party may file a civil court claim. Common examples include:
Florida consistently ranks among the states that record the highest number of traffic accidents annually. The Sunshine State is home to one of the nation’s largest populations of elderly drivers. Millions of tourists drive on Florida roads annually. Many areas in the state are experiencing accelerated population growth that has placed a sudden increase in volume on aging road infrastructure.
Drivers who negligently engage in unsafe driving behaviors may be legally responsible for compensating other people who are injured in an accident caused by the negligent behavior. Tampa personal injury lawyers represent car accident victims who would like to seek compensation to cover medical expenses, lost wages, and in some cases, emotional damages.
Several factors increase the risk of a car accident happening:
Drivers are usually well aware that they may receive a speeding ticket if they travel at speeds in excess of the posted limit. If excessive speed causes an accident, a civil court may find that the speeding party is liable for the accident victim’s injury. A driver’s speed may be considered negligent even if the driver traveled at or below the speed limit. Negligent driving also includes driving too fast for certain road conditions, including dimly-lit roads, hazardous weather, construction zones, school zones, and improperly-maintained roads.
DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Intoxicated driving can result in criminal court charges in addition to civil court liability. Operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs can affect drivers in several ways that can cause an accident. Common effects of intoxication include:
- altered response time
- impaired perception
- difficulty focusing
- difficulty keeping the vehicle in the appropriate lane
- impaired judgment
Judges sometimes order defendants to pay punitive damages to the plaintiff if the defendant’s behavior was especially void of consideration for the lives of other people on the road. In some cases, a third party may also be liable. Florida’s dram shop law holds liable people who knowingly serve alcohol to an individual who has an alcohol addiction. Those who serve alcohol to minors are also generally liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated minor under Florida’s dram shop law.
Sometimes one driver may strike another due to a visual obstruction within the driver’s vehicle or on the road. These cases differ from many other traffic accident cases in that there is often a third party who may be liable apart from the drivers who were directly involved in the collision. Florida law prohibits drivers from attaching obstructive material directly to the windshield and mirrors. Drivers must also avoid positioning interior cargo and passengers in a way that blocks the driver’s view through the windows and mirrors. Drivers should also avoid securing obstructive cargo to the exterior of the vehicle.
Obstructions outside the vehicle are usually created by people who own property that abuts the road. Overgrown vegetation and garbage piled along the curb are examples of line of sight obstructions. An exterior obstruction may prevent drivers from seeing traffic signs telling them to stop or yield, vehicles approaching from the opposite direction, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
Anything that takes a driver’s attention away from the road is a distraction. Reading a book or email during a long drive, texting, eating, talking on the phone, or even conversing with other occupants in the vehicle can create a distraction that causes an accident. A visual distraction involves looking anywhere other than the road. Manual distraction occurs when the driver removes one or more hands from the steering wheel, for example, to eat food or change radio stations. Distraction can be cognitive, manual, or visual. Cognitive distraction occurs when the driver shifts his or her attention away from driving. Examples include talking on a hands-free phone or daydreaming. A distracted driver is more likely to cause a collision if the flow of traffic suddenly stops. Signs of distracted drivers include:
- veering out of the lane
- erratic braking
- failure to use turn signal
- ignoring traffic signals and red lights
- traveling at an inconsistent speed
A car accident victim’s first avenue of recourse will likely be to file an insurance claim. PIP policies will cover a portion of the injured party’s expenses. Accident victims who have more severe injuries are likely to require additional compensation. In many instances, the injured party will also file a claim with the other party’s insurance company. Although a PIP claim will not usually prompt a detailed investigation into who caused the accident, other types of insurance claims will. Insurance companies also use formulas to calculate settlement amounts and employ corporate lawyers who protect the interests of the insurer. Therefore, accident victims need a legal representative to advocate for their needs throughout the insurance settlement process. If the insurance company does not offer a favorable settlement, the attorney will continue to represent the injured party in court if the accident victim wishes to file a personal injury claim.
Core Areas of Specialty
Commercial truck accidents
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role commercial truck drivers play in supporting and facilitating commerce. As trucking companies work hard to remedy logistical challenges, truck drivers now work even more stringent schedules. Commercial truck companies have stepped up their recruitment efforts to get more drivers on the road. The impact of drivers working long hours and an influx of new drivers on the road can increase the likelihood of an accident happening. Common causes of truck driving accidents are:
THE ROLE OF DRIVER FATIGUE
Driving long hours around the clock can easily contribute to fatigue. Truck drivers are required to take breaks and spend a minimum amount of hours off the clock. However, employer expectations and enforcement of the rules sometimes become blurred when a shipment must arrive on time. Delays at loading centers may also increase the sense of urgency a truck driver experiences in working to maintain his or her schedule.
TRUCK DRIVER INTOXICATION
Similar to people who drive passenger vehicles, truck drivers sometimes drive while intoxicated. The potential for causing damage and injury increases exponentially when an intoxicated driver is operating a large commercial truck. Not only does the size of the truck increase the potential for causing injury, but the truck’s cargo may increase the hazard. Truck drivers consume drugs and alcohol for many reasons. Some use drugs to feel less stressed. Others consume stimulants to keep them awake for long hours on the road. Still, others drink and use drugs for recreational purposes. Commercial truck companies conduct random drug tests to identify drivers who may have a drug habit. Although it is impossible for truck companies to monitor drivers’ drug and alcohol consumption around the clock while on the road, an accident victim may be able to prove the company behaved negligently if drivers do not ever receive drug tests or if a driver has previous DUI offenses.
CARGO LOADING ERRORS
Sometimes a driver and his or her employer may behave perfectly, and an accident occurs due to improper loading of cargo. Workers at cargo centers are required to observe weight restrictions, mechanical procedures, and industry guidelines when loading and unloading truck cargo. An error in the cargo loading process may cause a truck to have uneven weight distribution, making the truck more susceptible to overturning or colliding with other vehicles on the road.
Companies that manufacture commercial trucks and their parts may be liable in the event of a commercial truck accident. A defect in the design process means all vehicles or parts of the same variety are hazardous. A manufacturing defect may affect a more limited number of vehicles. In either case, a truck or parts manufacturer may be liable under the theory of strict liability or negligence.
Any traffic accident has the potential to cause severe injuries. Nevertheless, some people on Florida’s roads are more vulnerable than others. Motorcycle riders do not have the structural protection cars and trucks provide. Therefore, if a car or truck collides with a motorcycle, the motorcycle rider is more likely to sustain severe injuries. Motorcycle accidents can have several causes:
- hazardous weather conditions
- following too closely
- failure to check blindspots
Larger vehicles have a much larger stopping distance than motorcycles. Therefore, other drivers should maintain more space between themselves and motorcyclists to prevent a collision in the event of a sudden stop. Drivers should also lower their speed when following a motorcycle because it requires more time to stop when traveling at higher rates of speed. Because motorcycles are much smaller than cars and trucks, drivers should be especially careful and thoroughly check their blind spots before making a turn or a lane change. In hazardous weather, it is especially critical that drivers slow down and be on the lookout for motorcyclists. Rain and severe weather can reduce visibility, making it more difficult for drivers to see motorcycles.
Wrongful death claims
In some cases, a personal injury may result in the victim’s death. These are wrongful death cases. Unlike in many other states, Florida requires a personal representative to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the victim and the surviving family members. The personal representative is typically identified in the decedent’s will. If the decedent did not have a will at the time of death, the surviving spouse is typically named the personal representative. If the victim was not married at the time of death, the surviving family members will usually decide who will act as the personal representative.
Slips and falls
Slip and fall accidents are under the broader category of premises liability accidents. Premises liability accidents most often occur at businesses. Nevertheless, they can also happen on private property. Slip and fall cases in grocery stores are among the most common premises liability accidents. Other settings in which these accidents take place are:
- parking lots
- commercial walkways
- shopping centers and indoor malls
- gas stations
- sports arenas
- entertainment venues
- apartment complexes
- nursing homes
- medical facilities
- entertainment venues and amusement parks
- establishing a slip and fall claim
Plaintiffs in slip and fall claims are required to prove certain elements before a court will award compensation. The accident victim’s attorney must establish:
- the injured party was owed a duty by the defendant
- the defendant breached the duty
- the breach caused the accident and resulting injury
- the injured party sustained damages
Property owners owe a duty to guests on their property. Florida’s premises liability laws classify visitors into three categories: invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Invitees are people who have more of an open invitation. Customers at a grocery store are considered invitees because they can go to the store anytime to conduct business during normal business hours. Invitees are people who are not prohibited from visiting a property; however, they do not visit to conduct a transaction that is within the scope of the business. Salespeople who visit a business to give a sales pitch to management are licensees. People who stop at a business to use the bathroom without making a purchase are also classified as licensees. Trespassers enter a property without authorization.
Florida law requires property owners to take steps to keep visitors in each category safe. Licensees are owed the highest level of duty. Therefore, businesses are required to make reasonable efforts to keep the premises clear of hazards for invitees. In most business settings, this includes frequently checking for spills and cleaning them up, inspecting the floor for loose floorboards, unsecured rugs, electrical cables, debris, dim lighting, and other hazards that may cause a customer to slip or trip. Businesses are required to make reasonable efforts to warn licensees of potential hazards. This often means posting signs to identify non-functioning equipment or wet areas on the floor. Trespassers must be warned of hazards on a property once the property owner or manager discovers the trespasser’s presence.
Similar to motorcyclists, bicyclists are also vulnerable on Tampa roads. People who ride bikes are especially susceptible to confusing intersection designs and a lack of designated bike lanes and paths that keep bicycles away from motor vehicles. In many communities in Florida, there is an ongoing tension that exists between bicyclists and motorists. Drivers become frustrated with bicyclists who travel at slower speeds, and bicyclists sometimes do not yield the right-of-way and follow the rules of the road as they should. In 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported failure to yield the right-of-way as the cause of 38.5 percent of accidents. The ongoing tension between drivers and bicyclists increases the likelihood of an accident happening. Common injuries caused by bicycle accidents include:
- broken bones
- head injuries
- neck injuries
- back injuries
- spinal cord injuries
- brain injuries
- internal bleeding
- internal organ injuries
Pedestrians are the most vulnerable people on the road. Nevertheless, a pedestrian accident can also take place off the road in areas like parking lots. Pedestrian accidents are more likely to happen in areas that do not have sidewalks and working pedestrian signals. Drivers create hazards that may affect pedestrian safety when they:
- drive too fast
- drive while distracted
- drive while intoxicated
- do not obey stop signs and traffic signals
ROLLING STOPS COULD CAUSE PEDESTRIAN ACCIDENTS
Rolling through stop signs is particularly dangerous for pedestrians. Pedestrians are not required to follow the rules that govern intersections with four-way stops and stop signs. Therefore, pedestrians generally expect vehicles to stop and allow them to proceed. A vehicle that rolls through a stop sign behaves unpredictably and increases the risk of a pedestrian stepping off the curb and potentially being struck by the vehicle.
In parking lots, pedestrians and drivers are combined in a confined space with virtually no separation. Parking lots generally do not have pedestrian signals, and they often have confusing pavement markings and minimal navigational signs. Pedestrians must walk in behind cars and cross aisles to move from the parking area to the business entrance. Drivers must always be on the lookout for pedestrians, check their mirrors when backing out of a parking space, and proceed at very slow speeds. A driver who fails to check mirrors, constantly keep watch, and proceed slowly may be liable if he or she strikes a pedestrian in a parking lot setting.
PEDESTRIAN SAFETY TIPS
In some cases, a pedestrian may contribute to an accident. Florida courts consider whether the accident victim was partially at fault in an accident. Therefore, following safety guidelines not only reduces the risk of an accident taking place but in the event of an accident, a court will be less likely to find that the accident was partially caused by the victim. General safety tips for Florida pedestrians include:
- looking both ways multiple times before crossing a street or parking lot aisle
- following the direction of pedestrian signals
- crossing at intersections in designated crosswalks
- avoid suddenly darting into the street or otherwise behaving unpredictably
- wear reflectors and bright clothing when going for a walk orjogging at night
- carefully watch other vehicles when walking in parking lots
Tampa’s warm, sunny climate lends itself to many residents opting to have a swimming pool. Not only is a swimming pool a fun way to cool off in the heat, but having a pool comes with significant responsibilities. Florida law requires residential pool owners to enclose their pools with a barrier. The barrier can be a fence, a wall, or a combination of both. The barrier must be raised no higher than four inches off the ground, and it should be at least four feet tall. The gate or door that allows access to the pool must be equipped with a self-latching, self-locking device. Other doors and windows that allow access to the pool are required to be equipped with an alarm. Florida’s pool safety laws are designed to protect children and elderly people from accidentally drowning or otherwise becoming injured when accessing a pool without permission.
Pool facilities have even more stringent requirements. While certain businesses are not required to employ lifeguards, those that do have a lifeguard on duty are legally required to only staff their facilities with certified lifeguards. The certification must be obtained through a nationally-recognized lifeguard training program. Pool facilities may be liable if someone becomes injured if staff members fail to supervise or are inadequately trained. The facility may also be liable if someone becomes injured as a result of a slip and fall accident or if the pool lacks proper signs and labels to identify water depth and other hazards.
Statutes of limitations in personal injury claims
Florida law imposes a four-year statute of limitations in most personal injury cases. Therefore, an accident victim must decide whether he or she will file a civil court claim and then actually file the personal injury claim within four years of the date of the injury. In wrongful death cases, there is a two-year statute of limitations. There are certain circumstances in which the court may recognize an exception to the statute of limitations. These cases most often include fraud or difficulty identifying or reaching the accident victim. A Tampa personal injury attorney can help you decide whether the best strategy in your case is to file a claim. Your attorney will also be able to identify whether an exception to the statute of limitations may apply in your case.
Comparative negligence in Florida personal injury cases
Florida courts apply the theory of pure comparative negligence. Therefore, a court may consider the extent to which an accident victim contributed fault in the accident. Fortunately, accident victims who are partially at fault are not barred from recovery. Instead, the court will calculate the percentage of fault each party contributed and subtract the victim’s percentage of fault from the total amount of compensation the court would award the victim. Accident victims may still receive compensation if their percentage of fault is greater than 50 percent. A Tampa personal injury lawyer can help accident victims better understand comparative negligence theory and how it may apply to their case.
Some personal injury claims may be based on the theory of strict liability. If a defendant is strictly liable, the plaintiff is not required to prove the defendant behaved negligently. This theory is very often applied in cases involving a defective product. To establish a claim based on strict liability, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove:
- the product is unreasonably dangerous
- the product’s defect directly caused the victim’s injury
- the victim suffered financial damages
- the victim used the product as intended
Personal injury attorneys have several approaches to proving the elements of a strict liability claim. They may introduce expert witnesses to provide testimony on industry safety standards. The victim’s medical records or testimony from a doctor provide evidence that the injury was caused by the product defect.
Contacting a Tampa personal injury lawyer
We recognize that life for accident victims and their families can be especially stressful and challenging. Our staff handles accident cases with compassion, courtesy, and professionalism. Contact our Tampa personal injury lawyer to receive a free case evaluation. We will keep the personal details of your case confidential. If you decide to work with us, you will have peace of mind in knowing we are on your side fighting tirelessly for your rights to the compensation you need and deserve.
How much does a personal injury attorney cost?
At Couture Law P.A. in Melbourne, you won’t pay a penny unless our personal injury lawyers prevail at trial, or procure a settlement on your behalf. This arrangement is commonly referred to as payment “on a contingency basis.” Suffice to say, we’ll help you fight for every dollar for your pain and suffering.
How much time do I have to file an injury lawsuit?
The period of time from the date of the accident until you no longer can file a claim is known as the “statute of limitations.” In Florida, the amount of time in which statutes expire varies by case type. The statute of limitations for most injury cases is four (4) years. For medical malpractice and wrongful death cases, it’s two (2) years. Always err on the side of caution by consulting with your Melbourne personal injury attorney.
Do I have a case?
Because no two cases are alike, Melbourne injury attorneys should gather and analyze all of the facts regarding your case before addressing this question. After tracking down and speaking with witnesses, we’ll give you a fair, honest assessment of your unique situation – and how we can help.