Car Accident Lawyer Orlando | Auto Accident Law 101
As an Orlando car accident lawyer, former law professor, and corporate and insurance defense attorney, I regularly litigate accidents ranging from minor fender benders to those that caused life-altering permanent injuries, and even death.
My goal here is to answer some of my clients’ most frequently asked questions. If you read this entire page, the information WILL help you get the most money possible from your accident case. I think any car accident victim should understand the basic law that applies, and how your case might be handled. So, if you have been injured in a car accident anywhere in Florida, I encourage you to read carefully through this page, then call me with your questions.
If you are trying to decide which Orlando car accident lawyer to hire, I strongly encourage you to read more about my background, including my numerous awards for being the best Orlando personal injury lawyer, or just give me a call or text to discuss your case.
What Money Can An Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Help You Recover?
- medical bills related to the accident (past and future);
- lost wages caused by the accident (past and future);
- property damage (including your vehicle and other property); and
- pain and suffering.
An Orlando car accident lawyer never knows the value of any injury case in the beginning There are far too many factors that influence case value to make that prediction early in the process. In general, however, there is often some relationship to incurred medical bills, and pain and suffering value. For example, if you have 5K in medical bills, you probably will get much less for pain and suffering than someone who has 250K in medical bills. Plus, if a doctor says that you are likely to need future care, that would also factor into the equation.
Sometimes, however, medical bills have no bearing whatsoever on the value of pain and suffering. It all just depends. For example, if someone lost their vision from an eye injury, there is very little treatment. Yet that case would have a much higher value than someone who received no treatment for a neck injury. Also, if fault for the accident is unclear or debatable, then pain and suffering will be reduced accordingly. Finally, if the insurance coverage is lower, the case value will be lower.
The bad news is that all medical providers and health insurance companies must be re-paid out of your final settlement (by law). The good news is that we aggressively negotiate those bills with the medical providers, after the cases have settled with the insurance company. We take that job very seriously on every case. And that puts more money in our clients’ pockets.
You might also want to read the top ten ways to get the most money from any car accident case. First and foremost, you need to understand the importance of receiving comprehensive medical treatment, to increase car accident case value.
How Much Can Your Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Recover For Lost Wages?
Lost wages are often a very small part of the equation. But sometimes they can be a huge part of the potential car accident claim. For example, if you were earning $40,000 per year before the accident, but then could not ever work again after the accident, you may have a very substantial wage loss claim. But that depends on many factors. Those factors include:
- your age (near retirement versus in the prime of working life),
- strength of medical evidence supporting the life / work / activity restrictions you claim,
- clarity of proof of income (more difficult for self-employed but not impossible),
- length of time you had worked at that salary in the past (many years on the job beats 3 months),
- strength of evidence that you had no fault in the accident, and
- many other similar factors.
When Should You Hire An Orlando Car Accident Lawyer?
Really, if you have any pain after an accident, you are making a mistake if you do not call an Orlando car accident lawyer. If a lawyer thinks that you do not need them, then you probably don’t. This may be surprising, but car & truck accident lawyers do not accept every case. I certainly do not. If the damage to your vehicle was very minor (like a few scratches on the bumper), the impact was low-speed, or your pain level is low, then you may not be able to find a good Orlando car accident lawyer to take your case. The reason is that the value of those types of cases is typically very low, let’s say $500 or $1000. So lawyer time is not justified in those types of case.
However, if the impact was more significant, and caused persistent pain or serious injury in some area of your body, or the accident was fatal, then you absolutely need to consult with an Orlando car accident lawyer. Insurance companies want to pay you as little as possible. In more serious accident cases, they often become diligent trying to “help” victims by calling frequently. But really they are just trying to get evidence to lower the value of the case.
BIG WARNING: do not talk to adjusters about your case before talking to an Orlando car accident lawyer. And talk to a lawyer fast if serious injuries are involved.
Do You Need An Orlando Car Accident Lawyer If Your Injuries Are Serious Or Catastrophic?
For serious injury cases, you are making a serious mistake if you do not call an Orlando car accident lawyer ASAP. If the vehicle damage is significant, and the injuries are severe, such as broken bones, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, spinal disc injuries, amputations, paralysis, or even death, then you need an Orlando car accident lawyer very quickly. We need to go through a list of evidence gathering steps. We also need to give you instructions regarding how to deal with medical providers, and other people in your life (even your online life!) The reason is that the insurance company will be gathering their own evidence to lower the value of any serious accident case. So we need to make sure we do the same. And I personally guide you through what is often a chaotic mess of dealing with car and health insurance companies, and medical providers. What you say to any of those people, or any other potential witnesses, can hurt your case.
Do You Need A Central Florida Car Or Truck Lawyer If Your Injuries Are Minor?
If your vehicle damage exceeded $1000, and you have persistent but low grade pain, then you still should speak with an Orlando car accident lawyer for a case evaluation. Very often we will take those types of cases, then monitor our client’s medical treatment. The reason is that certain types of serious injuries are not obviously serious in the beginning. For example, if someone has back or neck pain, but does not yet know what is wrong with their back or neck, they might eventually learn that they have herniated discs. Herniated discs are serious injuries. No matter what your injuries, if we are able to accept your case, then we still help you. We will make sure that you get the maximum amount of money for your particular injuries. To help with that goal, I personally advise each of my clients regarding how to deal with their doctors and other medical providers because medical records are extremely important to case value.
What Are Minor Injuries, And What Are They Worth?
What constitutes a minor injury is impossible to know right after an accident. It really depends on your diagnosis, after an MRI, and treatment. If you only have one doctor visit, then you have a no value case. However, if you have neck and back pain after a reasonably hard impact to your car or truck, then you might have disc problems that require surgery. So accidents that seem minor at first can become more significant. Bottom line: if there is vehicle damage exceeding $1K, and fairly significant pain, then we often accept cases, and monitor our client’s medical diagnosis, and treatment. Even less serious (but still permanent) injuries often still have value worth pursuing.
Should You Hire A Florida Car Crash Lawyer If You Only Have Vehicle Damage?
Most Orlando injury & accident lawyers do not handle accident cases involving only vehicle damage (myself included).
Do Orlando Car Accident Lawyers File Lawsuits In Every Case?
But here are the highlights of what you need to know.
By law, we actually cannot file accident lawsuits in every case. The reason is that Florida’s car accident law defines when we can, and can’t, file lawsuits. Florida law says that we can’t file a car accident lawsuit unless a person has a permanent injury. Plus, the time and money required to file lawsuits is only justified if the injuries are more significant.
You can read the law requiring permanent injuries to file a Florida auto accident lawsuit for yourself. But the relevant portion says:
In any action of tort brought against the owner, registrant, operator, or occupant of a motor vehicle . . . a plaintiff may recover damages in tort for pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease . . . only in the event that the injury or disease consists in whole or in part of:
(a) Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
(b) Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
(c) Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
That law is the reason I often tell my new car accident clients: IF you completely recover from your injuries, then your case value will be very low. The reason is because your complete recovery removes any lawsuit threat from the insurance company. Without that being a real threat, Orlando car accident lawyers have very little power. (Note that things like fractures, even if they heal, are still considered permanent injuries.)
What Happens If A Lawsuit Is Not Needed?
If a lawsuit is not justified, then we still gather medical records, create a demand package telling your story (including a detailed letter explaining the impact of the crash, and your treatment), then negotiate with the insurance company “pre-suit.” Because insurance companies know that demand letters from certain law firms include the real threat of a lawsuit, those who hire those law firms often get much higher offers than those who don’t. Beware that some Orlando car accident lawyers never file lawsuits (ever), and insurance companies know this. For those lawyers, and their unfortunate clients, the insurance company pre-suit offers are often lower.
What Types Of Injuries Often Require Lawsuits (Rather Than Just Pre-Suit Settlements With Insurance Companies)?
Injuries justifying lawsuits would include things like:
- Paralysis, quadriplegia, paraplegia
- Burns and scars
- Loss of limbs or digits, amputations
- Spinal cord injuries, bulging discs, or herniated discs
- Head injuries, brain injuries, traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Joint, muscle, back, neck, and bone injuries, including ligament tears, fractures (broken bones), knee, hip or shoulder replacements
- Knee damage
- Whiplash, or soft tissue injuries
- Permanent disability
- Wrongful death
Also, for things like whiplash or joint / muscle injuries, whether a lawsuit is justified depends on the severity and duration of the injury. And also what your doctor thinks about your injuries.
So sometimes a lawsuit is not justified. But sometimes it is essential.
What If A Lawsuit Is Necessary Because Of The Seriousness Of Your Injuries?
This is where WHICH Orlando car accident lawyer you hire really, really matters. And this gets complicated. So bear with me.
As I explained above, some cases do not justify lawsuits. And Florida law doesn’t even allow them, anyway. Florida statutes require that car accident lawsuits involve permanent injuries. So, even if we filed a lawsuit on behalf of someone without a permanent injury, the case would be dismissed. So that would waste everyone’s time.
However, if your case involves more serious injuries, and there is sufficient insurance coverage to pay for your damages, then you absolutely want and need an Orlando car accident lawyer who will file a lawsuit.
Do All Car Accident Law Firms File Lawsuits When Serious Injuries Are Involved?
Beware! There are many, many high volume law firms who will never explain that they will not file a lawsuit for you, even if your injuries are serious. I even found one firm that wrote in their contract that they would never file a lawsuit (I was shocked when I read it.) Some people think not filing a lawsuit is a good thing. But it most certainly is not. In our experience, the highest values for injuries only result from filing a lawsuit, and litigating the case. There is very often a BIG difference in case values between those where a lawsuit was filed, and those where it was not.
(Note: there is a difference between “litigating” and “trial.” Litigating refers to the many steps leading up to a trial, such as both sides collecting records, taking recorded statements called depositions, and talking to witnesses. Trials only happen at the end, in a very small percentage of case, and that’s where the judge and jury hear the evidence, and reach a decision.)
The problem is that some firms are not set up to handle any, or nearly enough, lawsuits that they should because of their high volume approach. You MUST avoid those firms at all costs. Whatever you do, I would strongly encourage that you hire an Orlando car accident lawyer with a low volume approach.
I spoke with one woman recently who told me that she was considering hiring a big named accident law firm because she felt that firm had the resources to “fight a big company.” Please understand: most serious accident lawyers (including myself) have plenty of resources to fight any sized company. I actually work on every case backed by the resources of a slightly larger firm on every case. The resources are unlimited for whatever is needed on any type of injury or accident case.
Is It Enough To Find An Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Who Files Lawsuits?
Even if you find a smaller firm with Orlando car accident lawyers who actually file lawsuits, you also have to watch out for those law firms who never actually take cases to trial. You need to ask: does your law firm ever actually take cases to trial? My rough guess is that 90+% of personal injury lawyers never (ever) actually go to trial. So this is a question very worth asking. I handle every case on a team with other trial lawyers, working on each of my cases, who regularly take cases to trial. Insurance companies know which law firms really will take a case to trial, if needed, and which will not. That real threat makes a big difference in settlement offers.
What If You Do Not Want To Sue Anyone, Or Be Involved In Car Accident Lawsuit?
Sometimes people do not want to file suit because they “don’t want to be that type of person,” or “don’t want to be an ambulance chaser.” I just have to say, again, that lawsuits make a BIG difference in substantial injuries cases. And, almost always, you aren’t seeking anything from the defendant driver. Really we are pursuing a case against their insurance company. I can’t change what I consider the very false perception that lawsuits involve “ambulance chasing.” I can just tell you that all of my clients have been seriously injured as the result of someone else’s carelessness. So I believe that suing that person’s insurance company for the full value of their injuries is completely justified. That is the only way for the person to have all their medical bills paid, and get financial help to put their lives back together after a serious injury.
Other times people do not want to file a lawsuit because of the time involved. We do move along cases in the court system as quickly as possible. But, again, the only way to get the most money possible is to have us fight the insurance companies. Unfortunately, these days, the only thing that makes them act fairly is often a lawsuit, and real threat of trial. Those can take time – on average 2 years, some much longer, some much shorter.
Other times people do not want to file a lawsuit because they live out of state, and do not want to travel. We do everything possible in those cases to minimize travel. Usually your appearance is only necessary twice in the case.
I can explain all of these options further if you want to give me a call, or send me a text.
What Insurance Coverage Is Available?
Whether there is any available insurance coverage, and the amount, are two very important questions for all of our new clients. When a new client first hires us, we never know the amount of possible insurance coverage.
Florida law only requires drivers to carry PIP insurance. PIP is part of Florida’s “no-fault” system. This law was passed many years ago to help reduce the number of lawsuits in Florida. So the idea is that the $10,000 (which is the minimum required PIP coverage in Florida) will be paid regardless of fault. That reduces the number of lawsuits because there is nothing about which to fight. Of course, that amount is also way too little for moderate and serious injury cases – and set many years ago before hospital and medical bills grew to the astronomical price they are today.
Still, it is possible that any Florida driver, including those driving commercial or business vehicles, could only have the 10K in PIP coverage, and nothing else. Anytime that is the case, even though we have already accepted the case, we almost always have to withdraw because we can’t recover any money.
The good news is that many regular drivers have higher (optional) bodily insurance coverage, and many commercial vehicles have 1 million dollar (or higher) policies. We just never know until we request the coverage amount.
What If You Have Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage?
Some Florida drivers have Uninsured / Underinsured Motorist (UM) coverage. If they do, and the at-fault driver has insufficient or non-existent coverage, then we pursue a claim against the UM carrier.
Also, if you purchased bodily injury coverage (which pays for damage you might cause to someone else’s vehicle), then your insurance company was required to offer you UM coverage. They also must have your signature on file, declining that coverage. So, if you do not have UM coverage, but you have bodily injury coverage, then one question is whether you properly rejected UM coverage.
Beware – your UM carrier is no more your friend than the at-fault driver’s carrier – so I strongly advise against speaking with the adjuster before you call an Orlando car accident lawyer. On the other hand, with your own policy, you are required to report the accident on a timely basis (often within 30 days but that can vary by policy). If you choose to report the accident yourself, do not talk AT ALL about how the accident happened, how you are feeling, what you are doing that day, or any other small talk. You should only say that you are reporting the accident, and will have your lawyer contact them. They very well may harass you. Don’t worry. Regardless of what they say, you owe them nothing other than reporting the accident. They often give false deadlines and official requests to complete documents, or give statements. You can safely ignore those *if* you hire an Orlando car accident lawyer right away. If you do not, you are required to cooperate with your own insurance company (including giving information, statements, documents, etc.) But you should hire an Orlando car accident lawyer to help deal with those interactions. The reason is that they want to get information to pay you less money. That is their only goal with statements and requests for information.
You are never required to cooperate with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You can and should completely ignore them until you hire an Orlando personal injury lawyer.
How Long Does An Orlando Car Accident Lawsuit Last?
When you first hire us, we never want to start negotiations with an insurance company, or file a lawsuit, until your treatment has progressed to maximum medical improvement (MMI). That’s an opinion your doctor gives that he has done everything he can to help you, and you are not likely to improve further. That often takes time.
If your injuries do not justify a lawsuit, then the process make take a year or so, depending on how much treatment you receive. If we have to file a lawsuit, then the process can take a couple of years, or more. More serious injuries often justify longer lawsuits, unless (and this is a biggie) the policy limits are low enough that the injured person quickly reaches the policy limits in treatment. So there are many variables. But the typical time for recovery ranges from a few months (best case) to a few years. Although the delay is frustrating, it is often worth it in the end. You do not want to rush your case.
Why Is It Important Not To Rush The Process?
It is very important that we not rush the legal process, although some law firms do. You will recover the most if we wait until you have recovered as much as possible. The reason is that your medical bills will be higher – and your pain and suffering very often bears some relation to your medical bills. Plus, you cannot receive the same amount for future necessary medical care, as for past already received medical care. For example, if a doctor says you need surgery, you will get far less money in settlement if you do not have the surgery, than if you do. The reason is that many people have doctors recommend surgery who never go through with the surgery.
What Is The Time Limit For Filing An Car Accident Lawsuit?
The Florida statute of limitations (or deadline for filing a car accident lawsuit) is four years. However, sometimes an out-of-state insurance policy is involved. In those cases, the insurance contract may say that the law from the other state applies. If that is true, it is possible that the statute of limitations from the other state would apply. I’ve seen those as short as one year. But you need to go through treatment and other pre-suit preparation before filing suit (with instructions from an Orlando car accident lawyer). So it is imperative that you call an lawyer quickly. They need to request, read, and analyze all potentially applicable insurance policies, as quickly as possible. It is very common for more than one policy to apply to any lawsuit. This sometimes happens when there is more than one driver who contributed to the cause of the crash, or with your own uninsured motorist coverage.
Are There Other Important Deadlines?
Besides the statute of limitations, there are many other important legal and practical deadlines. In Florida, you must receive treatment within 14 days from a doctor or chiropractor to receive PIP benefits. This law is being challenged, but true at the time of this writing. However, you can still pursue bodily injury coverage benefits, even if you missed the 14 day deadline.
As a practical matter, getting treatment faster is much better for your case. The best case is transport by ambulance, or immediate treatment by the ER. If that didn’t happen, then seeing some doctor as soon as possible is still very important. This is urgent. Many insurance companies make settlement much more difficult if the injured person didn’t receive treatment within 72 hours. But, again, offsetting factors or explanations can change everything (for example, if the person were injured, then was leaving the next day for their honeymoon in a foreign country).
Also, in catastrophic and the most serious accident cases, analyzing and, if needed, collecting important evidence can be a very time sensitive issue. Hours matter. Days matter more. And on and on.
Who Pays Your Medical Bills After An Accident?
In Florida, if you have the legally required PIP coverage, then your PIP carrier will cover 80% of your medical bills, up to the maximum of $10,000. Your health insurance carrier will pay the final 20%. After $10,000, your health insurance carrier will pay the remainder, until we settle the case. Once we have a settlement, we have to pay back your health insurance company (from your settlement), before we pay you.
What If You Do Not Have Health Insurance?
This can be an easy or difficult situation, depending. Good doctors regularly treat accident victims on credit for Orlando car accident lawyers. In those cases, lawyers sign something called a “letter of protection” – which is essentially a letter saying that the lawyer will re-pay the doctor from any settlement proceeds. If the defendant has enough insurance coverage to pay for any needed treatment, then there are no problems. However, if the defendant has more limited coverage, let’s say $25,000 or $50,000, and the client needs expensive surgery (let’s say a surgery that costs over $100,000), then the doctors will not perform those surgeries on credit. The doctors will not provide treatment if they are unlikely to get paid. So, if someone needs surgery, I always hope and pray that there will be enough coverage to pay their medical bills, and put money in their pocket for pain and suffering.
How Much Do Doctors Receive From Orlando Car Accident Settlements?
Not everyone realizes that all medical providers and health insurance companies must be re-paid for any treatment they provided before car accident victims get any money. In other words, if you receive a settlement, an Orlando car accident lawyer must first pay back your medical providers or health insurance companies, before they pay you. This is a legal requirement.
Often Orlando Car Accident Lawyers Can Substantially Reduce Your Medical Bills
Often Orlando car accident attorneys are able to clear ALL accident related medical bills for deeply discounted rates, depending on the amount of coverage. In other words, even if the total available insurance coverage is too low, your car accident lawyer may be able to get rid of those bills through post-settlement negotiations with your medical provider. Your injury lawyer should be able to explain the likelihood of successfully getting rid of those bills after any accident.
How Can You Pay Your Medical Bills If The At-Fault Driver Has No Auto Insurance?
If the at-fault driver has no insurance coverage available, or extremely low policy limits, then it may not be possible to pay your necessary medical bills.
To be sure, first we would want to make sure you have no uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage on your own insurance policy (also known as “UM” coverage). If you have UM coverage through any vehicle in your household, then we negotiate with your insurance carrier to collect your damages from the accident.
However, if both you and the at-fault driver have no coverage, then usually a car accident lawyer cannot help you. But you still need your medical bills paid.
These are the options for receiving medical care after an accident with no insurance coverage:
First you should quickly try to buy health insurance, if at all possible. Purchasing insurance under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is one option. But that program only has “open enrollment,” which is the only time you can buy their health insurance, once each year.
(Usually the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period runs from sometime in November to sometime in late January or early February each year. However, if you were injured without insurance outside of the open enrollment period, then you still might be able to delay the most expensive treatment, like needed surgery, until the open enrollment period begins.)
Or you could try to purchase health insurance through your employer.
Or you could try negotiating directly with hospitals or other medical providers for very low cost payment plans. Some hospitals also provide discounted care for certain services. You can see an example of that type of program here.
Or, at least in Orlando, one last resort option is to visit one of the few non-profit medical clinics for the uninsured. Orange county has something known as “PCAN” and St. Lukes Church operates Shepherd’s Hope. Those clinics typically cannot provide surgery. And they often have long wait times. But they are an option if you need medical care, and have no where else to turn. (If you live in a different city, then you might find similar organizations by contacting non-profit organizations that help those in need, and asking about free medical clinics.)
What If The At-Fault Driver Has Auto Insurance, But You Do Not Have Health Insurance?
As I explained above, if you have PIP insurance (and most Florida drivers do, since it’s required by law), then your PIP carrier will pay 80% of the first 10K of your medical bills.
But many people often wonder: who pays the remaining 20%? And what happens after that 10K runs out?
The answer depends on whether you have health insurance.
If you have health insurance, then your health insurance carrier should pay the remaining 20% until PIP is exhausted, then they pay 100% of anything over 10K, until your case is resolved. (Once your case is resolved, we have to pay back your health insurance carrier. However, unless you have something (relatively uncommon) known as an ERISA health insurance policy, then we often can negotiate much lower pay back rates with your health insurance company. We definitely consider these negotiations “step 2” after we have resolved your accident case with the at-fault driver — and this work puts more money in your pocket.
If You Do Not Have Health Insurance, Are There Any Downsides To Getting Treatment On Credit (Via “LOP”)?
If you do not have health insurance to cover the additional 20% + any amount over 10K, as explained above, many car accident lawyers are networked with doctors who will provide medical treatment on credit, under what is called a “Letter of Protection” (“LOP.”) These often will allow accident victims to get treatment even without health insurance, until their auto accident case is resolved.
But there are a couple of downsides to using an LOP.
Those include: (1) paybacks on LOPs may be higher than with health insurance; (2) doctors will not provide more expensive treatments unless there is plenty of coverage on the underlying policy; and (3) accident lawyers cannot guarantee that you will not have to pay back these bills, if your case is not resolved in your favor (most doctors who work on LOP work with patients in this situation, and some never attempt to collect, but this risk always exists).
However, if you need treatment, and have no health insurance, then this option beats not getting medical treatment.
One important thing to remember, when trying to decide whether to use an LOP, is that Orlando car accident lawyers need evidence of ongoing medical treatment to maximize case value. Also, a recommended treatment has FAR less value than a completed treatment. For example, if your doctor recommends surgery, then the case will have a MUCH higher value if you actually go through with the surgery, rather than just having a record of a recommendation. So these LOPs can affect your ability to get well (through needed treatment), but also your accident case value.
Can You Reduce The Amount You Have To Pay Medical Providers & Health Insurance Companies?
One big way that we help with getting our clients more money is that we aggressively negotiate with medical providers & health insurance companies to reduce our clients’ medical bills. That being said, negotiating is more difficult with letters of protection, and easier with health insurance. So even purchasing your own health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) can make a lot of sense if you were involved in a serious Orlando car accident, and do not have health insurance. If that is not possible, then you have to decide whether you want the treatment enough to pay the doctor on the letter of protection at the end of your case. The real catch-22 is that we can’t recover anywhere near as much money if you do not receive recommended treatment.
So, again, if a client doesn’t have health insurance, then we hope there is plenty of coverage. If there isn’t, we encourage clients to try any way possible to purchase health insurance, even just long enough to get the needed treatment. If that isn’t possible, then clients have to decide whether they want the treatment more than they want to receive money at the end of the case. And there still must be enough to cover whatever treatment is needed.
If you would like to speak with me about your auto accident case, please give me a call or text today.