Guide to Florida Personal Injury Law

What is a ‘Personal Injury?’

Many people have no doubt heard the term ‘personal injury’ used before in the legal context, but what exactly does it mean? A personal injury is any kind of harmful action or infliction caused by a person or organization to another individual’s body. This does include all of physical, psychological, and emotional damages done to a person, however it does not extend to the property of the person. Damages to property or possessions fall under a different category, but if the harm is done specifically to an individual’s body, mind, or emotional being, it can be considered a personal injury. Note that malice or intent is not a requirement of a personal injury; even if the injury itself was an accident, it is still applies.

By extension, a personal injury lawsuit is one in which someone who is the victim of a personal injury files a case against the perpetrator of the injury. This is done to seek restitution for the injuries that were inflicted and, in some cases, to help that individual cover medical expenses that may have arisen as a necessary part of the treatment of the injury. The most common kinds of personal injury cases are those resulting from accidental situations, such as automobile accidents, tripping accidents, and work-related injuries not covered under workers’ compensation, but assault cases can apply as well if criminal charges aren’t filed.

First Steps After an Injury

If you find yourself the victim of a personal injury case, the very first thing you should do, after seeking emergency medical attention of course, is to record as much information as possible about the incident. A police report is usually the most important piece of evidence in any personal injury legal case, so obtaining this should be a priority. Besides just that however, pictures of the accident, statements from witnesses or both parties, and anything else that is tangible, will help your case later on.

It is also important to keep excellent track of all medical visits, procedures, and medication that is required as a result of the treatment of the injury. When filing a personal injury case, you are often seeking an amount that is equivalent or greater to medical expenses and having a record of treatments will help pin down this number and give credence to the existence of the injury. When in doubt, write it down, because more information is always best and options are always good to have. More information will give you more options and increase the chances of you winning your personal injury case down the line.

How Serious Does an Injury Have to Be for a Case?

When you think of individuals filing for a personal injury case, you may be thinking that an injury must be major in order for it to qualify. That is not necessarily true, however. An injury doesn’t have to be serious in order to justify the filing for a personal injury lawsuit. Obviously, serious injuries, such as those warranting lengthy hospital stays or months of treatment, do indeed qualify and will grant the highest amounts of restitution if the case is won, but they are not alone.

The only qualification, as far as severity goes, for there to be grounds for a personal injury case is that some form of medical treatment was necessary. Whether it was a single visit to a doctor or chiropractor or a year of physical therapy, if you have been injured by another party, you are able to file a case against that person or organization in order to be compensated for those medical expenses. In rare instances, harm that has not received medical attention may qualify, but these are handled case by case and often have minimal chances of success. When in doubt, always consult with an attorney to see if your situations meets these and all other requirements.

Deadlines for Filing a Personal Injury Case in Florida

As with all kinds of legal action, there are deadlines when when you can file for a personal injury case against another individual or organization. This is known as the statute of limitation and means that after a certain amount of time, that particular incident cannot be taken action against in either a criminal or civil court. For personal injury cases in Florida, the statute of limitation is four years. This means that you have four years from the time of the incident to file a personal injury lawsuit.

The primary reason for having such a late deadline for a personal injury is because the effects of an accident or situation may not be apparent right away. For example, following a car accident, whiplash and other conditions do not manifest themselves until days afterwards. You may not realize that you have been affected by a medical malpractice case until details come out down the line. Four years gives the injured party plenty of time to gather information and come forward regarding the accident and begin the process of a personal injury case.

How to Tell Whether You Have a Case

Following a difficult incident, it can be sometimes confusing to determine whether or not you have grounds for a personal injury case. While unusual circumstances can and do arise, and you should always consult with an attorney if there is any doubt, there are three main criteria to determine whether or not you have a case. The first is whether or not a personal injury was suffered. This may seem obvious, but it is important to note because it does not include damages to property. For example, if you were hurt, either physically or psychologically in a car accident, there was a personal injury. If the car was damaged and you were not, there is not a case.

The second criteria is that the injury must have been a result of negligence of another person or organization. This means that another must be at fault and have caused the incident, not simply your own clumsiness or carelessness. Finally, there must be recoverable damages that are being sought to be compensated for. If you were injured but there was no medical treatment, there is no case, however if you did seek medical attention and there was a cost involved, there is. Again these are guidelines, but they are requirements for all personal injury cases in Florida.

Florida Serious Injuries Threshold

Although all injuries that meet the aforementioned, necessary requirements qualify for a personal injury case, there are certain kinds of injuries that grant a higher tier of restitution that can be gained. These are known as serious injuries and have specific criteria, called the serious injuries threshold, that make them as such. Although the definition of a serious injury can vary by state, in Florida there are clearly defined rules for the threshold and only one of these must be met, although more than one may apply.

The first condition is if there is significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, such as eyesight or hearing. Similarly, if there is permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement. This may include being paralyzed in a limb, for example. Thirdly, an injury is considered serious is there is significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, most commonly burns or amputations. Finally, if an individual died in an accident, his or her successors may seek restitution in a personal injury case and this would qualify as serious. Again, if one or more of these conditions are met, the injury is considered serious in the state of Florida.

Florida No Fault Law Explained

In the state of Florida, we have a law in place that alters the normal treatment of personal injury cases for automobile accidents. This law, known as the No Fault law, states that no matter who is at fault in an automobile accident, the insurance company of each respective injured party must pay for the costs of the medical treatment for that injury. This is different than in most states where the at-fault driver’s insurance company must pay for the injuries of both.

Due to this law, each driver in Florida must contain personal injury protection (PIP) coverage as part of their car insurance plan. In the event of an accident, or more specifically, an injury caused as the result of an accident, this clause would kick in and pay those medical costs. Additionally, each driver would not be able to file a personal injury claim against the other. The exception to that is if the injury was of a serious nature, in which a personal injury claim would be appropriate.

Categories of Serious Injuries in Florida

Understanding what constitutes a serious injury is important in Florida because these kinds of injuries bypass the No Fault Law and allow the injured individual to file a personal injury lawsuit. How does the State of Florida quantify what is a serious injury and what categories are there?

The first category of serious injury in Florida is that which causes significant or permanent loss of bodily functions, such as eyesight or hearing. Similarly, any permanent injury, disfigurement, dismemberment, or scarring would qualify as a serious injury. Note that these are all within a reasonable degree of medical probability. Finally, if an individual is killed in an accident, his or her next successor would be eligible to file a personal injury suit to help cover funeral and burial expenses.

All of these conditions exempt a personal injury from the No Fault Law, but when in doubt, it is always best to consult with an attorney who is an expert on the subject.

Who Decides if the Injury is Serious Enough?

Even if you, as the injured party, are reasonably sure that your injury falls under the serious category for the sake of filing a personal injury case, that assessment does not fall to you. Rather, it is the insurance adjuster that makes the determination about the severity of an injury and therefore how it should be handled. Moreover, it is almost always the insurance company of the party being sued that will try to determine if an injury is serious enough.

For example, if you are filing a case against a doctor for medical malpractice, it is the malpractice insurance adjuster that will be reviewing the case. Unfortunately, insurance companies will do everything they can to pay minimally the person filing the case. As such, and fortunately for the injured person, the adjust does not necessarily get the final say. If you believe that the insurance company made an unfair assessment, you can fight it in court and a judge will make the determination, including how much should be paid out. When going through this process, it is always best to have an attorney on your side that can guide you.

What Kinds of Damages Can an Injury Lawsuit Cover?

A personal injury lawsuit is meant to assist a person who was harmed by another person or organization’s negligence. In doing so, the main purpose is to receive compensation for damages caused by the incident. Exactly what kinds of damages can an injury lawsuit cover? Broadly, these cases are meant to cover medical expenses and pain and suffering losses.

Medical expenses are the easier to quantify of the two because they have a tangible number. Any kind of treatment, including doctor’s visits, therapy, procedures, and medication, that is related to the injury falls under this category and should always be part of the restitution dispensed as a result of the personal injury suit. Pain and suffering losses are much harder to put a number to, but each court of law has an assessment scale for what it should be. This category includes intangible damages that the injured person suffered and aims to compensate them for what they had to go through as a result of the injury. Note that this varies on a case by case basis and some personal injury cases may not even qualify.

How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take to Settle?

Each personal injury case is different and therefore it is nearly impossible to give an exact figure on how long a personal injury lawsuit could take to settle. There are many factors that go into this question and various stages to the process of filing and going through a personal injury case that could either shorten or drag out the completion of a case. The severity of the injury, amount of required medical treatment, pushback from the injuring party, and amount of documented evidence all play a role.

As a rule of thumb, however, most personal injury cases take at minimum six months to resolve for the most simple of cases. The majority of cases take a year or longer, with a good amount lasting two or three years. To speed up the process, be sure to document all medical treatments and be on top of submitting all documentation to court in a timely manner. Additionally, a good attorney will help you stay on track and advise on how to best proceed in your case, so having one on your side is a valuable asset for completing a personal injury case both quickly and with the best chance of success.

Is It Possible to Receive Backpay for Missed Days of Work?

Sometimes, in the time following the infliction of a personal injury, you may be forced to miss time from work. If it is only a part of a day for a doctor’s appointment, it might not be a big deal, but what if you have to miss weeks to recover from the injury? The wages that are lost as a result can be very detrimental to the financial well being of anyone suffering from a personal injury, particularly because the medical bills will still keep coming.

Thankfully, it is possible to receive backpay for missed days of work if the work was indeed missed due to the personal injury related to the case. When filing for this kind of case, you would be eligible to obtain an amount related to your normal pay, even if you could have taken sick leave or vacation time. The caveat to that is that the amount may not necessarily be equal to your normal salary, but it is usually fairly close and therefore majorly beneficial to anyone forced to miss work time to tend to a personal injury.

What if More Than One Person Is to Blame for Your Injury?

When most people think about personal injury lawsuits, they tend to think of automobile accidents. Although this is one of the most common kinds of personal injury cases, it is almost always against a single person, the driver. What would happen if there was a personal injury circumstance where more than one person was to blame? Would you still be able to file a personal injury lawsuit?

There are numerous kinds of situations where multiple people or an organization was to blame for the infliction of a personal injury and the answer is that yes, you can still file a personal injury lawsuit against them. If it is simply a group of individual people, you would file the case against each of them collectively. If a company or organization was to blame for the injury, then you would file it against that entity just the same as you would against a single person. There are no special restrictions against filing against multiple people for the same injury, provided that you can indeed prove that it was a group effort. Proving this is a court of law, unless it is against a corporate entity, can sometimes be difficult, but with the right attorney, it can be done.

What if Your Injury is Caused by a Product?

There are situations that may arise in which an injury is caused not by an individual or group, but by a product. This could either be caused by the product being unsafe, by there not being sufficient warning labels or instructions on the product, or the mishandling of the product by the retailer that led to the product being harmful. In any of these cases, if you are injured by a product, it is certainly within your rights to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Who would the suit be against? Depending on how exactly the product was harmful, it could be either against the producer, the distributor, the retailer, or the manufacturer of the specific component of the product. It also depends on if the harmfulness of the product was caused by negligence or the plain defectiveness of the product. Typically, the burden of proof falls on the defendant, not the accuser, in these kinds of situations, but it is still recommended to consult with an attorney to determine who to best target and what the best strategy for winning the case would be.

What If You are Partially to Blame for Your Injury?

In the most clear-cut personal injury case, there is a single person or party responsible for the injury and an injured person who is suing them for that. There are some cases, however, that are not so black and white and may have elements of both parties being at least partially to blame for the injury. Blame, the layman’s term, is synonymous with negligence, the legal term that describes that someone was careless and this led to the injury.

For example, let’s say that a person was jaywalking and hit by a car in which the driver was drunk. Driving under the influence is certainly negligent and that person would normally be the only negligent party, but jaywalking is also negligent since it is also illegal. In this case, and in others like them, the injured person can still file a personal injury suit against the driver, however not for a full amount. For partial blame cases, negligence is broken up, by the judge in percentages and the person filing the suit can only hope to win the percentage of restitution equivalent to that number. Note that these are often handled on a case by case basis.

How Do You File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Florida?

The first, albeit not completely necessary, step in filing a personal injury lawsuit is to schedule a consultation with an attorney. An experienced attorney will know exactly how to guide you throughout the rest of the process and offer advice on how to best win your individual case. He or she will usually begin by gathering all information relevant to your case and then send a letter to the target of the suit to see if they want to settle before the case begins. If they refuse, then the suit is necessary and it is time to begin the actual filing process.

You can file a lawsuit with any state court, preferably one in the district you live in. Once filed, mediation is the first step to prevent the case from going to a full trial. The judge will set up this appointment with you and the other party, but if negotiations are impossible, then it will go to trial. Again, it is always best practice to have an attorney on your side to guide you through this process, as, once it begins, it can be somewhat confusing.

Are There Damage Caps in Personal Injury Cases in Florida?

Personal injury lawsuits are meant to help injured people recover all of the funding that they need to compensate for the medical expenses of the injury, and normally this is certainly the case. That being said, there are certain kinds of personal injury cases that, according to Florida law, have damage caps to them. This means that, under these circumstances, there is a limit to how much can be paid out as a result of the personal injury lawsuit. In Florida, there are only damage caps on medical malpractice cases and punitive damages.

In medical malpractice lawsuits, the damage cap is set at $500,000 unless the medical professional is not considered a practitioner, in which case it is instead $750,000. This does not include compensatory damages, such as lost income or other economic hardships. Punitive damage is the extra “fee” that a judge will tag on to a personal injury lawsuit that the one filing the suit may not have necessarily asked for. These aren’t done in common scenarios, but are sometimes in cases of serious or egregious behavior. The damage cap for this sits at either three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.

What If I’m not Insured and I get Injured?

In Florida, there are specific guidelines governing automobile insurance and personal injury cases. As noted earlier, Florida is a no fault state, which means that that personal injury protection is built into most auto insurance policies. What happens if you do not have insurance though and are injured in an auto accident?

Although there are no special penalties, if you are injured in an accident and do not have insurance, you must pay for all medical expenses out of pocket. Due to the no fault law, you may not file a suit against the other driver because normally that funding is supposed to come from your insurance company. There is one type of exception to this rule, however, and that is that if the injury is of a serious nature, you may then file a personal injury lawsuit, regardless if you have insurance or not. Based on these guidelines, it is highly recommended that you do carry auto insurance to prevent this kind of situation from happening.

Can I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against the Government?

It is fairly well known that you can file a personal injury lawsuit against another individual or a company or organization, but can you file a case against the federal government? The answer is that yes, you are free to file against a government employee or, if appropriate, agency, the same way that you would file against anyone else. There are certain filing deadlines and damage caps that apply, since they involve the federal government and do not necessarily have to be in line with individual state laws, however if the requirements are met, then the process for going through the case is more or less the same. Since the filing process is a little different for the federal government, it is always advisable to consult with an attorney before doing so to help you stay in line and give you your best chance of winning the case.

The same applies for state governments as well. If you were injured by a state employee or agency, you are similarly free to file a personal injury lawsuit against them as well. These claims do tend to adhere to normal state laws, so there is typically less complication with the process itself.

Conclusion

Any time that you or someone you know is the victim of injury at the hands of and due to the carelessness of another person or individual, you have it completely within your rights to file a personal injury lawsuit against them. In Florida, there are some regulations about filing only under serious circumstances, but it is always best to acquire as much information about how to proceed with the lawsuit before filing. Going through this kind of lawsuit while at the same time also recovering from the injury itself can be difficult, especially if the process becomes drawn out.

Thankfully, you never have to go through a personal injury lawsuit alone. At the Franco Law Firm, we are well-versed in all kinds of personal injury law in the state of Florida and we have helped many people throughout Tampa Bay and beyond fight for their right to compensation and win their case. We would be happy and honored to help you through your case as well, so if you would like to schedule a consultation with us today, the first meeting is always free. To schedule an appointment for this or to learn more about personal injury law and procedures, please feel free to call us any time at (813) 872-0929.