How do I protect my rights after a car accident?

There are few experiences worse than being in a car accident. I know this personally because I’ve been involved in a couple of accidents as a victim of the negligence of the other driver. I’ll never forget that sound of the cars hitting each other- the dull thud followed immediately by the sounds of shattering glass and bending metal. It seems like time slows as you are hyper-aware of what’s happening, checking on your friends and loved ones in the vehicle with you.

The entire event can cause confusion and disorientation as you try to figure out the reality of what’s happening around you. As you gain your senses, there are certain things you need to do – even at the scene of the accident right then and there – in order to protect your rights. This page is a guide to help you do so.

Immediately After the Accident

You probably do not know whether you will be making a claim (or if anyone else will be) immediately after the accident. However, even if you are not seriously injured or do not think you are seriously injured, it is still important to collect key information from the other driver. Regardless of who is at fault (or who you think is at fault) for the accident, you will likely need the following information later for the insurance claims process:

Contact Information

You should obtain the other driver’s name, address, phone number, the name of his or her auto insurance company and the insurance policy number. You should also try to get down the driver’s license information. If the other driver admits that he or she does not have insurance, take note of that as well.

Detailed Accident Information and Evidence

Write down the license plate number and the vehicle identification number (VIN) of each car involved in the accident. The VIN is usually located towards the top/rear of the dashboard behind the steering wheel. You can typically read the VIN through the windshield by the driver’s door.

Also write down the make, model, year and color of the vehicle. Detail what part of the other car came into contact with what part of your vehicle. Note the property damage. If you have a camera (including a cell/mobile phone with a camera), take pictures of the property damage to both cars.

Also take pictures of the surrounding scene of the accident.

Call Law Enforcement

Call law enforcement. Your local police department or the Florida Highway Patrol will send an officer to conduct an investigation. The officer will take statements from the driver, passengers and any witnesses. He or she may collect physical evidence, take notes, and prepare a report.

Call for Medical Assistance, If Necessary

If there are injuries, you may need to call an ambulance for emergency medical care.

Communicating With Others At the Scene

Do not admit fault at the scene. Liability can be established later.

If there are witnesses, write down their contact information.

Within 24 Hours of the Accident

Assuming you are not too injured or impaired to communicate (such as being heavily medicated), you should report the accident to your insurance company within 24 hours of the accident, or otherwise as soon as reasonably possible. Most insurance policies require you to notify them as soon as reasonably possible so they can prepare the claim file and conduct an investigation with prejudice.

Your insurer may cover your rental car, the damage to your vehicle (if you carry collision coverage), and your medical bills under PIP (and Medical Payments coverage if you purchased such MedPay insurance). If you believe the other driver was even partially at fault, and he has insurance, contact his insurance company and open a claim there, as well. Now you have covered all your bases regarding insurance.

PIP Insurance

Florida is a “no fault” accident state. In Florida, some or most of your medical bills will by covered by the Personal Injury Protection, or PIP, coverage under your own insurance policy. You have certain notification requirements under the PIP part of your policy.

The Other Driver May Try to Blame You

Even if you believe the accident was 100% the other driver’s fault, the other driver may try defend himself or herself and claim that the incident was all your fault or that you share blame. In fact, the other driver may make a claim against your insurance. In such an instance, your own insurance might come into play.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage / Underinsured Motorist Coverage

If the other driver has no insurance, then you may have an Uninsured Motorist claim (often referred to as a UM claim) with your own insurance company. If the other driver did not have Bodily Injury (liability) insurance, or has very low coverage limits, then you may have an Underinsured Motorist claim. Note: you can only make a UM claim if you purchased this type of coverage. An uninsured motorist claim with your insurer may cover your medical expenses and wage loss not covered by PIP/MedPay, and pain and suffering.

Within Two Weeks of the Accident and Ongoing

You should have the physical damage to your car examined. You should obtain a repair estimate (perhaps even two), and provide copies of the estimate(s) to each insurance companies.

With respect to your injuries, make sure you save all receipts from your “out of pocket” expenses so you have an itemized “paper trail” to provide to one or all insurance companies when it comes time to try and settle your claim.

If you have to take time off of work as a result of your injuries, be sure to obtain documentation from your doctor or medical provider indicating the need to stay home from work. You should further document when the medical provider issues an authorization to return to work. In addition, document proof from your employer of the time you were away from work and how much you lost in wages.

Also document if you incur any other expenses, such as the cost of medications, co-pays for all medical treatment including physical therapy, transportation, childcare, and more.

Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury Claims in Florida

There is a very important statute or law in Florida called the Statute of Limitations. This provides that you have a period of four years from the date of the accident to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit against the responsible driver and/or owner of the vehicle(s) at fault in the accident. If you were injured in the car wreck and your claim is taking a really long time to settle, either because your treatment is continuing, you have not yet reached “Maximum Medical Improvement”, or the insurance company is simply dragging its feet, it is important not to “blow” the statute of limitations, or you will lose your right to sue.

If you are approaching the four-year time limit, you will need to file a lawsuit in order to protect yourself and your right to make a recovery for your damages. Once you file a proper lawsuit, you do not have to worry about the statute of limitations any longer. You should hire an attorney to represent you and file the complaint for you. Once you hire an attorney, he be your legal advocate from that point forward. An experienced accident attorney should be able to evaluate your case and negotiate a settlement on your behalf.

It can be unsettling to suffer through a car crash and it is difficult to know how to do everything right afterwards so that you do not jeopardize your claim or lawsuit. Many accident victims hire an attorney early on in the process so that they do not make any mistakes. Especially if you’ve suffered moderate to more severe injuries, hiring an attorney from the very beginning is advisable.

It is possible to hire an accident lawyer even if you started the claims process on your own.

More Information

For more information on Florida auto accident claims, click on the following articles:

  • How much can I get for my auto accident injury in Florida? How much is my case worth?
  • Who is responsible if my car is rear-ended in California?
  • How is responsibility in Florida determined after a car crash? Who is at fault?
  • My car was being driven by a relative and was involved in a car crash in Florida. Am I liable for the injuries and damage to the other person if my relative was negligent?
  • The other driver involved in the car accident in Florida had no insurance. Do I have any recourse?
  • I had a car accident in Florida. It was the other driver’s fault. My car was totaled. Yet, the driver’s insurance company will not cover all my costs and damages. What are my options now?

Hiring An Attorney

Dealing with insurance companies after an automobile accident can be a mind-bendingly frustrating process. At the Ortiz Law Firm, we are proud to represent accident victims and their families. Call today for a free case evaluation at 850-308-7833 to discuss your legal rights.