Do I Need an Attorney if I Am in An Accident?

Sometimes in our lives we are suddenly thrust into being a victim of an unfortunate auto accident. It is inconvenient, time-consuming and often overwhelming. Decisions have to me made that can affect you, your family and your finances. One of the most important decisions you will make is whether you need a attorney. If you were not injured in the accident and just have property damage, you probably do not need an attorney and can handle the matter on your own. Most attorneys will not take a property only damage claim. If you are the non-fault party, the other driver’s insurance should cover your property damage claim. If the other driver does not have insurance you can turn it into your insurance carrier if you have collision coverage. If your car is not totaled, take it to where you want it to get it fixed (a dealer or reputable car repair business), and let them deal directly with the insurance company to properly fix your car. If your car is totaled, then get online and try to get a good estimate of the actual cash value or fair market value of the car. Use this amount in your negotiations with the insurance company as it is a good reference point.

If you were injured in an auto accident, it is always wise to consult with an attorney to better understand all your options. In Florida you have to navigate through Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverages as well as whether you can file a lawsuit for non-economic damages. In Florida there is a threshold that must be met before a lawsuit can be filed against the at-fault driver for pain and suffering, mental anguish and inconvenience. You must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
  • Permanent injury with a reasonable degree of medical probability
  • Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
  • Death

It is important to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney about these threshold requirements and if you meet them. Also they can advise you as to what PIP covers. There are also certain accidents that don’t require you to meet the threshold requirement such as if you were operating a motorcycle, in a taxi or on a scooter. Personal injury law can be quite a maze to try to navigate your way through, and this is why an attorney can be so valuable to protect your interests. If a lawsuit is filed, you should always have an attorney. Florida Civil Procedure has certain requirements which if not met can risk your suit being dismissed. A good attorney will take the pressure off of you and allow you to recover, while he or she handles the legal side of the claim. Insurance companies may try to dissuade you from retaining an attorney and try to throw a few dollars at in you exchange for a release of the claim. Be careful as once you sign the release in almost all cases, the claim is gone and cannot be resurrected.

An experienced personal injury attorney will have a good idea as to the value of the case and what would be a fair settlement. Also if the case is litigated, depositions and other discovery is conducted and you want a good attorney handling these matters. It is almost impossible to try to do this on your own. Also if the case is tried in front of a jury, you want a personal injury attorney with trial experience that can tell your story in front of a jury in a compelling and passionate way. There also might be issues of bad faith that may need to be explored depending on the insurance company’s actions.

Florida does have minimum low limits of liability of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per accident. An experienced lawyer will help you find all available forms of insurance and assets so you can be fully compensated. He or she can also advise you if it is worth retaining an attorney if there is only minimum limits of insurance available.

A personal injury attorney should always act in your best interests to help you obtain fair compensation. The fee is contingent so you are not required to come up with a retainer or pay an hour rate. This helps to alleviate any financial burden for the accident as the attorney only gets paid if  he settles your case or gets a verdict for you.

It is always wise to have a personal injury represent your interests if you were injured in an accident. He or she should communicate with you about your case and keep you fully informed as to the progress of your case. You should feel comfortable working together with your attorney as a team and trust that he or she is acting in your best interests. Your attorney should give you a roadmap as to what to expect as the case moves forward and should keep the case moving toward resolution. The court system can be slow, but the attorney should not cause any unnecessary delays due to his or her actions.

Florida personal injury law can be tricky and has many traps for those who do not understand the process. Insurance companies may act like they are your best friend, but they want to settle the case as cheap and quickly as they can. They usually do not have your best interests in mind even though they run many television commercials claiming they do. An experience personal injury lawyer will help you navigate the traps and will represent your interests not the insurance company’s interests. In order to obtain justice in your case, it is always prudent to get an attorney to fight this battle for you. If you have been injured in a trucking, auto or motorcycle crash, call or email Rowe Law Offices for a free consultation as to your rights and remedies. It may be the most important call you can make.

The Smith System for Truck Drivers: Is It Being Followed?

The Smith System states that following these five rules can dramatically reduce the risk of major accidents on highways and roads.

1.   Aim High

The first rule for this method is “Aim high in steering”. Staying alert of the dangers and traffic ahead not only avoids rear-end collisions, but it also alerts other drivers behind your vehicle to slow down. The driver should steer and focus their attention high, so as to view the road as whole and not just a few feet ahead.

2.   The Big Picture

“Be aware of your surroundings at all times” may seem obvious to say, but distracted drivers are just as dangerous as intoxicated ones. Erratic and angry drivers take up a large portion of the traffic we see daily, so avoid major accidents by noticing how other drivers behave on the road. Having the whole picture means that you are doing your part to keep your vehicle as safe as possible while moving 1000ft a second. There are a variety of hazards between your own vehicle and other drivers, and a keen awareness of these dangers will reduce these risks.

3.   Keep Your Eyes Moving

The third standard of the Smith System asks drivers to remain alert. Energy drinks can only do so much before they cause the body to crash, and any repetitive motion sends us into a trance. Consistent eye movement prevents your body from entering the trance state, keeping you alert to every driving condition ahead of you.

4.   Leave Yourself an Out

The fourth principle of the Smith System states to leave yourself a way out. This means ensure that other drivers do not box you in while selecting their lanes. Do not follow other vehicles too closely, and always anticipate what choices other drivers make.

5.   Make Sure They See You

The worst thing a driver can do is assume. Assume other drivers can see them, assume other drivers are not dangerous, or even assume that they will just get to their destination safely. The final rule for the Smith System is “Make Sure You Are Seen”. This rule prevents accidents by removing assumptions made behind the wheel. As a driver, make sure that other drivers can see you and anticipate your move. If you feel you are coming into another driver’s blind spot, use the horn to get their attention.

Florida PIP Law in an Auto Crash Case

Personal Injury Protection, or “No-Fault” car insurance, is mandated by the state of Florida for all drivers to carry. PIP pays for injuries you sustain in an accident regardless of who was at-fault in the accident. Just like other states that mandate PIP however, Florida has its own set of special laws and regulations. Under Florida law it is required that every vehicle owner and driver on the road have $10,000 worth of PIP insurance coverage.PIP benefits are paid by your own insurance company if you are in an accident. Florida PIP covers medical costs, lost wages and death benefits. 19,000 of PIP coverage can be used up quickly so it is important to make sure you have adequate uninsured and underinsured coverage, as many drivers have no insurance or just the minimum coverage of $10,000 per accident.

Medical Costs

Most medical costs will be covered by PIP with the exception of popular, but not widely accepted practices such as acupuncture. In other states, PIP will generally cover the injuries of anyone in your household, but in Florida you can choose whether you want your PIP to cover just yourself or other residents in your household. The following are eligible for a PIP claim:

  • Medical Services and Medication Surgical Services and Hospital Expenses
  • Rehab Costs
  • Diagnostic Services
  • Ambulatory Services

What sets apart Florida from other states is that only 80% of your medical costs will be covered by PIP. So if you have injuries which cost $10,000, PIP will only pay for $8,000 worth of that. Furthermore, if your injury is not considered an emergency, you will actually only be entitled to $2,500 worth of benefits. If you have a good health insurance policy, it should be able to take care of the rest of the costs, but be sure it will cover car accident injuries.

Florida PIP and Economic Benefits

If you are injured in an accident, and are disabled, Florida PIP will pay for 60% of your lost wages, subject to a $10,000 limit. This payment also includes services you would normally do, but now cannot because of the accident. These services include daily chores like doing laundry, cleaning the house, taking care of pets, etc.

Death Benefits of Florida PIP

If the policyholder were killed, PIP would pay for their funeral and burial expenses in addition to the benefits listed above. You, or your next of kin, are entitled to $5,000 for those associated costs.

When and How to File a PIP Claim in Florida

Florida has strict rules to follow when filing a claim for PIP. The most important is that treatment for any injuries must happen within two weeks of the car accident to be eligible for PIP reimbursement. Your claim will not be accepted after 2 weeks. Due to a high incidence of insurance fraud in the state of Florida, your insurer has up to 60 days to investigate your claim for any falsehood, but must pay for your damages within 30 days, even if there is suspicion. If your case is not straightforward, or your insurance company is giving you issues, it may be a good idea to get a personal injury lawyer to ensure you get your payment. In the meantime, you should keep a log of all of your medical expenses following the accident.

For the work loss benefits, you will need to submit a “Wage and Salary” verification that is filled out by your employer. The verification documents your wages in the 13 weeks prior to the accident. A lawyer might help ensure your employer fills out the verification in a timely manner. You may also be required to get a note from your physician detailing how you are disabled.

Florida PIP Law Still Gives You a Right to Sue

No-fault states like Florida institute PIP laws to reduce the amount of people suing each other over damages. Most no-fault states, including Florida, only allow drivers to sue when the injuries are considered severely disfiguring and/or permanent or resulted in death. Florida however, also allows drivers to sue even if the injury is not severe, so long as the medical costs exceed $10,000. So if you are injured in an accident, which results in $20,000 worth of hospital bills, you are allowed to sue the other driver for the remaining $10,000 not covered by your PIP. You may also sue them for any emotional pain and suffering you think the injuries have caused you.

Considering the average hospital stay after an accident is around $60,000 it is probably a good idea to have a good amount of bodily injury liability coverage on your policy. While Florida does not make that coverage mandatory, if you were to get sued for excessive medical costs, the other driver can sue against your bodily injury insurance, rather than you directly.

Why You Should Also Consider Adding Medical Payments Coverage

Medical Payments or MedPay is essentially the same type of insurance as PIP except it does not have economic benefits. It may be worth having on your policy in Florida because the limits are quite low. MedPay can add an extra $5,000 worth of coverage for around $100 per year for our sample 30 year old driver. Additionally, MedPay can also help pay for the 20% of your costs that PIP won’t cover, if your health insurance won’t cover it as well. MedPay can also help pay down the deductible on your PIP.

If you have been injured in a Florida accident, and want to know your legal rights under PIP and compensation for your injuries and pain and suffering, call Rowe Law Offices for a free consultation.

 

5 Things You Must Do if You Are in An Auto Accident in Florida

  • Call police-It is important that the police come out and document the accident and do a report. Do not be fooled into just exchanging information as often the at-fault driver will change his story later to benefit him or her and the insurance company. The officer will document contributing factors to an accident, and the other driver is usually more truthful with the officer at the scene then he or she will be days later. The officer can also talk to important witnesses of the accident that may be hard to track down later. The insurance company has less wiggle room when the investigating officer concludes that their insured was at fault. If you are injured, tell the officer and if necessary ask for an ambulance.
  • Take photographs and document all physical evidence at the scene– This can become very important in the future if the insurance company tries to say you are at fault. Property damage photos of both vehicles and final resting places after impact are important to document. Also take photos of any other evidence at the scene such as tire marks, damaged signs, and debris. If you are in shock and not physically able to do this, it is always a good idea to call a friend or relative to come to the scene and assist you. If the case gets into litigation, this can be critical evidence in proving fault and even damages to a jury.
  • Seek Medical Attention Immediately- Do not delay. In Florida to qualify for PIP (Personal Injury Protection Coverage) you must seek medical care within 14 days of the accident. Often you may feel worse days after the accident, so it is important to have a complete diagnosis of your injuries. This can also help you heal from your injuries and give you a better prognosis on your future health. If there are gaps in medical treatment, the insurance company will not think you are hurt or in pain enough to seek medical treatment, and it could affect the ultimate outcome of your case. There is no reason to delay seeing a doctor or going to a hospital. Let the medical professional determine the nature and extent of your injuries and your need for further medical treatment.
  • Contact your Insurance Company- You need to contact your insurance company immediately and tell them you were in accident even it was not your fault. Also check the declarations page of your policy to determine all coverages you have including medical payments coverage, uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist and PIP coverage. So often people think they have “full coverage” when they do not. It is also important to get insurance information from the other driver. However be careful not to give a statement to the insurance adjuster until you have a chance to talk to an attorney. Adjusters are trained to get you say things that may diminish your injuries and raise issues of fault. Do not sign anything either until you have sought legal advice. You do not want to release your claim prematurely.
  • Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer-it is very important to talk to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Almost all personal injury lawyers will give you a free consultation so you know all of your legal rights. Insurance companies may offer you a few hundred dollars to try to get you to settle your case and sign a release. Do not fall for this tactic. When your injuries are in an acute phase, it is impossible to know the full extent of your injuries and your prognosis for the future. To settle quickly usually invites trouble as once you sign a release, the case is gone. A personal injury lawyer can advise you of the proper steps to take to make sure that you protect yourself and your right to compensation. At Rowe Law Offices, we represent the injured who are trying to put their lives together again. Call Rowe Law Offices for a free consultation to understand all your legal rights and what steps to take to navigate through your personal injury case.

Civil Remedies for the Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world, generating roughly $150.2 billion worldwide (2016 report). According to the Trafficking in Persons Report produced by the State Department, approximately 27 million men, women and children are victims of some form of human trafficking. Florida is one of many states that deals with the horrors of human trafficking. In June, law enforcement officials arrested 85 people in a human trafficking sting operation in the Tampa Bay area. After California and Texas, Florida has the most human trafficking cases in the entire country according to the Human Trafficking Hotline. Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern slavery where human beings are traded for labor through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. The majority of people that become victims of human trafficking are forced into some form of commercial sexual labor like prostitution. It is important to note that people from all walks of life have become victims of human trafficking. While human trafficking and sexual abuse are commonly associated with women that come from disadvantaged communities, both sexes are at risk as well as all sexual orientations, and ages. Victims of sex trafficking are generally young—often underage—and otherwise vulnerable people who have endured months and years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of traffickers and buyers. They may be raped on a daily basis, often in astonishingly cruel, dehumanizing, and sadistic ways. They may turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. They may also be forced by their traffickers to use drugs and alcohol in order to foster dependence and maintain a state of confusion, helplessness, and hopelessness. Usually, by the time law enforcement “rescues” a victim of sex trafficking, the victim has suffered so extensively that the damage is often irreparable. Victims almost always need immediate medical attention and long-term rehabilitation to remedy their physical injuries and weakened conditions. They also generally need years of counseling, and even then prospects for recovery may be limited. Victims enslaved while young face limited career prospects and educational opportunities, and their physical and mental scars may present further roadblocks.

In short, victims need a lot of help in attempting a return to normalcy if such a thing will ever be possible. Is there any civil remedies for the victims of human trafficking? Often the traffickers are judgment proof and low level operatives in a bigger criminal enterprise. Congress has passed federal laws have made it easier for victims to recover from human trafficking offenders through civil suits and expanded the forms of restitution available to victims. In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the first comprehensive law in the United States to penalize the full range of human trafficking offenses. Congress reauthorized the TVPA in 2003, adding a civil cause of action, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1595, allowed trafficking victims to sue their traffickers for money damages in federal court. The new law initially opened the civil courthouse doors to victims of only select violations of the TVPA, but the TVPRA’s reauthorization in 2008 expanded the private right of action to encompass the entire list of anti-trafficking offenses. Federal law permits victims of human trafficking to bring a civil suit against both traffickers and anyone who financially benefited from his or her victimization and knew or should have known the acts were in violation of the law. This could include hotels, banks, and other owners of businesses that knowingly financially benefit and assist human traffickers. Statistics show that hotels and motels were involved in significant amounts of cases of human trafficking and labor exploitation. If a hotel – through an employee – knowingly rents a room to a trafficker (either a “pimp,” or buyer of sex) for the purpose of a commercial sex act, or should have known that it was renting a room to a trafficker for that purpose, the hotel can be held liable for civil damages to the victim. Also some financial institutions are financially benefiting from human trafficking and have failed to do anything to stop it. If these institutions know or choose to ignore clear evidence of human trafficking they could be held civilly liable for damages. Groundbreaking lawsuits have been filed in Texas against hotels and truck stops alleging they have not done enough to prevent the crimes from happening on their property. Florida attempted to give these same remedies to victims of human trafficking under Florida state law under— House Bill 167 and Senate Bill 1044 that would hold business owners liable if they “knowingly or in willfull blindness” facilitate trafficking crimes. Hotels and motels are the biggest targets since the bulk of sex trafficking crimes take place on their properties. The legislation is currently on hold as it has had a strong pushback by the hospitality industry. But there are still civil remedies in federal court for the victims of human trafficking. If you, a family member of friend has been a victim of human trafficking, call Rowe Law Offices to see if you may have a case for civil damages against those who financially benefited from the sexual abuse and trafficking you had to endure. We must all step forward to try to stop this crime against humanity.