In the United States, about a hundred people die in car accidents every day, while thousands are seriously injured. Sometimes, the accident is nobody’s fault. Usually, however, an accident was primarily caused by at least one person.
How do you compensate victims when someone is at fault? Although different states take different approaches, they can be divided into two major divisions: no-fault states and at-fault states. Most states are at-fault states. About a dozen states, including Florida, are no-fault states. Nevertheless, even no-fault states shift into an at-fault mode in the event of a serious injury.
Florida’s “No-Fault” Auto Accident Insurance
If you suffer a car accident that is someone else’s fault in a “no-fault” state, you can’t sue the at-fault driver by default (though you can if the accident was especially serious, as discussed below).
Instead, you must look to your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, a mandatory form of auto accident insurance that all Florida drivers must purchase. This rule applies even if you are a passenger suing the driver of the car you were in, as long as you have PIP. The advantage is you can receive PIP benefits even if you were at fault.
There is a problem with relying on PIP insurance—you can only seek compensation for economic damages. Non-economic damages such as “pain and suffering” damages are not included. This limitation is significant because non-economic damages often account for the lion’s share of the value of a claim.
Florida’s Mandatory Minimum Auto Accident Insurance Requirements
Florida law requires most drivers to carry the following minimum auto insurance:
- $10,000 in PIP insurance; and
- $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) insurance.
Note that property damage claims are not part of Florida’s no-fault systems. Because of this, you can file an immediate claim against an at-fault driver or their PDL insurance for property damage.
“Serious” Injuries Under Florida Personal Injury Law
If your injuries are serious enough, you can escape Florida’s restrictive no-fault system, file a personal injury lawsuit, and seek non-economic damages. You might even win punitive damages. The disadvantage is that you must prove that (i) your injuries were “serious” as Florida law defines that term and that (ii) the defendant was at fault for the accident.
So what is a “serious” injury? Well, under Florida personal injury law, your injuries are “serious” if:
- You die (and your estate executor is filing a wrongful death claim);
- You suffer the “significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function”; or
- Your injuries are permanent (including scarring and disfigurement).
In other words, once you prove your injuries meet the “serious” threshold, Florida suddenly becomes an “at-fault” state, at least for you. There is another potential problem, however. Since Florida does not require most of its drivers to purchase bodily injury liability insurance, even if you sue the at-fault driver, they might lack the financial resources to pay a judgment.
How “At-Fault” States Apportion Compensation
Different states apply different laws to auto accident compensation. As a generalization, however, at-fault states administer their auto accident compensation systems fairly simply. In most states, you can file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver regardless of how serious the crash (and your injuries) are.
How Comparative Fault Affects the Outcome in Florida
The principle of comparative fault aims to distribute liability fairly when more than one party is to blame for an accident. Although the various states apply more than one form of comparative fault, all of them share one feature in common: a court assigns each party a specific numerical percentage of fault.
Of course, this system does not apply in no-fault accidents. It only matters when injuries are serious enough to invoke the at-fault system, or when the state itself applies an “at-fault” system.
Recent Changes in Florida Personal Injury Law
In March 2023, Florida abandoned its “pure comparative fault” system in favor of a modified comparative fault system. Under Florida’s modified comparative fault system, any party more than 50% responsible for an accident is ineligible for compensation. Any party 50% or less responsible, by contrast, will lose a percentage of their compensation that exactly corresponds with their percentage of fault—40%, for example.
Let a St. Petersburg Car Accident Lawyer Sort It Out
What’s the difference between 35% at fault and 40% at fault? It could be several thousand dollars. What’s the difference between 50% at fault and 55% at fault?
In Florida, it’s the difference between 50% compensation and no compensation at all. It might come down to the skill of your lawyer. If you have a claim that is worth a significant sum of money, hire a lawyer.
Since most car accident lawyers in St. Petersburg work on a contingency fee, you only pay if you get compensation. Contact the car accident lawyers at Lopez Law Group Accident Injury Attorneys to schedule your free case evaluation today, just give us a call at (727) 933-0015.