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5 Must-Know Facts About Florida Personal Injury Law

Florida personal injury law explained by Fort Myers injury law firm

The first introduction many people have to Florida personal injury law is when they find themselves injured and in need of an attorney or being sued. Especially for an injured party emerging from the traumatic fog of that experience and still healing, it can feel overwhelming trying to follow along with the intricacies of the vocabulary, statutes, timelines, court procedures, etc.

Here, our Fort Myers personal injury lawyers offer up 6 facts about Florida personal injury law that we find are most relevant to the plaintiffs, who are our clients in these cases.

1. No-Fault Laws Don’t Absolve Anyone From Liability in a Car Accident.

There’s a common misconception that Florida’s no-fault car insurance law, F.S. 627.736, means that there is no finding of fault in car accident cases. This is false. What is true is that with the personal injury protection (PIP) coverage that is required of all registered vehicles in Florida, up to $10,000 in damages can be paid to the policyholder for things like medical bills and lost wages – and this is paid regardless of fault. However, as you likely already know, $10,000 is nowhere near enough to cover one’s losses in a crash, especially if the injuries are serious.

According to the National Safety Council, the average economic cost of a disabling car accident in 2021 is $155,000. That includes wage and productivity losses, medical expenses, property damage, and uninsured costs for employers. The average cost of a fatal crash is $1.8 million. Even in cases where injury is “possible but not evident,” the cost was $24,000 – 150% more than what PIP covers.

Florida’s no-fault law just means you need to go to your PIP insurer first. If your injuries meet the “serious injury threshold,” you can step outside of that system and take legal action against the at-fault drivers.

2. Florida Now has a 2-Year Statute of Limitations.

Up until 2023, Florida personal injury law allowed up to 4 years in which to file most kinds of claims. However, lawmakers have reduced that by half. With rare exception, you now only have 2 years in which to file your claim. That might seem like a long time, but most claims start with insurer negotiations. It’s only when those fail that cases get filed in court. The new law shortens the amount of time an attorney has to investigate the case, engage in negotiations, consider whether defense settlement offers are fair and thorough, and/or file a lawsuit, if necessary. The shorter timeline means prospective plaintiffs need to start calling attorneys soon as they have even the slightest inkling they might want to file a claim. This will provide a better sense of the sort of deadline you have – and what needs to happen before you can file.

3. Florida Uses Modified Comparative Negligence Rules.

Comparative negligence is the term used to refer to a scenario where both the plaintiff and the defendant share fault. In some states, if the person who wants to sue shared any part of the blame, they can’t sue at all. Other states allow plaintiffs who are partially at fault to sue – but the amount they can win is proportionately reduced.

Florida had very broad comparative negligence laws – until 2023. It used to be that a plaintiff could be 99% to blame and still sue for the other 1%. Tort reform advocates argued this led to frivolous litigation. The reality is that a 99/1 outcome is such an undesirable outcome as to be a significant deterrent in itself. An injury attorney’s fees are paid out of whatever the plaintiff wins (usually around a 30% cut). If you file a claim for $100,000, put in all the work a case of that significance requires and are found 90% liable, it’s hardly worth it for the plaintiff or the lawyer.

But now, if you are found 51+% at fault, your case is completely barred. This is not just a problem for plaintiffs and their attorneys. It allows people who were acting carelessly and deemed up to 49% liable for a serious accident completely off-the-hook, while the person who was hurt is stuck picking up the entire tab. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to hire an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer willing to push back hard against any claims of comparative negligence.

4. Lawyers are Paid on a Contingency Fee Basis.

As we mentioned before, Florida injury lawyers collect attorney’s fees from their cut of the winnings in a successful case. If the case is not successful, we do not get paid attorney’s fees at all.

There are several benefits to this for plaintiffs. Firstly, you don’t have to worry about being wealthy enough to file a Florida personal injury claim. The attorneys with whom you meet are going to base their assessment on merit: How likely is it that you can win? You won’t be shut out of the chance for justice simply because you can’t pay an upfront fee.

Secondly, it means you get a pretty accurate assessment of your odds from the very beginning. Plaintiff attorneys have no reason to talk you into pursuing a weak case.

5. Punitive Damages Aren’t the Norm – and There is a Cap.

There are two types of damages in Florida personal injury cases: Compensatory and Punitive. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the person who was injured by another’s negligence. Punitive damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer for their actions – and set an example as a means of deterrence for anyone else thinking of doing the same.

Punitive damage awards are not a given in personal injury cases. In fact, they are rare, and you must get the judge’s Ok to ask the jury if they’ll award it. It’s typically reserved for cases involving gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing. The most common type of injury case for punitive damages are those involving drunk driving.

But even if you are awarded punitive damages, know that they are capped: Up to $500,000 or 3x the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

If you have been injured in Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Naples, or Key West, contact Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources:

F.S. 768.81, Florida’s New Comparative Fault Law

More Blog Entries:

5 Fast Ways to Sabotage Your Fort Myers Personal Injury Claim, Oct. 9, 2023, Florida Personal Injury Law Blog

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