The plan was a sun-soaked, fun-filled getaway in sublime Southwest Florida. What happened was a Florida car accident. As longtime Fort Myers personal injury lawyers, we recognize there are unique concerns when visitors and vacationers from out-of-town are involved in a Florida crash. There are logistical challenges, often higher expenses, insurance questions, and uncertainty as to the full scope of your rights.
It’s important for injured tourists and vacationers to seek legal advice and representation from a local injury attorney. While there are many factors that can play into the question of jurisdiction in civil cases, personal injury claims stemming from car accidents are most often handled in the court system where the crash occurred, also known as “venue”. So if the collision happened in Fort Myers, it’s probably going to be a Fort Myers personal injury lawyer who will be the best qualified to act as your advocate – particularly if the matter gets to the point of needing to file a lawsuit.
Many civil claims stemming from Florida car accidents can be resolved without litigation. But there are complications when one of those involved isn’t a Florida resident because the Sunshine State has unique statutes pertaining to auto insurance. Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to crashes, which means all motorists (save for motorcyclists) should be covered by their own personal injury protection (PIP) coverage up to $10,000. It’s only if crash victims’ injuries meet the statutory threshold of severity outlined in F.S. 627.737 that they can step outside that no-fault system and pursue damages from at-fault parties. But tourists from other states or countries may not be required to carry PIP. What happens to them?
Questions like this are why it’s important to work with a local Fort Myers personal injury lawyer post-crash – even if you weren’t seriously hurt. It can help make for much smoother negotiations with insurers.
Notable Florida Car Accident Statistics
Florida is known for being a tourism hot spot. The University of Central Florida reports there were nearly 138 million total visitors to Florida in 2022 – a 13 percent increase from the year before. Most of those are from other states, but about 7 million are from overseas and 2.8 million from Canada. Not every single tourist is driving, but many are – and this contributes not only to the number of annual car accidents, but also the complications that can arise when non-residents are involved in crashes.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports there were nearly 392,000 total Florida car accidents last year, resulting in nearly 3,500 deaths and 250,000 injuries.
Just in Lee County alone in 2022, there were:
- 15,282 reported crashes
- 135 fatal accidents, resulting in 125 deaths
- 8,847 crash-related injuries reported in 5,831 accidents
- 319 bicycle accidents reported, 0 of which resulted in deaths
- 333 motorcycle accidents, in which 29 people on motorcycles died
- 334 pedestrian accidents reported, with 33 people killed in those
- 4,191 hit-and-run crashes reported – in which 11 people died and nearly 800 were injured
The first thing anyone – Florida resident or not – should do after a Florida car accident is seek medical attention. If you’re in a position to do so, exchange contact and insurance information with the other motorist. Take their name, phone number, address, license plate number, insurance policy number and carrier, and jot down the make/model/color of their vehicle. Take photographs of your vehicles, the scene, any injuries. Report the accident to authorities, as well as your own auto insurer. If your injuries require a trip to the hospital (or worse), it’s a good idea to reach out to a local injury lawyer. At the very least, this will give you an idea of what to expect and on what issues specific to your case local legal advice may be beneficial.
Challenges for Non-Residents Injured in Florida Crashes
Common questions relating to challenges of non-Floridians injured in a car accident in Florida:
Can’t I just hire an attorney from my home state?
As mentioned before, there are a lot of factors that determine jurisdiction. Most crash claims are handled in the jurisdiction where they happened, thanks to Florida’s long-arm statute, as spelled out in F.S. 48.193. However, if you live out-of-state, there is a posibility that certain aspects of your case might be brought in your home state. This is especially true if the other driver was from elsewhere too, though it’s ultimately up to the courts. So let’s say you’re involved in a Fort Myers car accident but you live in Georgia and you want to file your claim from there with an attorney licensed in Georgia. That may be possible, but keep in mind: Because the crash happened in Florida, it’s still Florida law that will apply. That means at minimum, you’re probably going to need a Florida injury lawyer to offer assistance. Some attorneys in Georgia may also be licensed in Florida, but that isn’t a given. And even so, if they don’t regularly practice in Florida – and South Florida in particular, where the crash occurred – you may be at a bit of a disadvantage compared to someone working with an attorney who is closely familiar with state law as well as local court procedures and players. At our firm we will often start the case here in Florida and then associate with an attorney who we have a relationship with in a different state to handle any issue such as an Uninsured motorist claim against your insurance carrier in your home state.
Does my insurance still apply?
With rare exceptions, auto insurance carriers will provide benefits without consideration of state lines. However, the so-called “snowbirds” need to be especially careful with this because if you’re in Florida for more than 90 days, you’re expected to register your vehicle in Florida and have it covered by a Florida insurance policy. The good news for tourists is often, out-of-state requirements for PIP benefits (for medical bills and lost wages) are actually higher than Florida’s minimum mandatory $10,000. (It might be referred to in your policy as “MedPay.”) Note that if you’re working at the time of the crash, you might be denied MedPay through your private insurer, but you could be entitled to workers’ compensation coverage – regardless of fault. If you are driving a Florida rental car at the time of the crash, it should be covered by a PIP policy. (This would kick in if there wasn’t another primary PIP policy to draw from.)
If I don’t have PIP coverage, do I still have to meet the personal injury threshold to file a lawsuit?
No. As mentioned before, F.S. 627.737 sets a serious injury threshold one must meet/exceed in order to step outside Florida’s no-fault system and file a lawsuit for a car accident. However, if the other driver is from out-of-state or another country, they may not be required to carry PIP. (Many states don’t have this requirement.) For that reason, you may not need to prove serious or permanent injury in order to pursue damages for less serious injuries from an at-fault driver.
What if the person who hit me doesn’t have insurance or just fled?
This is what uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is for. If you’re injured in a hit-and-run or by a driver who doesn’t have any insurance, your own UM/UIM coverage should kick in and cover you – even though the crash happened out-of-state. Note that even if you don’t have your own UM/UIM policy, you might be able to draw from one if you have a resident relative who does – even if the accident happened outside the state where you live and even if you weren’t in that relatives’ car at the time of the accident.
I was partly at-fault for the crash. Can I still collect damages?
Probably. For cases filed prior to March 24, 2023, you are entitled to collect damages according to a pure comparative fault standard – meaning even if you’re 99 percent at fault, you can still collect on that 1 percent of damages from the other at-fault party. However, a new Florida law now imposes a 51 percent bar – meaning if you’re more than 50 percent at-fault, you cannot collect damages from the other at-fault party.
If you were injured in a Southwest Florida car accident while visiting the state, our dedicated Fort Myers personal injury lawyers can help answer your questions, negotiate with insurers, and represent you in court.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a crash in Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Naples, or Key West, contact Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free consultation.
Florida Crash Dashboard, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
More Blog Entries:
Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Tips for Talking to Insurance Adjusters, Sept. 21, 2022, Fort Myers Personal Injury Attorney Blog