In Pinellas County, Florida, personal injury attorneys are regularly forced to fight the bag of tricks used by insurance companies to pay as little as possible for injuries sustained after an auto accident or a motorcycle accident. One of the most frequently used techniques by insurance companies is to manipulate Florida’s comparative negligence or comparative fault law.
Comparative Negligence After an Auto Accident Involving Serious Injuries
Under Florida Statute 768.81, comparative negligence means that you can only seek damages in proportion to your degree of fault for the auto or car accident. So, hypothetically, if a jury says that your case is worth $100,000.00, but you were 10% at fault for the accident, you only are entitled to $90,000.00. Insurance companies love to abuse this law when evaluating claims and making offers. This law gives them an excuse to pay less than the value of the claim and low-ball people who have been injured. This apportionment of fault is done regularly and is a constant battle for personal injury lawyers. For example, I recently had a case where an elderly woman backed out of a parking spot into my client’s car. My client felt bad for the elderly woman, so she didn’t call the police. The next day, she woke up and couldn’t get out of bed due to an injury to her back from the collision. My client set up the claim with the elderly woman’s insurance company and hired my firm. The insurance company told my office that they’re insured, the elderly woman, said my client must have been speeding through the parking lot because she never saw the car before the impact. So, since there was no police report to contradict them, the insurance company told us that they were only going to pay for half of the damages to her car and half of her injury claim. Imagine my client’s surprise after she was trying to be nice. Fortunately, she got lucky. I was able to contact the business and speak to the manager. He confirmed that he actually saw the accident and not only was my client at a full stop prior to the impact, my client had also honked her horn repeatedly to warn the elderly woman. After I sent this witness information to the insurance company, they accepted 100% liability. Without that witness, the insurance company would have never paid the full value of the claim.
I wish problems like this were rare in personal injury cases, but alas, they are not. In fact, it has been my experience that insurance companies are always looking to deny claims or reduce the level of liability.
How do I protect myself if I am in an accident caused by someone else?
Short answer, always contact law enforcement. I have seen countless times when a client tries to be nice to the other driver and simply exchanges contact information. This can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes a client believes the damage to the car isn’t that bad or they don’t want to wait for the police. Then, the next morning, my client wakes up with a sore neck or sore back and all they have is a name and number on a piece of paper.
What people also do not realize is that an insurance company is under no obligation to honor what their insured told you. So, even if the other driver told you that they will pay for the damage, the insurance company can do what they want.
I also have noticed that it is human nature to not accept full responsibility for an accident. For example, people will commonly partially blame you for the accident, thus giving the company an excuse to reduce the amount of the claim in proportion to the percentage of fault under the comparative negligence statute. So, the best advice I can give is to always call the police and get as much witness information as possible while at the scene. Never count on the other driver or their insurance company to treat you fairly. This is unfortunately often the state of the personal injury world in Pinellas County, Florida. Please be safe and always protect yourself!