Car Accidents are on the Rise in Florida
Florida is a growing state, and there are more cars on the road than ever. According to a 2014 census, there were around 20 million residents in the State at that time, and around 14 million registered vehicles. With Florida’s infrastructure not keeping pace with the increase in population, it’s no wonder that there are car crashes left and right. And the trend over the past decade is that car crashes in Florida are on the rise.
Unfortunately, fatal crashes are on the rise as well. In 2017, there were 3,116 car accidents with fatalities in Florida. That represented almost a 30% increase over the amount from 2013! To put this in perspective, there were just over 1,000 murders in Florida in 2017. But three times that many people died in car crashes! So we should be doing everything we can to protect ourselves while we’re on the road.
Car Accidents are on the Rise in Gainesville and Alachua County as Well
Car accidents are trending upwards in Gainesville and the Alachua County area as well. Tragically, fatal crashes are up almost 20% from 2016 to 2017 alone. And there were 6,075 total car crashes in Alachua County in 2017 alone, raising the three-year average to 5,694 crashes per year in Alachua County alone.
What Insurance Coverages Do I Need for a Car Accident?
The first thing you should to to protect yourself is to make sure you have enough insurance, and to make sure you have the right types of coverage in the right amounts. Insurance can be complicated, but it’s basically a contract between you and your insurance company to pay the bills should unfortunate events occur. There are a couple different kinds of insurance coverages that you typically see on the coverage summary from your automobile insurance carrier (sometimes called the “dec page”):
Bodily Injury (“BI”)
This is insurance coverage that you pay for from your insurance company, and then, if you’re at fault in a motor vehicle accident, your insurance company is obligated to defend and indemnify you up to this amount. You can choose how much you want, but it is sometimes thrown around as a rule of thumb that you want coverage approximately equal to your own net worth. If you cause a crash, and the other motorists or passengers are hurt, your insurance company is basically on the hook for any amount up to and including your policy limits here before you are on the hook for anything, generally speaking.
Property Damage (“PD”)
This is the same sort of coverage as BI coverage, except that it applies to any property of another that is damaged in a crash caused by you. How much coverage do you want to buy here? Depends. If you get a low amount, and you crash into someone driving an old beater, you should be fine. But if you only have $10,000 in PD coverage and you crash into someone driving a brand-new Bentley, you might regret not getting more coverage.
Comprehensive/Collision/Etc. (“Comp. & Collision”)
Comp. & Collision protection is a type of coverage you obtain that obligates your insurance company to pay for repairs or replacement to your own vehicle when you are at fault and your own vehicle is damaged. It is not a required coverage in Florida, legally speaking, but if you’re financing your vehicle, most lenders will require you to carry this (because obviously it protects their collateral, the same way that every mortgage company requires you to buy homeowners’ insurance).
Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”)
This is where things get slightly more complicated. Florida is referred to as a “no-fault” state, as far as automobile insurance is concerned, and the PIP law is why. The PIP law basically establishes that we’re all self-insured for at least the first $10,000 of reasonably necessary medical care following a car accident. There is often talk of raising the PIP minimums (or abolishing the law in its entirety), but for now, the minimum amount that you can have, by law, is $10,000-worth of coverage. So basically, when you set about to get your car insurance (as you legally must do), you get BI, PD, and PIP coverage from your own insurer. Then, if you are in a car crash, your own insurer is on the hook for the first $10,000-worth of medical bills, regardless of whether or not you’re at fault. This is why it’s expensive coverage. Just look at your dec page and see how much of your overall premium the PIP coverage accounts for. You’ll see what I mean. PIP covers more than just you, and its coverage extends beyond your own vehicle, but that’s another story for another time.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (“UM”) Coverage
UM coverage is coverage that you purchase from your insurance carrier that protects you in the event that you’re substantially injured by another motorist, and the other motorist is not carrying enough BI/PD insurance to make you whole. In other words, let’s say someone rear-ends you, and your injuries are substantial. You need surgery, or you’re going to be in a wheelchair, or it’s some other serious injury. The other motorist only has $50,000 in BI coverage (so this is the entirety of what his insurance company would be generally obligated to pay). But by the time you’re done with surgery your medical bills are up over $100,000. Without UM coverage, the extra $50,000 in this equation is either going to come out of your own pocket or you might have to go after the other motorist personally for the deficiency amount (and he very well may be “judgment-proof“). This is what UM is for. You look back to your own insurance company to pay for the deficiency/difference, if there is one, if you have exercised the foresight to obtain some amount of UM coverage. Even a little UM coverage is better than none, and it can be an absolute lifesaver, financially speaking. I recommend everyone to buy at least a little UM. The insurance carrier typically has some rules about how much coverage you can obtain in this regard, and you need to understand whether or not to “stack” your coverage, but that’s another story for another time.
Medical Payments (“Med. Pay”), Etc.
Commonly referred to as “Med pay,” this is another type of coverage that you can obtain from your insurance carrier. It is typically used as a no-fault type of coverage that can provide additional coverage to people injured in a crash caused by you (in addition to their own PIP coverage, typically). It’s something to consider, but, in my opinion, in terms of what the most critical coverages to fully understand are, this ranks near the bottom.
What Should I Do after a Car Accident?
Being involved in a car accident is one of the most traumatic things we can go through. Studies have found that at least one-third of all people involved in nonfatal accidents have post-traumatic stress disorder, persistent anxiety, depression, and phobias even a year following the crash. And it is beyond doubt that the physical injuries and potential brain damage can be crippling. Not to mention having to face financial ruin because of the medical bills you’ve had to obligate yourself to because of someone else’s negligence. What should you do after a car accident?
First, in my opinion, if you’re physically able to do so, I’d say you should check on your own passengers, if any, and on the other motorist and his passengers, if there are any, just to get a sense of what sort of condition everyone is in. All the motorists have an obligation to at least exchange information: leaving the scene without doing so can actually constitute a crime under certain circumstances. Calling 911 is a good idea if it’s warranted.
Taking photographs of the condition of both vehicles is an absolute must. Often the vehicles have been subjected to an immobilizing crash, and are towed. When this happens, the vehicles go to whatever tow yard the insurance companies (or the police) direct the tow trucks towards, and often the insurance companies get involved shortly after this point and the drivers usually never even see the vehicles again. Don’t let the insurance companies be the only ones with photographs of the condition the crash left your vehicle in.
While you’re at the scene, if you’re able to do so, collect the other motorist’s insurance information and gather contact information for any eyewitnesses. Car crash cases often turn into “he-said-she-said” type scenarios, so having a neutral witness can often make or break a case. Be on the lookout for any traffic cameras or any security cameras from nearby businesses or buses: any evidence of how the crash occurred is absolutely crucial, and if you don’t get it right then you may never get it. If the police came out to the scene, you are legally obligated to speak with them about the crash: make a reminder to follow up with them and obtain a copy of the crash report and whatever other police reports they generated.
Next, if you haven’t been transported to the hospital via ambulance, you really need to get treated, even if that just means going to your doctor to get his or her impression of what condition you’re in. Typically, there are imaging tools available (x-rays, MRI’s, etc) that can give the physicians insight into what’s really going on under the surface, and that’s where your path towards getting yourself healthy starts. There is also another reason to err on the side of getting yourself treated promptly after a car accident: if you don’t seek treatment within 14 days, you most likely will not be entitled to your insurance policy’s PIP coverage that was discussed above. The “14-day rule” is a little bit more nuanced than that, but it will have to be addressed in a separate post.
Lastly, there is one more thing that you can absolutely count on in the few days following the car crash: you’ll be contacted by an insurance adjuster from the other motorist’s insurance company. Their job is not to do justice for you: their job is to protect their insurance company’s bottom line. I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m being realistic: insurance companies make money by taking in premiums, not by paying out claims. The other motorist’s insurance company’s employee wants to speak with you so he can assess (and, if possible, limit) the value of your claim against the at-fault motorist. You can speak with them if you want to, but it’s not going to help your circumstances, and, frankly, it can only hurt. The better course of action, in my opinion, is to seek counsel and tell them that you’re seeking counsel (or tell them who you are represented by, if you’re already represented).
In the aftermath of a serious car crash, most people have more pressing things to do than to call an attorney. But once your affairs are relatively in order after the crash, seeking counsel costs nothing (most all personal injury lawyers offer free consultations and take cases on a contingency-fee basis, meaning the attorney’s only source of payment is out of the settlement garnered from the at-fault motorist’s insurance company). More importantly, the lawyers view your case with the long-game in mind, and a good lawyer will begin taking immediate action to do things that are going to do your case a world of good (like seeking out and preserving evidence, as was discussed earlier, and engaging in other time-sensitive forensic work). Again, it costs nothing, and, unlike speaking with the other side’s insurance adjuster, it can’t hurt and only helps.
This can be a lot to deal with. You and yours can feel free to call The Weisman Law Firm for a free, confidential consultation as to what happened and as to what your options are. You don’t pay for the consultation, you don’t pay any legal fees unless a recovery is made, and you don’t know: it just might change the course of your life’s future.