Florida Personal Injury Settlements: Myths vs. Reality
February 27, 2023 | Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers | Personal Injury
The mass media isn’t a very good source of information on how personal injury settlements work. In fact, it is full of sensationalism and inaccuracies. Following are some of the realities you will face if you seek a personal injury settlement. Some of these realities are harsh, but some of them are not.
Myth: A Personal Injury Lawyer Will Take Your Case Whether or Not They Think They Can Win
Personal injury lawyers generally charge on a contingency fee basis. This means they will charge you nothing unless they win or settle your case. This benefits you if they take your case, and it means the lawyer might refuse to represent you if your evidence is weak or if your claim is small. The upside of this state of affairs is that if the lawyer does take your case, you probably have a good chance of winning.
Myth: Six- and Seven-Figure Settlements Are Common
If someone wins $10 million in a personal injury settlement, the media will jump all over it. If someone wins $10,000, you’ll probably never hear about it. Remember that you’re not necessarily getting a representative sample of actual personal injury recoveries by following the media. Most recoveries fall well short of six figures. Nevertheless, your chances of winning a large recovery are much better with a lawyer than without one.
Factors That Determine the Amount of Your Recovery
The true value of your claim could be more or less than what you initially imagine it to be. The amount you win could depend on a lot of factors, including:
- The skill of your lawyer;
- Insurance coverage limitations;
- Negotiating skills;
- The severity of your injuries;
- Your age (if your injuries resulted in permanently diminished earning capacity);
- The defendant’s culpability;
- The availability of alternative defendants; and
- The strength of the evidence available to you.
Many other factors might also play a role.
Myth: Punitive Damages Awards Are Common
Florida courts award punitive damages only when the defendant’s conduct has been outrageous. Even a DUI accident may or may not justify punitive damages. Intentional violence, the kind that would justify criminal charges, typically justifies punitive damages.
Florida Imposes a Cap on the Amount of Punitive Damages Caps
Florida imposes an informal cap on punitive damages to prevent them from getting out of control. Currently, the cap is 300% of the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is more. Courts can award more than this amount, but they seldom do.
Myth: Most Claims Are the Fault of Only One Party
Comparative negligence is a legal principle that applies when two or more parties share fault for the accident. Under the Florida “pure comparative negligence” system, a court would assign each party a percentage of fault and subtract the exact same percentage from that party’s compensation.
If you were 15% at fault, for example, you would lose 15% of your damages. If you were 85% at fault, you would lose 85% of your damages. You would also pay an equivalent percentage of the defendant’s damages (if any).
Myth: Settlement Negotiations Are Independent of Court Judgments
A lot of Florida personal injury law applies to the court system. But does it also apply to personal injury settlements? Yes, it does. In settlement negotiations, you derive your bargaining power from the likelihood of taking the other party to court and winning.
For this reason, personal injury lawsuit settlement amounts tend to reflect the parties’ estimation of the amount a Florida court would likely award the injury victim. There is one exception: it is almost impossible to negotiate punitive damages.
Special Case: Florida’s No-Fault Car Accident Compensation System
Car accidents account for more personal injury claims than any other type of claim. Unfortunately, Florida’s car accident compensation system is perhaps the least victim-friendly system in the United States. When seeking compensation for a car accident, you could face two enemies, which are Florida’s no-fault system and the lack of any requirement to purchase bodily injury liability insurance.
As a Florida driver, you must purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, which pays for your own bodily injury. The minimum amount of coverage is $10,000, although it is possible to purchase more. As long as PIP applies, it doesn’t matter whose fault the accident was.
Car accident injury settlement amounts tend to be lower in Florida than in at-fault states such as Texas. In Florida, you can recover for medical expenses and lost earnings, but not for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
Property damage is different from bodily injury. If you suffer property damage in an accident caused by someone else, you can file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s property damage liability (PDL) insurance policy. Florida law requires all drivers to purchase a minimum of $10,000 in PDL insurance.
Exiting the No-Fault System
If your injuries are serious enough, $10,000 might not be enough for you. You might need to file a claim against the at-fault driver for the remainder of your expenses. You might also want to file a claim for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages. You can only do this, however, if your injuries are “serious,” as Florida law defines that term.
Florida law defines a “serious” injury narrowly. Wrongful death qualifies as serious. So does a permanent loss of bodily function and certain other injury scenarios.
The Liability Insurance Problem
The biggest problem with existing Florida’s no-fault system is that Florida is one of only two states that does not require its drivers to purchase bodily injury liability insurance. Even if your injuries qualify as “serious,” there is a good chance that the at-fault driver lacks the insurance resources to pay your claim. For this reason, you should be sure to purchase adequate uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance. It’s optional, but it’s critical.
Contact a Lawyer to Bolster Your Chances of a Fair Settlement
In personal injury law, it’s not just whether you win or lose. It’s how much you win. You could call a token $100 settlement a “victory” if you want, but that much is hardly likely to be adequate. You probably need a lawyer to calculate how much your claim is worth and to actually put that much money in your pocket. Most personal injury lawyers offer free initial case consultations; take advantage of the opportunity if you suspect you have a strong claim.
Contact the Tampa Personal Injury Law Firm of Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers for Help Today
For more information, please contact Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in Tampa today. We have five convenient locations in Florida, including Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, and Lakeland.
We proudly serve Hillsborough County, Pinellas County, Pasco County, Polk County, and its surrounding areas:
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
601 W Swann Ave, Tampa, FL 33606
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
600 Bypass Dr Suite 224-D, Clearwater, FL 33764
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – St. Petersburg Office
111 2nd Ave NE Suite 350, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
5006 Trouble Creek Rd Unit #200, Port Richey, FL 34652
Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers – Lakeland Office
1543 Lakeland Hills Blvd Suite 18, Lakeland, FL 33805