How To Proceed With a Personal Injury Lawsuit in St. Petersburg, FL
November 14, 2022 | Winters & Yonker, P.A.
Most personal injury claims never make it to trial. Even if you file a lawsuit, you will still have several weeks to several months until the trial date, giving you plenty of time to settle. If the defendant is too stubborn to offer an adequate settlement, however, you might have no choice but to go to trial. Personal injury lawsuits typically proceed through a series of discrete steps, as outlined below.
Step 1: Complaint and Answer
The first step in filing a lawsuit is to draft and submit a formal complaint describing your claim. You must submit it to the court clerk and pay the appropriate filing fees. The local sheriff will personally deliver a court summons and a copy of your complaint to the defendant. The defendant must file a formal answer within 20 days of your filing date to avoid a default judgment in your favor.
Step 2: Pretrial Discovery
In the pretrial discovery phase, both parties collect evidence that is in possession of the other party. Discovery allows four main tools to accomplish this.
- Depositions (out-of-court testimony): You can question the other side’s witnesses under oath and record the responses, which qualify as evidence that can be used in court.
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the receiving party must answer under oath.
- Requests for production: A request to examine or copy physical evidence or documents. The opposing party might even demand that you submit to an independent medical examination of your injuries.
- Requests for admission: Requests that the other party admits or denies certain statements under oath. The purpose is to eliminate uncontroversial issues to focus the proceedings on the matters in dispute.
If the other side refuses to cooperate, you can seek a court order compelling cooperation.
Step 3: Motions, Pretrial Conferences, and More
A motion is a request for the court to do something. Examples include:
- Motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim;
- Motion to suppress evidence, and
- Motion for Summary Judgment
All of these motions are carefully drafted and, if you are on the receiving end of one, skillfully opposed. There can be court proceedings regarding each of these motions, and other meetings between the parties may also take place at this stage, such as a pretrial conference.
Step 4: Trial
A typical trial includes the following steps:
- Jury selection;
- Opening statement;
- Examination and cross-examination of witnesses; and
- Closing arguments.
The jury will then decide the case and announce its verdict. You can settle your claim any time before the jury announces its verdict.
Step 5: Appeal
You have 30 days to appeal the verdict if you don’t like it.
Special Case: Florida’s No-Fault Auto Insurance System
Car accidents are the most common of all personal injury claims. Florida car accident claims are unique, however, because Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system prevents you from filing a personal injury lawsuit over a car accident unless your injuries are “serious,” as Florida personal injury law defines that term. If your injuries are not serious, you must rely on your own PIP insurance to pay your claim. PIP covers:
- 80% of your medical expenses up to $10,000;
- 60% of your lost earnings up to $10,000; and
- $5,000 in death benefits in case of a fatal accident.
Exiting the Florida No-Fault System
To exit Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system and sue the at-fault driver for damages, you need to prove that your injuries are “serious.” Under Florida law, “serious” means:
- Loss of “an important bodily function”;
- Permanent injury;
- Scarring or disfigurement; or
In the event of a fatality, the executor of the deceased victim’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Third-Party Insurance Limitations
The second obstacle you face in a Florida car accident lawsuit is finding a defendant who can pay your claim. Florida is one of only two states that does not require its drivers to carry automobile liability insurance. If the at-fault driver carries only the minimum insurance (or no insurance at all), you will need a lawyer to help you find a second defendant who bears liability for your claim.
Contact the St. Petersburg Personal Injury Law Firm of Winters & Yonker, P.A. for Help Today
If your claim is too large for Florida Small Claims Court (more than $8,000), the assistance of a personal injury lawyer is a practical necessity if you want to win. Speak with a skilled lawyer as soon as you possibly can.
For more information, please contact Winters & Yonker, P.A. to schedule a free consultation with a personal injury lawyer in St. Petersburg today. We have five convenient locations in Florida, including Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, New Port Richey, and Lakeland.