In Florida, like most states, the laws regarding negligence and personal injury can be extremely complicated, but they start with a simple basic premise – the person who is responsible for an accident should pay for the damage. In a traffic collision with injuries in Central Florida, for example, the central legal question for an Orlando personal injury attorney is determining which party was at fault.
You’ve probably seen traffic accidents where it was clear to you as a witness which driver was at fault, although you may not be able to say precisely what law that driver violated. Anyone who is injured by another driver’s negligence should be reimbursed – and is entitled by law to complete compensation – but of course, the reimbursement that an accident victim needs won’t just be handed out with no questions asked.
The injured accident victim in a personal injury case – the plaintiff – has to prove that the defendant – the driver accused of being at fault – was driving negligently, and plaintiffs additionally have to show how that negligence directly caused the injury or injuries. Finally, with the help of a good personal injury lawyer, plaintiffs must demonstrate the extent of their injury or injuries and document all of their medical expenses, lost earnings, and other injury-related costs and damages.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IMMEDIATELY AFTER A TRAFFIC CRASH?
If you’ve been injured by another driver’s negligence, where can you obtain the proof and documentation that you’ll need for your personal injury claim to prevail? A personal injury attorney can help, but you must think about gathering evidence and pertinent information the moment you realize that you’ve been in an accident and that you’ve been injured. Speak to a lawyer as soon as you can after being injured, but even before that, here’s what you need to do:
- Get a police report: If an accident involves injuries, call the police. Make sure that you ask the officers how to obtain a copy of the accident report. When you receive it, make copies. Some officers will plainly state what happened and which party they believe was responsible. If a driver was cited or arrested, that should be stated in the report. Some accident reports are less specific and only hint or speculate about how the accident might have happened. Still, any mention by a police officer of a specific traffic violation or negligent driving by the defendant will help your personal injury case substantially.
- Take photographs: Photographs are powerful evidence, and in personal injury cases arising from traffic collisions, sometimes photographs make the case. Take as many photographs as you can – if you’re too injured, have someone shoot the photos for you – of the accident site, the vehicles, and the damage, nearby traffic signs or signals, license plates of all the vehicles, and pictures of any visible injury or injuries.
- Speak to eyewitnesses: If your personal injury claim goes to trial, the testimony of eyewitnesses on your behalf – complete strangers – can be decisive. If it’s at all possible, speak to any eyewitnesses and obtain all of their contact information – name, address, telephone numbers, and anything else – a work location or email address – that will help you or your attorney make contact with that person if you need to.
If you’re injured and you choose to pursue a personal injury claim, you’ll also need to have your full medical records. Your medical records document your precise injuries and the extent of those injuries. If you don’t seek medical attention immediately after a traffic accident, the defendant’s attorneys or insurance company might charge that your injury happened prior to the collision or that you weren’t actually hurt at all. Always seek medical treatment at once after any traffic crash, even if you don’t “feel” as though you’ve been injured.
WHAT WILL A PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY DO?
A good personal injury attorney will immediately begin a thorough investigation of the accident, obtaining expert assistance if necessary from accident reconstruction engineers, medical authorities, and other appropriate specialists. A good personal injury attorney will examine every fact and detail of an accident to determine liability. When a negligent party is identified, a personal injury lawyer can then craft a legal strategy designed to obtain the maximum available compensation.
When an automobile or a truck collides in traffic with a motorcycle, proving who’s at fault can present quite a challenge. The testimony of the witnesses is seldom conclusive in such cases, and motorcycle accidents frequently leave behind little physical evidence as to their cause. A good personal injury attorney will usually work extensively on a motorcycle injury case with an accident reconstruction expert.
Most personal injury claims arising from injuries in traffic collisions are filed against at-fault drivers, but sometimes, neither driver is genuinely liable – yet the injuries sustained may nevertheless be severe or disabling. If a defective auto or auto part caused your injury – and millions of cars are recalled each year for defects – a personal injury lawyer may recommend filing a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the defective vehicle or part.
WHAT SHOULD EVERY FLORIDA DRIVER KNOW?
Every driver in Florida should be aware of some of the presumptions that are made in personal injury cases linked to traffic crashes. If a driver crashes into you from behind, that kind of accident will almost never be considered your fault, even if you were stopped improperly or illegally. A basic principle of driving is that a vehicle must be able to stop safely if traffic is stopped in front of the vehicle. If a driver cannot stop safely, that driver is probably negligent.
According to Orlando personal injury attorney Robert J. Horst, in a rear-end collision in Florida, “There are multiple ways to prove liability. The first is through presumption. Florida law assumes that the following driver is presumed to be at fault unless he/she presents competent evidence that a reasonable person would not have stopped in front of them under the same circumstances. Since most rear end collisions occur while someone is at a stop light, stop sign or stopped from traffic, they cannot present competent evidence.”
Horst, an experienced Orlando personal injury lawyer, adds that, “Other means of proving fault in a car accident is through traffic light sequencing, accident reconstructions, independent witness, vehicle photos and vehicle repair reports. These are the most common but there are actually even more ways to prove it.”
Another presumption in traffic-related personal injury cases is that a driver who is making a left turn is almost always liable for a collision with a vehicle coming straight through the intersection from the other direction. Unless the driver moving straight through the intersection was speeding or running a red light, the driver making the left turn will almost inevitably be deemed the at-fault driver.
After any traffic collision in Central Florida, do not confess or admit fault, do not sign any documents, and do not speak with an insurance company before consulting with an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney. Characteristically, the insurance companies in these cases offer injury victims a settlement amount that is far below the actual value of the case. Don’t accept such a settlement. If you’ve been injured by a negligent driver, a good personal injury lawyer can first determine who was responsible and then fight for compensation and justice on your behalf.