Personal injury litigation is the most common type of civil action in Florida courts. Car accident claims in particular are ubiquitous. Many of these will be settled prior to trial, but it’s important to understand that unless your degree of injury meets something called the “serious injury threshold,” your case won’t gain much traction.
Florida is one of the few states that adheres to a no-fault system when it comes to car insurance. Vehicle owners are required to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, as outlined in F.S. 627.736. This provides up to $10,000 in coverage for medical bills and lost wages incurred in a crash, regardless of who caused it. Property damage liability coverage is separate.
For minor car accidents, PIP coverage may be more than enough. But if someone suffers serious injuries, that amount won’t go very far. Still, Florida law sets a serious injury threshold for personal injury recovery in car accident cases. In other words, your injuries must meet certain criteria in order to pursue damages against the at-fault driver. Some bruising on your arm and face probably won’t cut it, but if you’ve suffered broken bones or torn tendons, it might.
Your health insurance may cover a portion of the expenses incurred, but PIP will act in its place if you don’t have any.
To qualify, your injuries must result in:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical certainty (other than scarring/disfigurement).
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
The upside is that you’ll be compensated to some extent even if you caused the crash, but the downside is that recovery is often limited. This is not to say injuries need be catastrophic to recover damages. However, it’s important if you’re considering filing a claim for damages outside of PIP that you consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you assess your circumstances to determine if you meet the criteria.
How is it Decided My Injuries are Substantial Enough?
Catastrophic injuries and fatalities will obviously meet the serious injury threshold. It gets trickier when we’re not talking about death or life-long disability.
The statute doesn’t go into further detail beyond what we just outlined, but case law does offer some insight into the kind of claims that are more likely to be prevail. For example, broken bones often meet the threshold. Sprains and bruises generally don’t, unless they have resulted in a lot of pain that limit important bodily functions (i.e., writing, walking, carrying, lifting, etc.).
The question is usually whether the injury impairs you for a protracted amount of time.
In some cases, different people with the same injury have had two different outcomes when it comes to the serious injury threshold. For example, a young, healthy person who suffers whiplash may not qualify because the injury doesn’t substantially impede his ability to function and he may recover quickly. Alternatively, that same injury for an octogenarian could profoundly impact their function for the rest of their life. For this reason, the law may allow the elder person to step outside the no-fault system to recover damages, but not the younger person.
A skilled South Florida personal injury lawyer can advise you of your options, and can advocate on your behalf to the insurance companies.
In cases where the seriousness of one’s injury is questioned, an attorney can help you gather and present the necessary evidence to establish your claim and advocate for more damages. Personal injury lawyers in Florida work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t pay upfront, but rather reimburse the lawyer a portion of your final payout.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Florida Statute 627.736, Required personal injury protection benefits; exclusions; priority; claims
Florida Statute 627.737, Tort exemption; limitation on right to damages; punitive damages