If you are in an accident your chances of receiving compensation can be reduced if you are found to be partially at fault for the accident. Fortunately, even if this is the case, you can still recover damages related to your injuries. This legal principle is known as comparative negligence, and it allows the system to allocate fault between parties when more than one party is responsible for the accident.
This system of assigning negligence, or conduct that creates unreasonable risk to others, is set forth by each state’s legislature. Every driver in Florida is expected to exercise reasonable due care, which basically means driving in a safe and prudent manner (according to the Florida traffic and safety laws and current driving conditions). If a driver fails to meet this duty, they could be found negligent and liable for a personal injury claim by the injured party.
In some states, if the injured party is found to be more than 50% at fault, they cannot recover any compensation for their injuries. Fortunately, Florida allows for victims to recover compensation even if they are more than 50% at fault, but your compensation can still be reduced by the amount equal to your percentage of fault. You can see how these rules are beneficial in that victims are not completely out of luck just because they are partially at fault for an accident.
What Does This Look Like in an Accident?
Let’s say you are legally stopped at a red light and suddenly rear-ended by another car. Although the person that hit you is at fault, upon investigation, it is found that one of your tail lights was broken at the time you were hit, and thus you are arguably partially to blame for the accident (because the person who hit you claims that they did not know your car was stopped).
In this instance and under the theory of comparative negligence, both of the people involved in the accident are at fault – each carrying a different percentage of the fault. Therefore, if the total damages associated with your injury come to $50,000, and you are found to be 20% at fault, you would be able to recover 80% of $50,000, or $40,000 total.
Who Decides the Degree of Fault?
Auto accidents in Florida are typically investigated by the police, insurance adjusters, investigators, and any attorneys involved. Florida abides by a no-fault system when it comes to insurance policies, which means that your insurance company will cover medical expenses and lost income, regardless of fault.
If you file a lawsuit against someone who you believe caused your injuries, that person then has a chance to respond to these allegations. In this response, they can claim that you contributed to your own injury and, as a result, they should not be found 100% responsible for your injury. If a case goes to trial in Florida, a jury apportions fault based on an investigation of the accident.
If I Hit Someone, Under What Circumstances Could They Be Found at Fault?
One of the biggest causes of accidents in Florida is distracted drivers. Every driver in Florida is expected to follow Florida traffic and safety laws while having regard for actual and potential hazards and avoid colliding with any person, vehicle, or other object.
Some examples of not using reasonable care include:
- Driving, talking and/or texting on a cell phone
- Brake light(s) and/or headlight(s) are out
- Failing to pull off to the shoulder of the road before coming to full stop
- Failing to place your child in a car seat
- Failing to wear a seat belt
- Driving under the influence
- Several others
It must be proven that negligent behavior contributed to the accident in order for fault to be apportioned between the parties.
Statute of Limitations for Injury Claims
There is a time limit imposed by law on how long you have to bring suit against the party who caused your injury. This is known as the Statute of Limitations. Florida’s statutes of limitation are set out in Chapter 95 of the Florida Statutes.
For negligence claims in Florida, you have four years from the date of the accident to file against a private party and three years to file against a city, county, or state government. Usually, once this time has passed, you can no longer bring a claim for that injury, although there are some extensions whereby the window of opportunity can be extended by agreement or by a judge, often when an injury is discovered outside of this window. An attorney experienced in the particular area of law will be able to guide you in this matter.
If you have been injured, or a loved one has been killed, and you think you may have a lawsuit against the responsible party, do not wait to pursue your claim. If the statute of limitations has expired, you may have forfeited your ability to bring a lawsuit and obtain compensation. You should consult an attorney experienced in personal injury as soon as possible.