Automobile Accident Injury Guide

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1 Automobile Accident Injury Guide Step By Step Procedures To Protect Your Rights Find Out What The Insurance Companies Do Not Want You To Know About Your Rights! By David Eaton and Matthew D. Powell Trial Lawyers Second Edition Keep This Book In Your Glove Compartment COMMENTS FROM THE AUTHORS My name is David Eaton, and I am a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer. My primary area of practice is in the field of representing victims of medical malpractice, and catastrophic and wrongful death automobile crashes. I received my Bachelors of Arts degree from Michigan State University, and my law degree from Stetson University. I am the author of The Representation Of Kimberly Bergalis, The First Confirmed Transmission Of AIDS From A Health Care Worker To A Patient. I have also been the co-author of Knowing Your Rights Concerning Medical Malpractice, A Simple Guide To A Complex Issue. I am a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers and the American Arbitration Association. I am also a co-author of Winning Strategies For Jury Selection In Florida: Communication, Credibility And Common Sense In The Courtroom and the co-author of Trying the Soft Tissue Injury Case In Florida and the co-author of Trial Strategies For High Dollar Cases In Florida. My name is Matthew Powell, and I graduated from the Florida State College of Law in June of 1987 with honors. I became a member of the Florida Bar in October of 1987 and began practicing law with a firm in Tallahassee, Florida that represented over 20 different insurance companies. During that time, I learned the methods, techniques and strategies that insurance companies use to reduce the amount of money they pay to people who have been injured in accidents. After learning their methods and techniques, I decided that I could no longer work for insurance companies. I left the insurance defense firm and opened my own law firm in order to represent individuals injured by others negligence. One year later I moved my practice to Tampa, Florida in order to be closer to my family. I have been practicing law in the historic Hutchinson House since i

2 1989. I am a sustaining member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, and an Eagle member of the Academy Of Florida Trial Lawyers. I have also coauthored the book entitled Knowing Your Rights Concerning Medical Malpractice, A Simple Guide To A Complex Issue. FORWARD This book explains many of your rights if you are injured in an automobile accident and the accident was not your fault. However, it is certainly not a substitute for professional legal advice from an attorney who has the necessary knowledge and experience in this area of the law. Keep in mind that the laws and procedures change frequently and are subject to differing interpretations; therefore, if you want legal advice it is best to consult with a lawyer. If you decide to hire a lawyer, remember that the hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely upon advertisements. Before you decide on any lawyer, ask the lawyer to send you free written information about his or her qualifications and experience. ABOUT EATON & POWELL Eaton & Powell focuses their attention on helping injury victims obtain compensation for their damages. We represent clients throughout the State of Florida involved in automobile crashes, medical malpractice claims, nursing home neglect, chemical exposure injuries, product liability injuries and many other personal injury claims. We represent most clients on a contingency fee basis and we always offer a free consultation to discuss any injury or wrongful death claim. For a FREE consultation call Eaton & Powell - Injury Attorneys (813) TAMPA 304 Plant Avenue Available for representation in (800) STATEWIDE (941) SARASOTA (941) LAKELAND (941) LAKE WALES (727) CLEARWATER (727) ST. PETERSBURG TABLE OF CONTENTS What You Should Do At The Scene Of An Accident... 1 Preserving The Evidence... 2 What To Do When The Police Arrive... 3 What You Should Not Do... 4 Injuries... 4 What To Expect In the Emergency Room... 8 Medical Specialists... 8 Medical Treatment And Documentation... 9 Insurance Adjusters: Know Who And What You Are Dealing With What Happens When the Insurance Adjuster Calls? Won t The Insurance Company Believe You And Pay Your Damages? Your Lost Wages How Do You Know How Much Money You Are Entitled To Recover? Comparative Fault Do You Really Need A Lawyer? How To Get Your Car Repaired Without A Lawyer Which Insurance Company Will Pay? How Much Will They Pay To Repair Your Car? Renting A Car Insurance Propaganda What Kind Of Insurance Coverage Do You Have? What Kind Of Insurance Should You Have? If You Drive A Motorcycle How Much Time Do You Have To Make A Claim? Other Kinds Of Accidents And Injuries Car Safety And Crime COPYRIGHTS 1996, 1999 by Matthew D. Powell, P.A., Eaton & Powell All Rights Reserved ii iii

3 ACCIDENTS HAPPEN In today's fast-paced society, no matter how careful you are the chances are high that you will be injured in an accident that was caused by someone else's negligence. If being hurt isn't bad enough, the way you are sometimes treated by the insurance companies can sometimes be worse. In our experience, insurance companies do their best to deny or reduce your claim and if they must pay your claim, they may delay as long as possible before making the payment. Insurance companies are in business to make a profit and they can increase their profits by collecting interest on their money before paying a claim, or by reducing the total amount they pay for the claim. The insurance industry is a multi-billion dollar business with very little regulation. Insurance costs each of us an average of 12% of our total income even if you have never made an insurance claim in your life. It is important to be prepared before an accident occurs so that your actions can make the difference between receiving a full settlement for your damages or receiving only a pittance for your injury. It is important to know that in 1996 there were an estimated 6,842,000 police reported traffic crashes, in which 3,511,000 people were injured, and 41,907 people were killed. 1 WHAT YOU SHOULD DO AT THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT 1. STOP! Accidents happen to even the most careful drivers. The immediate shock of an automobile accident may cause feelings of anger and panic. Get control of your emotions and act rationally to assess the situation. Leaving the scene of an accident in Florida can be a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5, fine. There is seldom an excuse for leaving the scene of an accident. 2. After you determine whether you are injured check and see if anyone else is injured. If someone is seriously injured you have a duty to render aid and call an ambulance. Florida law requires that you to give reasonable assistance to any injured person. However, you should not attempt to provide treatment to someone unless you are trained in first aid. Even with good intentions you may make the injury worse if you do not know what you are doing. Do not move anyone who is badly injured unless there is a danger for greater injury by leaving them alone. 3. Leave your car where it is unless it is dangerous to do so and even then, it's usually best to wait until the police arrive. Whether the cars should be moved depends on the severity of the accident and where it occurred. The best rule of thumb is that in a serious accident with injured people the cars should be left alone until the police arrive. If vehicles must be moved before the police arrive, mark the location of the vehicles tires before they are moved, turn on your flashers and raise your hood to help warn other cars about the accident scene. 1 U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 1 4. Call The Police - Dial 911 for help. The police usually respond quickly to most accidents but not always to minor ones. They are more likely to be interested in filing an accident report if there were any laws broken, drugs or alcohol involved, injury to anyone, or substantial damage to cars or property. A written report is required by the State of Florida for every accident involving personal injuries or property damage in excess of $ If the police do not come to the scene, you should file your own report by going to a police station or sheriff's office and asking for a "Drivers Report of Traffic Crash" form. The report is simple to fill out, and must be mailed to The Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, Attention Traffic Crash Records, Tallahassee, Florida Filing a crash report is especially important if you need to make an uninsured motorist claim with your insurance company. PRESERVING THE EVIDENCE After the police and ambulance have been called, it is very important to preserve the evidence of exactly what occurred. Unfortunately, as time passes, memories begin to fade, debris and pieces of the wrecked cars may be moved or lost or valuable witnesses may leave the scene. Therefore, it is best to start preserving the evidence as quickly as possible. Find Witnesses: As soon as possible get the names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone who has witnessed the accident. Ask them to write down what they saw or know, or at least have them tell you what they saw so that you can write it down and use the information later. Also try to record where the witnesses were located when the crash occurred. It is surprising and often disappointing to realize that memories fade over time; and if you do eventually go to court, written notes of what a witness said can sometimes make the difference in winning or losing your case. Exchange Drivers' Information: Florida law requires that you provide the other driver involved in the accident with your name, address and vehicle registration number, and that you show them your own driver's license. You also need to see their driver's license and record their name, driver's license number and address. It is also important to record their license tag number, registration number, the make, color and year of the other car and to obtain as much information as you can about their insurance. Find out who owns the car and get the names and addresses of all the passengers. They are likely to end up as witnesses to the crash, and they may be needed later for your claim. Take Photographs: If you have a camera at the scene take photographs of the accident that include the damaged vehicles, the streets in all directions, skid marks 2

4 and traffic signs. Also take pictures of the accident from the direction of travel of each of the cars involved. Video is even better and if someone has been severely injured, photographs of their injuries may be very useful. Make A Diagram: If you don't have a camera make a sketch of the accident scene. Show the location of the cars before, during and after the crash. Be sure to measure skid marks, mark the position of street signs and signals, estimate the speed of each vehicle, and record details about the weather and road conditions and anything else that will help you later on to remember what occurred. Go To The Hospital: You need to see a doctor as soon as possible. Serious injuries do not always show immediate symptoms and it is better to be safe than sorry! By going to a hospital emergency room immediately after the crash, your injuries will be written down by a doctor. In addition, if you have permanent injuries that do not heal and you went to the hospital immediately following the crash, it will be easier for your regular treating physician, your insurance company and the other driver's insurance company to understand that your permanent injury was caused directly by the crash and not caused by another injury you may have suffered prior to or following the crash. WHAT TO DO WHEN THE POLICE ARRIVE When The Police Arrive: Show the police officer your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. Remain calm and answer the questions the police officer asks. Explain how the accident occurred, who was where, and what color the traffic lights were, etc. Do not admit fault and if you believe that the other driver was drinking, let the officer know why you think that alcohol was involved. You will probably be asked if you were wearing your seat belt; therefore, make sure that the police officer includes this information in his report. Furthermore, if you have any injuries, be sure to tell the police officer so that he can include that in his report. Do not forget to write down the police officer's name and ask for the crash report number. Find out when the report can be picked up and always be polite. WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT DO Do Not Admit Fault! Except for exchanging the required information, you should never comment or volunteer information about the accident to anyone other 3 than the police. Keep your notes and opinions to yourself and never admit that you were careless or wrong. These statements, made during the excitement and tension of a crash, can be wrong and such mistakes may be very costly to you. There is a time to admit responsibility for an accident and that time is AFTER all the facts are in and not before. Do not agree to pay for any damages. Do not sign any papers, especially a release. However, if you are given a ticket, you need to sign it. This is not an admission of guilt, you are merely acknowledging that you received the ticket. CONTACTING YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY You need to contact an attorney first and then with the guidance of your attorney, contact your insurance company after the on-scene investigation has been completed, usually within 24 hours. You will need to call your insurance company and let them know about the accident and the extent of the damage to all cars, any other property damage and the extent of any known injuries. If you do not report the accident promptly, your insurance company may not honor your policy and may try to deny your claim. INJURIES It is obvious that when someone has been seriously injured, which could include being knocked unconscious, suffered broken bones or received severe cuts and lacerations, immediate and proper medical attention is necessary. If you receive a serious injury, demand that an ambulance rush you to the nearest emergency room for treatment. Once your condition has been stabilized, you can then take care of other concerns such as selecting the best doctors to treat your injuries, getting your car repaired or handling any other details. Death - In 1996, approximately 115 persons died each day in motor vehicle crashes, an average of one death every 13 minutes. 2 Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for ages 6 through 27 years old, and 15% of these deaths were suffered by pedestrians and bicyclists. Following such a tragedy there is a very short time limit for the family of a victim to make a claim for a wrongful death since the statute of limitations is only two years! Consequently, it is extremely important to contact an experienced injury attorney immediately. The pain and suffering of a family following the death of a loved one is only the tip of the iceberg. The death of a parent or spouse can also cause severe financial hardships which cannot be overcome without compensation from the negligent party. It is not uncommon for the death of a spouse to cause a future loss of income that can exceed $1,000, and that is in addition to the pain and suffering 2 Traffic Safety Facts 1996, U.S. Department of Transportation. 4

5 caused by the tragedy. In this situation, an experienced injury attorney can properly document as well as prove both the financial and emotional losses of a family and this is essential in making a full recovery from the insurance company. Paralysis - Motor Vehicle Accidents are the cause of the greatest number of quadriplegic and paraplegic injuries. In cases involving paralysis, there is usually the loss of income as well as future medical costs that can add up to several million dollars. Sometimes the accident victim will need special ongoing care for a lifetime as well as special equipment to allow him or her to be as active as possible following the injury. Brain Injuries - Brain injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents can range from a mild injury causing memory loss and personality changes to a severe injury causing a total inability to communicate or function in society. Some brain injuries are called sub-dural hematomas. This is a condition caused by internal bleeding inside the skull which causes a crushing of the brain from accumulating blood occupying space in the brain. Unfortunately, any kind of brain injury is a permanent condition that requires very specialized and expensive medical care. Broken Bones - Motor vehicle accidents often cause fractures to bones in the face, back, ribs, arms and legs. Frequently, fractured bones must be repaired by surgery in which the orthopaedic surgeon mends the broken bones with metal plates, screws, rods and wires which help to assist in the healing process. These injuries cause permanent damage that can cause pain and suffering as well as a loss of function. Additionally, the medical costs can be expensive and often times a victim will lose a significant amount of time from work or may never be able to return to the same job or income they enjoyed prior to the accident. Often the victim will need ongoing medical care, and to make matters even worse, arthritis can be expected in the injured joints. Internal Bleeding - After any serious motor vehicle accident the emergency medical technicians are concerned about internal bleeding. Many organs have numerous blood vessels and if enough trauma is inflicted, the blood vessels may tear and cause severe internal bleeding. It is not uncommon for the liver or spleen to become ruptured and create the need for emergency surgery to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately these kinds of injuries are extremely severe and can cause problems that last a lifetime. Unfortunately, many people think they are not hurt badly, when in fact the opposite may be true and proper medical care is required. It is common for someone to feel "shaken up" after an accident; however, they may not feel any pain. Subsequently, a few hours later when the nervous energy from the accident has disappeared, many accident victims develop headaches, backaches, neck and shoulder pain and/or sore muscles. Should you develop any of these symptoms, it is important to go to a hospital or walk-in clinic as quickly as possible and see a doctor for an examination. Fortunately, most auto accidents do not involve serious injuries. They do, however, cause stress and pain to millions of people every year. The most common injuries sustained are to the head, neck and back. The impact of a rear-end collision by another car, even at relatively low speeds, is sufficient to cause a strain and injure your neck, back and spinal cord. Every year hundreds of thousands of automobile accident victims suffer from a painful and debilitating condition that some people call whiplash. A whiplash injury is correctly called a "cervical sprain or strain." Although there are many jokes about whiplash, this type of injury can be very serious and can cause years of pain and suffering, especially when the injury is improperly diagnosed, mistreated, or even ignored. WHAT IS WHIPLASH? When your car is struck from behind, your head is suddenly and forcefully flung backward beyond its normal range of motion; then, as quickly as it went backwards, your head is thrown forward. These sudden and violent motions damage the muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, vertebrae and disks in your neck, mid-back and lower back. When the muscles, tendons and ligaments are stretched beyond their normal limits, there are often small tears and sometimes even large tears to these tissues in your body. Some parts of the human body cannot heal. When a ligament is torn, it can never heal itself. When muscle is torn it is able to heal; however, scar tissue develops from the tear. This scar tissue reduces the flexibility and smoothness of the muscle and will press on small nerves and cause intense pain. Your Spine: The spine is made of seven cervical (neck) vertebrae, 12 thoracic (mid back) vertebrae and five lumbar (low back) vertebrae. There are also five sacral and three coccygeal bones that complete your spine. Your vertebrae are cylinder shaped bones stacked one on top of the other and separated by vertebral disks in between the bones. The vertebral disks are made of a soft flexible material that allows your spine to flex so that you can bend and twist. Your spinal cord is a collection of major nerves that run through a space in the back of your vertebrae. The spinal cord connects your brain to all your muscles and organs. You have nerve roots that branch off your spinal cord and go to your muscles and organs through small spaces around the bones in your spine. These nerves control specific parts of your body: arms, legs, hands, feet, muscles and organs. If any of your nerves are damaged or pinched, the muscles or organs controlled by that nerve will not work properly and you may have severe pain and/or a reduction in your ability to move parts of your body. 5 6

6 Spinal Injuries: If you are involved in an accident, your spine may be twisted, stretched and bent beyond normal limits. Sometimes an accident may injure a vertebral disk in between two vertebrae. Imagine an Oreo cookie with the two chocolate parts representing the bones in your back, and the white filling is your vertebral disk. When your spine is bent beyond its normal limits, the two hard vertebral bones may squeeze the vertebral disk out of its normal position and cause the disk material to press on a nerve in your back, or even press directly on your spinal cord. A bulging disk occurs when a vertebral disk is pushed out of, or extends beyond the normal disk space; however, the disk is not ruptured or torn. If a disk is bulging it may press on a nerve root or the spinal cord itself and is at risk of herniating (breaking) later. This can cause great pain and is a dangerous condition. A herniated disk is a vertebral disk that has been injured from compression, tearing or twisting by the bones around the disk which causes some of the jelly-like liquid disk material to break out of its bag. The disk comes out of the disk space pressing into areas of your spine where it does not belong. In this situation, the disk has been broken and the disk material has no place to go except to press on nerves and muscles around your spine. Your vertebral disk is like a jelly doughnut and if the doughnut is squeezed too hard, the jelly will squirt out. Unfortunately, the disk material will not go back into the disk and instead may press on a delicate nerve in your spine. If a disk is herniated, parts of the disk may press on the spinal cord or nerve root badly enough to cause a shooting pain down the nerve causing a numbness or tingling in that part of the body or even a loss of the bodily function controlled by that nerve. Very often a person has shooting pain down their legs from a disk injury in their back. This condition is commonly known as sciatica pain. This can include the loss of bladder or bowel control. If the injury is severe, the pressure on the nerve can cause extreme pain, and even paralysis in very severe cases. Many accident victims do not even realize that they have suffered a disk injury even after having x-rays at the hospital emergency room. An x-ray only shows the bones in your neck and back; it does not show the disks. However, a test called an MRI (Magnetic Resonant Imaging) will clearly show any kind of disk injury. Unfortunately, many HMO s will not pay for an MRI which could clearly show a disk injury and often times a general practitioner will be hesitant to suggest one because of the cost of an MRI. Sometimes a disk injury can occur and will appear to some doctors as a sprain and strain injury to the ligaments in your neck or back. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor who specializes in spinal injures and is experienced and equipped to accurately diagnose and treat spinal injuries. Generally speaking, medical professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating accident victims injuries are much better equipped to handle accident trauma than are general practitioners or family doctors. WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM When you go to the emergency room at a hospital, you are usually interviewed by a nurse and then a doctor. Give them an accurate description of the accident. They will also ask about your past medical history. When you are examined by the doctor, it is very important to tell him or her about any prior injuries or health problems. By withholding any of this information, you will probably hurt your chances of making a full recovery. The doctor will probably ask you if you were wearing your seatbelt at the time of the crash. If you were wearing a seat belt during the crash, make sure you let them know. Following the interview with the doctor x-rays are usually taken to see whether there are any fractured bones and depending upon the findings and/or the nature of the complaints or injuries, specialists may be consulted for further diagnosis or treatment. MEDICAL SPECIALISTS A radiologist may be consulted to interpret the x-rays or your doctor may suggest an MRI. An MRI is a special examination that allows a radiologist to examine the soft tissues of your body which can include the vertebral disks in your back and neck. With an MRI, the doctor can identify bulging or herniated disks; can look at the nerves to see if they have been injured or if they are being pinched by disk material and he can also determine if there are any ligament tears in your knees, elbows or shoulders. An orthopedist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing, treating and healing broken bones, fractures, chipped vertebrae, joint injuries, muscle, ligament and tendon injuries as well as misalignment of bones and disk injuries. A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diseases and injuries to the nervous system. A bump to the head can cause an injury to the brain and a sprain can cause nerves to be pinched. Neurologists are experts at detecting injuries to the brain, spinal cord, nerves and vertebral disks. A neurosurgeon is a medical doctor who is an expert surgeon specializing in very delicate and complex surgeries involving the nervous system, the brain, and the spinal cord. Many of the surgeries they perform are to alleviate pain caused by herniated or bulging disks which press on the spinal cord or nerves. A psychologist is a doctor who provides psychological therapy and is sometimes needed to help an accident victim recover from feelings of fear, anxiety or depression resulting from an accident. This is often called post traumatic stress disorder. A chiropractor is a specialist who manipulates the body to assist in restoring alignment to the spine. This can include manipulating the joints and muscles to improve flexibility, range of motion and reduction in pain. 7 8

7 A physical therapist is an expert who helps the patient rehabilitate injured areas of the body through exercise, massage and other hands-on treatment. MEDICAL TREATMENT AND DOCUMENTATION Fortunately, many accident victims who follow their doctor's instructions obtain relief from their injuries. However, many injuries may never completely heal, thereby causing a permanent and painful injury that will never disappear. Therefore, it is not enough for a doctor to be a good healer only. He must also be skilled at documenting your injuries by writing credible, factual medical reports that justify the diagnosis, treatment and healing of your injuries. Some doctors will provide an initial report outlining the injuries at the beginning of treatment, and then, once you have reached maximum medical improvement, they will prepare a final report which can be provided to the insurance company for payment of your injury claim. You can help your doctor by being consistent with your complaints of aches and pains, and making sure that he has documented your complaints each time you are treated. INSURANCE ADJUSTERS: KNOW WHO AND WHAT YOU ARE DEALING WITH Insurance adjusters are highly trained experts who are taught how best to deny claims and reduce payment of claims. They handle thousands of claims each year. If you have been injured, chances are this will be your first claim. Claims adjusters are thoroughly trained by insurance companies to save them as much money as possible. They have computer networks to handle all of their files and they have private investigators who spy on people making legitimate claims. They have access to information about you from credit reports, your medical history, previous injuries and insurance claims. They have thousands of lawyers and doctors who work for them, not for you! They have expensive public relations departments and lobbyists in all 50 states and they are very powerful! You need someone on your side with experience and knowledge as well as a commitment to protect your rights. If you are uncertain about what to say or not to say about your claim, you are probably better off not talking at all. Before talking to an insurance company, you can discuss the facts of your case with David Eaton and Matthew Powell by calling them at (800) There is no obligation and no cost to speak to them and it is completely confidential. If you have a question, call now before you possibly make a costly mistake. If Eaton & Powell accept your case, they will talk to the claims adjusters for you and relieve you of the stress that these calls can cause, and they will do so without any out-of-pocket cost to you. REPORTING THE ACCIDENT TO THE INSURANCE COMPANY Do you have to report the accident to your insurance company? Yes, it is important to do so. You have paid expensive premiums for years and if you do not report the accident to your insurance company, they may deny you the benefits you need and deserve. Keep in mind, it is extremely important to consult with your attorney prior to contacting your insurance company. Some people do not report minor accidents to their insurance company if no one was injured or if the damage to the cars was slight, believing that by not reporting an accident, they may help keep their insurance premiums low. If however, later on it turns out that someone was indeed injured, the insurance company may not pay the claim since the accident was not reported within a reasonable time. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE INSURANCE ADJUSTER CALLS? Beware of recorded statements. You do not have to give the other driver's insurance company a recorded statement and you should not do so! If anyone asks you for a recorded statement, you need to say "not until I have consulted an attorney first." Do not give a recorded statement or sign any papers without consulting with an attorney experienced in handling accident cases. We suggest that you allow an attorney to talk to the other insurance company for you. However, should someone come to your house or call you, it is better for a friend or a relative to speak with the claims adjuster, rather than you. If you speak to a claims adjuster, you will rarely improve your claim. It is usually best to have an attorney talk to the adjuster to be certain that the facts about the accident are correct. Many times a claims adjustor will want to know immediately all about your injuries. Do not be lulled into what you believe is a friendly unimportant chat. The claims adjuster has a job to do and that job is to save the insurance company money. So, a claims adjuster should 9 10

8 casually ask How are you today? and you politely say "Fine," then the adjuster will write down in his or her journal that you are not hurt since that is what you said on the phone that day. The insurance adjuster who calls you will try to get you to admit that the accident was partially your fault! If they can get you to admit that, then the insurance company can avoid paying you the full value of your claim. Unfortunately this type of mistake can often be very costly to an injury victim. WON'T THE INSURANCE COMPANY BELIEVE YOU AND PAY YOUR DAMAGES? No! The insurance company is in business to make a profit. They do this by charging you hefty premiums and then try to reduce their costs by minimizing payment of your claim. Since they handle so many claims, they make enormous profits by not paying the full value of every claim, by denying the claim altogether or by delaying payment of a legitimate claim to earn interest on your money. As if the trauma and inconvenience of the accident were not enough, the insurance company may require reams of documentation (to the point of harassment) to have you substantiate your claims of lost wages, time spent in therapy and expenditures related to the maintenance of your health. Remember, if you are getting the run around from an insurance company, it is time to contact an experienced personal injury attorney. YOUR LOST WAGES Florida common law says that accident victims have the right to be made whole again. This term simply means the victim should be put back in the same condition after the accident as you were before the accident occurred. Because of your injuries, you may be forced to miss work or otherwise have your income interrupted. Your ability to earn money in the future may also be impaired. If you have a permanent injury caused by the fault of another, you have the right to make a claim in order to be compensated for your past and future wage losses. Any time lost from your job or costs incurred in the process of rehabilitating your permanent injuries (travel time, transportation costs, affiliated repair expenditures, time spent at the doctor's office or in therapy, etc.) are also part of your claim that you may recover. HOW DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY YOU ARE ENTITLED TO RECOVER? Insurance companies rely on the fact that you do not know the true value of your claim. They will try to tell you what your claim is worth and attempt to settle the claim with you before an experienced attorney reviews your claim and can give you their opinion regarding the value of your claim. Chances are, an experienced claims adjuster knows a lot more about your injury than you do. Remember, the insurance company is motivated to settle your case as quickly and as cheaply as possible before you realize the true extent of your damages or injuries. Experienced claims adjusters want to minimize the risk of paying claims; therefore, they will try to offer an injured person a quick but unfairly low settlement in exchange for a full release. If an adjuster can persuade you to sign a release, you will be prevented from making any future recovery, even if your injuries turn out to be much worse than you expected. COMPARATIVE FAULT If the insurance company can place part of the blame for the accident on you, they will reduce your payments by your alleged percentage of fault. This includes your property damage as well as your injury claim. Florida law provides that each party to an accident is responsible for his or her percentage of fault. Therefore, the insurance company may blame you for part of the accident and seek to avoid paying all of your claim. A rear end collision is almost always 100% the fault of the trailing car. On the other hand, in a crash at a traffic light where each driver claims they had a green light, the insurance company will not want to pay any damages until it establishes which driver was at fault. Remember, the insurance company representing the other driver is trying to establish that the crash was at least partially your fault so that they can avoid paying the full claim to you. Consequently, it is important to call the police to the scene so that a crash report can be prepared. When the police have investigated the accident, the insurance company is likely to believe the crash happened according to the police report. They are not likely to take either your word or the word of their insured concerning the circumstances of the crash. Therefore, by calling the police to the scene, you will have the protection of a neutral third party investigating the crash and establishing more accurately how the accident occurred and who is really at fault. DO YOU REALLY NEED A LAWYER? An especially astute person may well be able to use this book to pursue his or her own claim against the perpetrator of an accident and the insurance companies liable for the damages. However, as a wise man once said, "The person who represents himself has a fool for a client." Representing yourself is a bad idea when you consider the wiser alternative. Therefore, if the law firm of Eaton & Powell accepts your case, they will represent you with no out-of-pocket expenses for your representation and they will do the following: 1. Give you a free, no obligation initial consultation to discuss and evaluate your accident or wrongful death case. 2. Help you find the best repair facility for your damaged car. 3. Assist, if necessary, in determining which medical professionals can best diagnose, treat, and heal your injuries and those who will accept payment 11 12

9 for the treatment of your injuries after your claim has been settled with the insurance company. 4. Have investigators assist in locating eye witnesses and taking photographs of the accident scene and the cars involved. 5. Help you complete the insurance forms. 6. Protect your interests if you must give a recorded statement. 7. Review all releases and forms that you sign. 8. Answer your questions, and guide you through the maze of resolving your claim. 9. Meet with you at your home or in the hospital if you cannot come to their office. 10. Negotiate with the insurance companies for you and, if necessary, file suit for your damages. When you choose Eaton & Powell to represent you, you can rely on their experience in dealing with insurance companies. You can learn whether you are eligible to receive compensation for your lost wages, inconvenience, pain and suffering, future disability, future lost wages and future medical bills. If the law firm of Eaton & Powell accepts your case, it will be on a contingency fee basis. This means that they will not be paid for their services or costs unless a recovery is made for you! Another very important thing to consider is this: The Billion Dollar Insurance Corporations use thousands of lawyers in order to protect their own interests. Therefore, when an insurance adjuster offers you an unfair, substandard amount of money for your damages, injuries and pain and suffering, and you protest their offer, they can say, "Take it or leave it." Then what do you do? Attorneys Eaton & Powell know exactly what to do and they will sue the irresponsible parties that caused your injuries and see to it that a Jury of your peers decides what is fair for your claim, not the insurance company. WHAT TO EXPECT YOUR ATTORNEY TO DO FOR YOU Attorneys Eaton & Powell offers highly personalized, individual legal services to their clients. They meet and consult with each client personally and follow his or her case through every stage. Since they concentrate on the quality of each case, rather than on high volume quantities, they are highly selective and do not accept every case. They work toward maximizing each and every client's settlement or verdict. Substandard offers are immediately met with the threat of a lawsuit. Clients are kept informed of all aspects of their case so that they will have sufficient information to make informed decisions. Of course, you, the client, will make the final decision as to whether to accept or reject a settlement offer or whether to take the next step and file suit for your damages. HOW TO GET YOUR CAR REPAIRED WITHOUT A LAWYER You can have your car repaired without a lawyer! Even though a lawyer is representing you for your personal injury claim, you can usually settle your property damage portion of the claim yourself faster, easier, and cheaper than with the aid of a lawyer. By settling the property damage portion of your claim as quickly as possible, you can avoid aggravation, avoid unnecessary storage fees and avoid the unnecessary loss of your vehicle s use. After you have been discharged from the hospital, you can locate your vehicle by contacting the police who will tell you which company has towed your car. Arrange for a friend or relative to photograph your wrecked car and retrieve your personal belongings. Your license plate should be removed if you believe that your vehicle has been totaled. An injured person should always try to avoid contact with an insurance company adjuster; therefore, it is usually wise to have a friend or family member handle everything. It is critical for a friend or family member to get good pictures of your vehicle's damage prior to any repairs (35mm photographs work best). Make sure the damaged areas of the vehicle are photographed so that a jury will be able to see the full extent of the damage to your car. If an airbag is deployed or there is interior damage, be sure to photograph those areas as well. If you are lucky, you might see the other vehicle, or vehicles that were involved in the crash at the same tow yard. If so, take several photographs of their damages as well. Hopefully, a trial will not be necessary, but it is far better to be safe than sorry. Taking pictures to preserve important evidence is critical to preserve the value of your claim. WHICH INSURANCE COMPANY WILL PAY? If you have collision coverage, your insurance company should pay for the damages to your vehicle no matter who was at fault. If you do not have collision coverage, the other driver's insurance company should pay your property damage provided you were not at fault in the accident. A property damage insurance adjuster or appraiser from the claims office will usually negotiate and pay your claim. When speaking with them, do not discuss the details of your personal injuries and never provide a recorded statement. It is best to tell them that your attorney will be handling your bodily injury claim and that they must contact your attorney with questions about your injuries. If you have collision coverage with your own insurance company, it is usually best to deal directly with them. While you will be required to pay your deductible (if any), you may recover it later from the person who caused the accident. Sometimes your insurance company will get your deductible back for you. You should not be afraid to make a claim against your insurance company because you are fearful that they will increase your premiums. Your insurance company is not allowed to raise your rates or cancel your coverage as a result of a claim unless the accident was partially your fault. They may, however, raise your premiums for other reasons

10 Most insurance companies want to settle property damage claims as quickly as possible so that they can close your file and go on to the next claim. Therefore, you can speed up this process by knowing the property damage claim number, knowing where your vehicle is located, knowing in advance where you want your car repaired and by having a friend assist you. PROPERTY DAMAGE WHEN THE OTHER PARTY HAS NO INSURANCE If the owner of the car that caused the crash has no insurance, you can send a copy of the crash report to the Department of Motor Vehicles with a letter telling them about the uninsured car owner. The Department of Motor Vehicles will then suspend their driver s license for failing to have the minimum automobile insurance required by law. Their driver s license will then be suspended until they pay up to $10, in damages, enter into an agreement with you to pay the damages or file bankruptcy. Below is a sample letter to suspend a car owner s driver s license; Bureau of Financial Responsibility Neil Kirkman Building Tallahassee, Florida RE: Dear Sir or Madam: Uninsured Driver/Owner: Uninsured Drivers Date of Birth: Driver's License No.: Tag Number: Date of Crash: I was involved in a motor vehicle crash on, and I have learned that the driver and/or the owner of the vehicle who was charged with the crash did not have automobile insurance as required by Florida Law. I have enclosed a copy of the Traffic Crash Report for your files and I would appreciate your taking whatever steps you deem necessary to ensure that the above named car owner makes full restitution for the crash and that they obtain the proper motor vehicle insurance. I am requesting that the State of Florida suspend the car owner s driver s license until such time as they compensate me for my damages. Sincerely, W HE RE TO HA VE YOUR CAR REPAIRED Generally speaking, the auto manufacturer dealerships are a good place for an initial repair estimate since they are best qualified to work on your vehicle. This is especially important if you have a leased car. By having the repairs done at the dealership from whom you leased the vehicle, you can avoid extra charges for damages at the end of the lease term. It is hard for them to say that the repairs were not done properly and that you owe them for damages since they did the repair work themselves

11 While factory dealerships are a good place to start, many other body shops can also provide excellent service. Look for a body shop with a good reputation in your the community and ask for recommendations from friends. Once you find a body shop that you want to repair your vehicle, submit the estimate to the insurance company. If the insurance company thinks that the estimate is too high, let the body shop and the insurance company haggle over the price. The body shop should be on your side and they should want to get your car fixed properly. They should be able to recognize when the insurance company is trying to cut corners. Remember, you do not have to use the body shop recommended by the insurance company. Sometimes they can do substandard work or use substandard parts. You are entitled to have the same kind and the same quality parts that were in your vehicle prior to the accident and if your car is brand new, then brand new parts will be required. On the other hand, an older car would not necessarily be entitled to brand new parts. If part of your car needs painting, the insurance company is not required to paint the entire car. They must however, make sure that the portion of your car painted matches the rest of the car reasonably well. HOW MUCH WILL THEY PAY TO REPAIR YOUR CAR? The insurance company will pay (until the policy limits are exhausted) the lessor of: 1. the actual cash value of your car, or 2. the amount necessary to repair it. If the cost of repairing your car exceeds 80% of it's value, the insurance company will total your car and pay you it's actual cash value. You will then be required to sign documents that transfer your car's title to the insurance company, so in effect, they will have purchased your wrecked car. IF YOUR CAR IS TOTALED If your car is totaled, the insurance company will determine it's actual cash value based upon a comparison with other vehicles of the same year, make, model, options, condition and mileage. In the event that you and the insurance company do not agree on the value of your car, you need to prove it's value by comparison to similar cars. Your comparisons will help you to explain why the insurance company s offer is substandard and why they should pay your more. You can find comparisons in the Auto Trader, classified ads, at car dealerships, NADA books and now even on the Internet. Finding out as much information as you can will help you to negotiate a better price. As a last resort, you can tell the insurance company that 17 you want them to purchase the replacement vehicle since some insurance companies use car locating services to find a car similar to yours. In other words, they will find a car with the same make, model, year, options and mileage and they will buy and deliver it to you. This option resolves any arguments about the value of the car since the insurance company replaces it for you. YOU ARE ENTITLED TO BE PAID FOR THE TAG REGISTRATION AND THE TAXES If your car is totaled, you are entitled to be paid for the sales tax and the registration fees. Generally, the insurance company will pay for sales tax after you have purchased the replacement vehicle. If you buy a vehicle that costs more than your wrecked one, the insurance company will pay sales tax only on the value of the wrecked vehicle and if you buy a less expensive one, the insurance company will keep the difference in sales tax, only paying what was actually spent on the vehicle. If you owe money on your vehicle, the insurance company will issue a check payable to you and the finance company. Once the finance company receives payment, they will send the car title to the insurance company, then the finance company will pay you the amount that remains after your loan has been paid. If, however, you owe more on the car than the amount paid by the insurance company, the finance company will keep all of the money and seek the difference from you. Unfortunately, you can not recover this financial loss from the other driver and the most that the insurance company is obligated to pay is the actual cash value of your vehicle regardless of your financing situation. Therefore, beware of upside-down financing, which simply means that you owe more for the vehicle, than it is actually worth. IF YOUR CAR CAN BE REPAIRED The insurance company may request that you bring the vehicle directly to them for an estimate. Many insurance companies have drive-through facilities that will appraise the damages while you wait. However, when your vehicle is not driveable, they will go to wherever it is located. HIDDEN DAMAGES After the insurance company has appraised the damages, they will usually issue a check to you and/or the selected body shop. Remember, do not sign a full release for the property damage until the vehicle is completely fixed. If your car is in a body shop chosen by the insurance company and hidden damages are discovered, the insurance company will write a supplemental check for the additional repairs. However, if your vehicle is in a body shop that you selected, they will need to notify the insurance company of any hidden damages they discover and get authorization for the extra repairs. Otherwise it is you who will be charged for the additional work. HOW TO AVOID PROBLEMS 18

12 BETWEEN YOU AND THE BODY SHOP If your vehicle is being repaired by a body shop that you selected, the insurance company may refuse to pay part of the repair bill and you could end up paying part of the money out of your own pocket. Furthermore, if the shop is slow in making repairs, the insurance company may only pay for a rental car for a limited number of days, and you might have to pay for the additional rental yourself. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to select a shop from the list provided by the insurance company since this will enable you to complain to the insurance company for any problems that might arise from delays. However, if you have decided to have the work done at a particular repair shop, they need to have a clear understanding with you that they will be responsible for any delays and that they will have to negotiate with the insurance company over any repair bill for hidden damages. In addition, they must agree to leave you out of any negotiations with the insurance company if they want to fix your car. Furthermore, they must be willing to accept these risks. To protect yourself, be sure to get this agreement in writing with the body shop! RENTING A CAR You are entitled to a rental car similar to your own car. If you rent a better car then your insurance company will not pay for the difference in the upgrade and you will be responsible for the difference. Telling the rental company that an insurance claim is being made should help get you the best rate. You should ask your insurance adjuster to recommend a rental car company with the best rates. In addition, some insurance companies have a direct billing plan with a rental company and they might pay for the rental car directly, rather than reimburse you at a later time. HOW LONG CAN YOU RENT A CAR? If your car is unsafe to drive, you are entitled to a rental car from the time of the crash until a reasonable time to make the repairs. However, if your car is safe to drive, then you are entitled to a rental car only while your car is being repaired. If your car is totaled, you are then entitled to a rental car up until the time the insurance company decides to declare your car totaled, plus an additional 5 business days to enable you to purchase a new car. Any rental expenses beyond these periods will most likely be at your expense. If your insurance company is providing a rental car, your insurance policy will control the duration, the type, and the cost of a rental car and most insurance policies limit the expense per day as well as the maximum number of days. IF YOU CANNOT RENT A CAR The insurance company is not responsible if you cannot rent a car because you are not old enough or you do not have the necessary credit cards or you cannot get insurance. They are only responsible for paying what is called the loss of use of your car. Sometimes, the loss of use can be the cost of cab fare, which can far 19 exceed the cost of renting a car. Therefore, be sure to save all of your transportation receipts! LOSS OF USE If you decide not to rent a car, the insurance company is still responsible for the loss of use of your car which is generally the cost of renting a similar car. If you own more than one car and you have the benefit of an extra car to drive, you are still entitled to the loss of use of your car. Hence, the insurance company is not entitled to a windfall because of your fortunate situation. PROPERTY DAMAGE RELEASES Most property damage claims are settled without a release and you should never finalize your property damage claim until all bills for towing, storage, rental, repair, sales tax and tag registration fees have been paid. For your protection, it is important to show any releases to your attorney before signing them. Furthermore, never sign a release of all claims or your personal injury claim because these releases are both unfair and illegal. Remember, it is illegal for an insurance company to withhold settling your property damage for the purpose of pressuring you to settle your injury claim. If this should happen, then contact an attorney immediately. CAN YOU BE PAID FOR YOUR TIME AND AGGRAVATION? Florida law does not allow for anyone to be compensated for the time and aggravation associated with getting their vehicle repaired unless you have suffered a permanent bodily injury. If you have a permanent bodily injury, then you can recover damages for all the inconveniences associated with the crash, along with pain and suffering, loss of wages in the future and the loss of the ability to earn wages in the future. INSURANCE COMPANIES PROPAGANDA The insurance companies have billions of dollars at their disposal and they can spend large sums of money to defend a case even though it is clear that the accident victim suffered a legitimate injury due to the negligence of their insured. Insurance companies also have enormous marketing budgets; therefore, they have a tremendous amount of money to spend on propaganda 20

13 and they do their best to mislead the public into believing that there is an insurance and lawsuit crisis and that victims of accidents and their attorneys are undeserving of compensation. They try to persuade the public that victims and attorneys are the ones responsible for rising medical costs and high insurance premiums. Unfortunately for the public, they have done an excellent job of convincing the public of that and of course, all of this is untrue! The insurance companies claim that some jury verdicts are excessive. For example, almost everyone has heard about the 79 year old woman in Albuquerque, New Mexico who was awarded millions of dollars after winning a lawsuit against McDonald s for burns she suffered when hot coffee spilled on her lap. What the insurance industry really did not want the public to know are the following facts: 1. The woman involved was sitting in the passenger seat of her car and was not driving at the time of the accident. 2. When she removed the lid from the container of scalding hot coffee, it spilled on her lap causing second and third degree burns to her buttocks, her thighs and her genitals. 3. She spent eight days in the hospital for surgical skin grafting procedures and afterward, she spent the next three weeks recuperating at her daughter s home. 4. At first, she wrote to McDonald s on her own without the help of an attorney and asked them to please lower the temperature of their coffee. She also asked them if they would pay her $2, out-ofpocket medical expenses and her daughter s lost wages since her daughter had to stay home from work and take care of her while she was recovering. 5. After making these reasonable requests, McDonalds offered her the paltry sum of $ When they refused to pay her out-of-pocket expenses, only then did she finally hire a lawyer who brought the case to trial. 6. At trial, the medical experts explained that coffee served at 170 degrees would cause serious burns within 3 ½ seconds. 7. McDonald s supervisors testified that they did not lower the temperature of their coffee even after they had received more than 700 burn complaints from other customers. 8. McDonald s stated that they keep their coffee between 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit in order to maintain optimum taste while most other restaurants serve their coffee at about 135 degrees. 9. The jury awarded the woman $200, to compensate her for the damages she suffered. However, they subsequently reduced the judgment by twenty percent since they believed that she was partially at fault, thereby reducing the actual award to $160, Next, the 21 jury sent a strong message to McDonald s by awarding her $2,700, in punitive damages which only represented approximately two days of coffee sales for McDonald s. 10. Next, the judge reduced the punitive damages to $480,000.00, which was three times her actual damages awarded by the jury. The judge also commented that the punitive damages were not out of line when he said the case was not a run-away. I was there. The jury s decision did, however, send a clear message to McDonald s that they needed to consider the safety of their customers first, not just their profit margins. The bottom line is this: The verdict was substantially reduced and McDonalds never really had to pay the amount that the jury had originally determined as fair. WHAT KIND OF INSURANCE COVERAGE DO YOU HAVE? Automobile insurance in Florida is mandatory. However, Florida law requires that automobile owners have Personal Injury Protection and Property Damage Insurance only! Florida law does not require anyone to carry bodily injury insurance. Furthermore, the laws may change; therefore, if you are unsure about your insurance coverage call a personal injury attorney and ask for a free consultation. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) is Florida's version of No Fault insurance. PIP will pay for your medical bills and/or your lost wages after your deductible has been met. Therefore, even if the accident was completely the other driver's fault, your PIP coverage will still be responsible for paying your medical bills. Likewise, the other driver who caused the accident will also have his medical bills paid by his own insurance company. Another thing to consider is what happens if you own a car, but are a passenger in a friend's car that is involved in an accident? If you are injured, your medical bills would be paid by your insurance company! That is why the insurance is called "No Fault". No matter who is at fault, each person looks to his or her own insurance company for payment of their medical bills. If you do not own a car and are involved in an accident, you are generally covered under the policy insuring the car you were riding in when the accident occurred. Florida law requires each car owner to have PIP in the amount of $10, although it is wise to buy more than the minimum coverage. PIP insurance pays 80% of the medical bills and you must pay the remaining 20%, as well as your deductible; or if you prefer, PIP will pay 60% of your lost wages or a combination of your medical bills and your lost wages after your deductible has been met. Therefore, it is very important to watch out for high deductibles, as high as $2, This means that you are responsible for paying your deductible as well as your 20% share and the insurance company will not be responsible for any of that amount. Therefore, a high deductible can wind up being very costly for you! Property Damage Insurance is another mandatory coverage each car must carry, although you can purchase more property damage insurance than is required 22

14 by law. However, it is very important to remember that Florida law does not require car owners to carry insurance for any bodily injuries. Somehow the legislature has decided that it is more important to repair vehicles than it is to compensate people who have received life-long injuries! Nevertheless, do not despair since there are other optional insurance coverages that you can purchase to protect yourself. Bodily Injury Insurance pays for any damages arising out of injuries or death to others for which the car owner and/or driver are at fault for causing. Bodily Injury Insurance is NOT required by law; therefore, if you are in a crash and you only had the minimum insurance required by law and the other parties (the other driver and owner of the car that caused the wreck) only carried the legal minimum insurance, you probably would not be able to receive any monetary compensation for your pain and suffering. For example, assume you are driving a car with minimum coverage, and you are properly wearing your seat belt. Then, another driver who is totally at fault crashes into you and injures one of your legs so badly that doctors determine that the leg must be amputated. Even though the other driver was totally at fault, you probably would not recover any money for your pain and suffering, mental anguish, the loss of your leg, the loss of future wages or the loss of your ability to earn money in the future. This terrible situation develops when the other driver does not have bodily injury insurance to cover you for your loss. However, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from the multitudes of uninsured or underinsured drivers on the road. Here s how... Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance It is vital to carry uninsured/underinsured insurance for yourself since it protects and pays you if you are involved in an accident in which the other driver is at fault and has either no insurance or not enough insurance to pay for your damages. If you have this protection, it will pay you and the occupants of your car for bodily injuries inflicted by an uninsured or under-insured driver. Unfortunately, there are many drivers in Florida who have no insurance but continue to drive and cause accidents. To make matters worse, Florida has even more drivers who carry only the minimum legally required insurance with no bodily injury insurance coverage. Subsequently, if you are in a wreck with any of these drivers, the chances of recovering any damages for your bodily injuries are slim to none unless you have uninsured motorist insurance coverage. In Florida you can buy "stacking" uninsured motorist coverage. This simply means that when you own more than one car which is insured by the same insurance company on the same policy, you can stack your uninsured motorist coverage for each car. In other words, if you owned three cars and all three cars were insured by the same company, and you elected to have $100,000 stacked uninsured motorist coverage for each car, you would have $300,000 total in uninsured motorist coverage available to you should you be involved in an accident with an uninsured driver. Therefore, if you were in a car crash with serious injuries, you could recover up to $300,000 from your own insurance company for your injuries. In essence, this insurance acts as if the other driver had $300,000 worth of bodily injury insurance. Medical Payment Insurance pays for the reasonable medical expenses incurred from a car accident. This protection will usually begin coverage immediately with no deductible and will pay the other 20% not paid by your PIP. This coverage protects you even if you are a passenger in someone else's car and the coverage can be as high as the limit you select. Simply stated, you are not limited to $10,000 in coverage for medical bills and this insurance pays your medical bills no matter who was at fault in the accident. Comprehensive Insurance covers loss or damage to your car resulting from perils such as fire, theft, vandalism, glass breakage, etc. Collision Insurance pays for damage to your car caused by impact with another automobile or object. Health Insurance: You may have health insurance which will pay some of your medical bills. Your personal or group health insurance policy may help pay the PIP deductible as well as assist you in paying the other 20% of the medical bills that PIP does not pay. Furthermore, if you drive a motorcycle, health insurance is especially important since there is no PIP or medical payment insurance for vehicles with less than four wheels. However, health insurance is totally separate from your automobile insurance and is sold separately. WHAT KIND OF INSURANCE SHOULD YOU HAVE? Everyone has different insurance needs; however, the most important insurance you should purchase to protect yourself is uninsured motorist insurance. Uninsured motorist coverage assures that you are compensated for injuries caused by a driver who carries only the legal minimum insurance or has no insurance at all. Remember, in addition to your standard liability, collision and comprehensive insurance, it is very wise to include medical payment insurance as well as uninsured motorist insurance in your policy. These two additional coverages virtually close the gaps of protection if you are involved in an accident, no matter who is to blame or whether or not the other party has insurance. IF YOU DRIVE A MOTORCYCLE Per mile, motorcyclists are about 16 times more likely to die in a traffic crash than car occupants. The same freedom that a motorcycle offers its riders also exposes them to the dangers of serious injury. Both the protective clothing and the driving practices of a cyclist are the rider's choice and can increase the risk of a serious injury or death. Unfortunately, most motorcycle/car accidents result in extremely serious injuries to the motorcycle rider even if the cyclist was riding 23 24

15 safely and completely obeying the law. Therefore, it is even more important for a cyclist to carry quality health insurance and Uninsured Motorist coverage since it will protect them if they are injured by a careless driver. Since Florida law is based upon comparative fault, even if the accident was 90% the motorcyclist s fault and 10% the other driver's fault, the motorcyclist may still recover a sizeable settlement. However, should tragedy ever strike, you may choose to allow an experienced personal injury attorney to worry about issues of liability, comparative negligence and how to protect your claim. Since motorcycles are not required by law to carry insurance, there are special laws regarding claims for injuries suffered by motorcyclists. Therefore, it is wise to speak with an attorney who is familiar with the special laws regarding motorcycles. CRASHES INVOLVING SEMI- TRUCKS In 1996, eleven percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities reported involved heavy trucks. If you are involved in a crash with a semi-truck, it is important to seek the advice of an experienced injury attorney. Since the size and weight of large trucks cause significantly more devastating damages than an ordinary car, it is crucial that the victims seek sound legal advice. There are special laws that govern the operation of large trucks. For instance, semi-trucks have limitations on the weight of their loads, on which roads they can travel and on the amount of time the driver may spend on the road. Even if the crash was partially your fault, you may still make a significant recovery for your damages. That is why it is so important to consult with an experienced injury attorney who knows the laws governing heavy trucks. HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO MAKE A CLAIM? The sooner the better! However, in most accident cases (not all) you have four years from the date of the accident to make your recovery or to file a lawsuit, and only two years if a death is involved. Remember, it is wise to consult an attorney immediately since there are many exceptions to the four year statute of limitations, and if you do not file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period, you will be forever barred from making any claim. OTHER KINDS OF ACCIDENTS AND INJURIES Although the information contained in this book focuses primarily on car crashes, it can also be helpful in other kinds of accidents or injuries as well. Whether you or a friend have been injured in a slip and fall accident, or by a defective product, by a dog bite or a bicycle accident, or even if a loved one is the victim of a violent crime or rape in an apartment complex or shopping center, the information in this book can be helpful in protecting you from a second mishap -- that being the mishandling of your claim! By being prepared and documenting important events, facts and witnesses, you are improving your chances of making a full recovery. CAR SAFETY AND CRIME Unfortunately, more and more automobile drivers are becoming victims of crime and are attacked, assaulted and injured by criminals. A few simple things that you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim is to place your purse or briefcase underneath the seat or in the trunk of your vehicle and always lock your door so that a would-be criminal will not be tempted to make you his victim. Carjackers usually surprise drivers by simply walking up to the car and opening the door. Although by locking your doors you may prevent some attacks, criminals are now becoming so bold that they will break the windows to get into your car. Therefore, try to keep some space between your car and other cars stopped in front of you so, if necessary, you could possibly escape by driving away. You can also use your horn to attract the attention of other drivers and always surrender your vehicle if the criminal is armed. It is also important to be suspicious of minor rear-end collisions, since criminals have been known to tap the car in front of them so that the driver will get out. Remember, if you are not in a public place, you may want to motion the other driver to follow you to a well-lit gas station or maybe even a police station. However, if your car is not driveable, you can certainly stay inside until someone arrives to help. In addition, be suspicious of any strangers who motion or otherwise tell you that there is a problem with your car. This tactic has been used by some criminals to rob their victims or to disarm them prior to an attack. CONCLUSION This book is designed to give you as much general information as possible based upon Florida law. However, every accident, injury and situation is unique. Consequently, this book does not contain all of the information you might need to 25 26

16 know, so it is very important for you to talk to an attorney experienced in representing accident victims. Please call David Eaton and Matthew Powell as soon as possible and they will glad to discuss your injury case and help you find answers to your questions. Call for a FREE consultation with David Eaton or Matthew Powell. (813) (800) EATON & POWELL INJURY ATTORNEYS FREE INFORMATION 24 Hour Recorded Messages Call (800) , then enter the 4 Digit Code to hear the message. AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENTS 9103 What to do after a car accident? 9104 Preserving the evidence 9114 Should I say no to recorded statements? 9115 Should I sign a release? 9116 What if the other driver was intoxicated? 9118 What kinds of insurance are best? 9111 Can I get my lost wages paid now? 9112 Can I get my medical bills paid now? OTHER KINDS OF CASES 9107 Rape Victims Rights 9122 Bicycle accidents 9121 Motorcycle crashes 9123 What to do after a dog bite? 9108 Wrongful death (813) TAMPA Available for consultations: (800) STATEWIDE (941) SARASOTA (941) LAKELAND (941) LAKE WALES (727) CLEARWATER (727) ST. PETERSBURG MEDICAL MALPRACTICE 9105 What is Medical Malpractice? 9105 What if I have been injured by a health care provider? 9105 Hospital negligence 9105 Physician negligence 9109 Birth defects from lack of oxygen 9109 Cerebral Palsy 9110 Misdiagnosis 9105 Pharmacy negligence 9110 How much time do I have to bring a claim? 9100 What kind of experience should my attorney have? NURSING HOME ABUSE 9106 What rights do nursing home residents have? 9108 Bed sores and nursing home neglect 304 Plant Avenue Tampa, Florida is our main office

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