Getting into a car accident is a sure-fire way to put a damper on anyone’s day. Fear, shock, and anger, all come in waves as you get out of your car to assess the damage and exchange information with the other driver. Fortunately, some accidents are relatively minor — and if no one seems to be injured and there isn’t any real property damage, you may feel like you can take a big sigh of relief. But, what happens if a couple of days later, the other driver files a claim against you and your insurance company? What should you do? Do courts even take these types of cases seriously when the accident was — on its face — inconsequential?
What happens when the other driver claims injuries after a minor car accident?
The first thing to keep in mind is that although the United States is a litigious country, it is also possible for a person to get injured in a relatively minor car accident. This is especially the case if you were involved in an accident with someone who was already more susceptible to injury due to a pre-existing medical condition or previous physical trauma. While you may be tempted to argue that the average person wouldn’t have suffered any injuries, Florida has what’s known as an Eggshell Plaintiff Rule — which means that you take the injured person as you find them.
That being said, there are also cases when people may attempt to use a car accident case as a windfall by exaggerating injuries. The person making the claim has the burden to prove four elements to prevail against you:
1. A duty of care. Every motorist on Florida roadways have a duty to comply with traffic laws and to exercise precaution, so this one applies to every driver.
2. A breach of that duty. This would include speeding, running a stop sign, failing to have working brake lights, or not complying with any traffic law.
3. Causation. It’s not enough to prove that you broke a traffic law. The other person has to prove that doing so is a direct cause of their injuries (e.g. broken tail lights won’t hold water in a head-on collision case).
4. Damages. The other party would also have to show they sustained damages as a result of the accident — medical bills or lost wages, to name a few.
What can you do to protect yourself?
Litigation involves a lot of investigations, requesting and reviewing documents, taking sworn statements, and medical evaluations, among other complex steps. While all of it can be confusing and overwhelming, there are several things you can do to protect yourself from a driver who’s claiming injuries after a car accident.
- Never admit fault. No matter the circumstances of the crash, never bring up anything that could be misconstrued as you having caused the accident. This includes saying you’re sorry, or that you were on your phone, or were otherwise distracted. Even if the other person seems friendly, if they relay your statements to their insurance company or attorney, you’re practically guaranteed that they’ll come back claiming you admitted fault. Even if you really think you caused the accident, Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction. This means that if you were partly at fault — but so was the other driver — the amount of money they could receive from you if they prevail on a claim will be reduced by their own percentage of fault.
- Do not speak with their insurance company or their lawyer. This is not the time to give them your side of the story or to try to explain a misunderstanding. Their job is to minimize their own responsibility by pinning it on you. So everything you say will be used against you — regardless of how innocuous you may think your statements are.
- Speak with an attorney. As soon as you get notification of the claim against you, schedule a consultation with an attorney who has extensive experience in car accident cases. Your lawyer will review the claims, explain what they mean, discuss your potential legal exposure — if any — and listen to your account of events to determine a good strategy to defend your case.
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Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.