Experienced Boca Raton Car Accident Lawyers Answer Frequently Asked Questions About Florida Personal Injury Law
As the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit, the burden is on you to prove all the essential elements of the case. Any misstep along the way may keep you from getting the compensation you need to recover for your losses. Below are answers to questions frequently encountered by the attorneys at Ellis, Ged & Bodden as they help people in Boca Raton and throughout Florida who have been injured in a car or truck accident or other injury caused by another’s negligence or wrongful conduct. The answers to these questions may help you understand the legal process under Florida personal injury law, but what is most important to your recovery is that you contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. If you have not yet retained an attorney to help you, contact our office for a free consultation about how we can help you.
Q. How much will it cost me to file a personal injury lawsuit?
A. Most personal injury lawyers will take your case on a contingency fee basis, meaning they do not charge you any money up front and only collect a fee after they have achieved a recovery for you. The fee is calculated as a percentage of the recovery, which usually varies depending on if the case goes to trial or appeal versus a pre-trial settlement. Many personal injury law firms will also advance the costs of the lawsuit, such as court filing fees, expert witness fees, court reporter deposition fees, etc. out of their own pocket, so you will not have to pay any money up-front to pursue your case. Legal expenses and costs may be deducted from the settlement or judgment either before or after the attorney’s fees are calculated.
Q. Don’t most cases settle? Why do I need an attorney if I’m not going to court? Can’t I just settle the claim with the insurance company on my own?
A. Most personal injury claims do settle without the necessity of a trial. However, there are important reasons to be represented by an attorney from the outset. Insurance companies never make a settlement offer that reflects the true value of the claim when the other party is unrepresented. However, if they know you are represented by an attorney who goes to court and tries cases, and who is actively pursuing litigation on your behalf, then they are much more likely to settle for a fair amount. Often a great deal of litigation and trial preparation is required before the insurance company agrees to settle for the appropriate amount.
Q. Another driver pulled out into traffic in front of me and caused a serious car accident, but his insurance company says I should have seen him coming and reacted in time to avoid the accident. They say because I was negligent too, they won’t pay my damages. Can they do that?
A. A favorite defense tactic of the insurance companies is to try and shift the blame for a car accident onto the other party. If any of the blame for the accident is assigned to you, your monetary award will be reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault allocated to you. The insurance defense lawyers may urge the jury to compromise and find both parties at fault to reduce their liability, but we fight hard to make sure you are not unfairly apportioned any of the blame for the accident which was not your fault.
This is why it is so important to be represented by experienced personal injury trial lawyers who know what your claim is worth. If the insurance company is refusing to pay or is only offering a discounted amount, we take the other party to court and work hard to establish their negligence while fending off attacks from the insurance company and making sure our clients are not unfairly burdened with blame for the accident which they did not cause.
Q. When are punitive damages awarded?
A. Most of the damages in a personal injury lawsuit are compensatory damages, meaning they are meant to compensate the plaintiff for losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, or funeral expenses and loss of companionship in the case of wrongful death. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant to punish the defendant for particularly bad behavior and serve as a warning to others that society simply will not tolerate such conduct. Punitive damages are therefore appropriate when the defendant’s actions go beyond mere negligence and are especially outrageous.
Under Florida law, punitive damages may be awarded when the defendant acted with intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Intentional misconduct means the defendant knew the conduct was wrong and was highly likely to cause injury, but he or she intentionally did it anyway. Gross negligence means the defendant’s actions were so reckless or careless that they amounted to a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of others.
The facts supporting a claim for punitive damages must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a higher and tougher standard than is required for the other facts in a personal injury case, which must be proven by “a preponderance of the evidence.” Despite the higher level of difficulty, the attorneys at Ellis, Ged & Bodden diligently pursue punitive damages against wrongdoers in appropriate cases.