The National Highway Safety Administration has reported that nearly 3 million people are injured in vehicle accidents every year across the United States. Passenger cars, light trucks (including pickups, vans, and utility vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less), to large trucks with a weight of 10,000 pounds or more may be involved in motor vehicle accidents. These accidents can range from single-car crashes to multiple car accidents. Injuries may range from mild to severe, and some injuries may be fatal. The following factors affect how injuries may occur:
- Are the vehicle’s occupants wearing a seatbelt?
- How fast were the vehicles going that were involved in the crash? Was this a high-speed accident or a low-speed collision?
- Did the vehicle have airbags? Did the airbags deploy?
- Where was the vehicle hit? Was the vehicle hit from the rear, the side, or the front?
- How was the vehicle’s occupant positioned in the seat? Was the occupant looking straight ahead toward the road or was the occupant turned a different way, positioning their head or body in a different direction?
Types of injuries that may occur in car accidents
Head and Back Injuries
Head injuries may be one of the most serious types of car accident injuries. Occupants in vehicles may strike their head against windows, dashboards, steering wheels, and even seats. Traumatic brain injuries may range from a concussion to a more severe injury such as a coma, and long-term brain damage.
Back Injuries may be mild and resolve within weeks. Back injuries may also be more serious and require long-term rehabilitative care and surgery. Spinal cord damage and herniated disks may occur. Damage to the spinal cord can cause nerve damage, resulting in permanent paralysis in some cases.
One of the most common injuries associated with car accidents is whiplash. Whiplash injuries vary from person to person, with many cases resolving after a few weeks. However, some cases may be more severe and require longer-term medical care and treatment.
Injuries to the chest may include fractured or broken ribs to a collapsed lung. These injuries often involve blunt force trauma. A driver’s chest may hit the steering wheel, for example. Further, those who have health conditions involving the heart may also suffer complications from the impact of a steering wheel or dashboard against their chest. Internal bleeding in the chest may occur and any damage to the chest or abdomen requires immediate medical attention.
Injuries to the limbs may occur, with the hands, arms, and legs involved in a penetration injury or an impact injury. Bruises and cuts are also common. Broken bones and fractures may occur, depending on the details of the accident.
Steps to take after a car accident
- Determine whether someone needs immediate medical care. If so, call 911.
- If possible, put on your hazard lights and pull the vehicle out of traffic.
- If no one is in need of emergency medical care, still check yourself for injuries and your vehicle for property damage. Even if you believe the accident is minor and cannot find significant property damage, it is still important to call the police and document the accident. Insurance companies need police reports to ensure that claims are filed accurately. Further, some injuries, like neck injuries, may take time after the accident to be fully realized. Therefore, if your vehicle has been damaged or someone is not sure about whether they sustained injuries because of the accident, call 911.
- Provide the police with a statement about what happened and stick to the facts rather than an emotional account about what happened.
- Take photos from various angles, including photos of the vehicles involved in the crash, the license plates, and a street view of where the accident occurred. Take photos of the weather conditions and the road conditions, too.
- Gather any witnesses who can provide a statement about what happened. Takedown the witness’s contact information.
- Start the claims process with the insurance company for the at-fault driver.
- If you need help with negotiating with the insurance company or need to file a personal injury claim, contact an experienced Florida lawyer.
Car accidents and distracted driving
Distracted driving is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents. Distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019, according to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Distracted driving is any non-driving activity that diverts attention from driving, including phone use, whether talking on the phone or texting, eating and drinking, speaking to other people in the vehicle, taking hands off the wheel to change the radio station, or adjusting the stereo system or looking at the navigation system in the car. All these instances are examples that take your attention away from the task of safe driving, and these are all distractions that may increase the risk of crashing and being involved in a car accident.
Cell phones and distracted driving
With the advent of cell phones has come a new danger to driving: texting. Texting while driving is extremely dangerous. The NHTSA says that sending or reading a text can take a driver’s eyes off the road for 5 seconds. To put that time in perspective, if you are driving at 55 mph for 5 seconds, that is equivalent to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Driving safely means giving your full attention to the road and many states have laws against using the cell phone, including texting and other distractions while driving. Florida law has banned handheld devices in school and work zones, but there is not an all-cell phone ban. However, text messaging while operating a vehicle is against the law in Florida.
Changes to auto insurance requirements in Florida
Florida has been a no-fault state for decades, but the law may be changing soon. In Florida, vehicle owners registered in the state must purchase personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This no-fault auto insurance provision has been in place since the 1970s and requires drivers to carry at least $10,000 in personal injury protection. Per Florida law, the $10,000 is the minimum insurance drivers carry for PIP (covering wages and medical care related to injuries) and $10,000 for property damage liability (PDL). This coverage makes individuals responsible for their own injuries suffered due to an accident, regardless of fault. Therefore, each driver’s insurance company will pay for the covered driver’s car accident expenses. Also, under PIP, insurance companies must pay benefits. Therefore, you will need to file a claim with your auto insurance company under your own PIP coverage to receive compensation. An auto insurance plan typically includes the following:
- Bodily injury coverage – $10,000 per individual and $20,000 per accident
- Property damage coverage – $10,000 per accident
- Personal injury protection – $10,000 per accident
- Uninsured motorist coverage – $10,000 per individual and $20,000 per accident
Typically, under this system, unless you have incurred permanent injuries and the damages are over $10,000, you are unable to sue the at-fault driver.
Comparative negligence laws in Florida
Florida law considers whether a party was completely, partially, or not responsible for an accident. This comparative negligence system determines to what extent a party may be liable. Therefore, if a plaintiff is partially at fault for an accident then the potential damages awarded would be reduced according to the percentage of liability. For example, the plaintiff may be held 20 percent liable while the defendant may be held 80 percent liable, leading the plaintiff to receive 80 percent of the potential damages, including both economic and non-economic damages.
Exceptions to the no-fault laws include the following:
- The victim has suffered a permanent injury, such as the loss of an important bodily function
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
In these situations, the victim may be able to sue the party responsible for the accident to recover their losses. The party responsible for the accident may be considered at fault by insurance adjusters, a judge, or a jury. The at-fault driver may have committed negligence in the following ways:
- Distracted driving
- Intoxicated or drugged driving
- Running a stop sign or red light
- Driving too closely
- Driving in a careless manner
- Not following traffic laws
Florida car accident laws may be changing
The laws in Florida are different than most states, which use an at-fault system, meaning that the insurance carrier of the driver who is at-fault is responsible for covering damages that the party who is not at fault sustained, including property damage and bodily injury, according to the limits set forth by the specific auto insurance policy.
However, Florida law may look different this year. In 2021, the Florida House and Senate repealed its no-fault PIP protection with the passage of Senate Bill 54. The revisions to the law will include a change to the minimum auto insurance coverage requirements that makes bodily coverage mandatory, the financial responsibility requirements for owners or lessees of for-hire passenger transportation vehicles, such as Uber or Lyft, and a change that provides an exception to the circumstances under which a person who is damaged may bring a civil action against an insurer.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is to sign legislation that repeals Florida’s Motor Vehicle No-Fault Law that has been the law in Florida since 1979. The No-Fault Law required drivers to have a minimum of $10,000 personal injury protection or a no-fault insurance policy. However, far too many drivers failed to have even that coverage in place for themselves. Senate Bill 54 instead requires drivers in the State of Florida to have mandatory bodily injury coverage starting at $25,000 – which means that the at-fault driver would be responsible for the medical expenses of his or her victim.
Under this law, drivers will instead be required to carry at least $25,000 in bodily injury coverage for the injury or death of one person, and $50,000 in coverage for the injury or death of two people. The insurance for the person determined to be at fault in the accident would payout for claims.