8 Steps You Should Take After a Florida Auto Accident
Car accidents change lives. Some accidents end lives. When injury victims wonder how they can cope with the consequences of a Florida car crash, they turn to an accident lawyer in West Palm Beach for guidance. Getting prompt advice from an injury attorney helps accident victims protect valuable legal rights so that they receive all the compensation they deserve.
Before talking to a lawyer, however, there are important actions that accident victims should take while they are still at the crash scene. The West Palm Beach injury lawyers at Law Lavin are providing the following information to help drivers and passengers understand more about Florida traffic accidents, including the steps they should take after being injured in a collision.
Florida Traffic Accident Statistics
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) reports that more than 250,000 people were injured in Florida car crashes during 2016. Almost 3,000 died as a result of auto accidents.
In Palm Beach County alone, more than 16,500 people were injured in traffic accidents during 2016. In that same year, more than 160 people died in Palm Beach County car crashes.
Alcohol was a suspected factor in more than 1,000 crashes in Palm Beach County, including dozens of the county’s traffic accident deaths. The importance of sober driving can never be overstated.
Causes of Florida Auto Accidents
The DHSMV lists the following top causes of Florida auto accidents:
- Failing to yield the right of way
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving the wrong way on a road or in a lane or ramp
- Running a red light or stop sign
- Disregarding other traffic safety signs or road markings
- Making an illegal turn
- Failing to signal a turn
- Failing to stay in driver’s lane
- Changing lanes without checking the driver’s blind spot
- Improper backing
- Improper passing
Most of those causes involve specific violations of traffic safety laws. However, the largest single cause of traffic accidents classified by the DHSMV is careless driving. Violating a traffic safety law is strong evidence of careless driving, but not all careless acts are illegal.
Other examples of careless driving include driver error (such as overcorrecting), letting attention wander, and driving while fatigued. The fastest growing act of careless driving in recent years has been distracted driving.
Cellphone use has become the most common reason for driver distraction in Florida. Texting or dialing a cellphone while driving removes the driver’s eyes from the road. A driver who isn’t paying attention to the road is a careless driver.
Florida has banned texting while driving but, unlike some states, it has not outlawed a driver’s use of handheld mobile phones. When a driver who causes an accident was holding a cellphone, however, accident lawyers in West Palm Beach regard the driver’s cellphone use as strong evidence of negligence.
Kinds of Florida Auto Accidents
Different kinds of auto accidents cause different kinds of injuries. Catastrophic injuries (those that prevent injury victims from resuming their former lives) often result from high-speed head-on collisions, or from T-bone collisions that cause a rollover. But even a low-speed rear-end collision can cause a whiplash injury that might take months to heal.
Florida auto accidents involving two motor vehicles, ranked from most to least common, include:
- Rear-end collisions. Distracted driving is the usual cause of a rear-end collision. Cars do not suddenly drop out of the sky. A driver who fails to see a car in time to stop is typically paying attention to something other than the road. Sleeping at the wheel and driving under the influence of alcohol are other common explanations for rear-end collisions.
- Angle collisions. “Angle collision” is the term used to describe T-bone and other side-impact collisions. Angle collisions typically occur in intersections when one car crashes into the side of another car that has already entered the intersection. When the car that is struck does not have side airbags, an angle collision can cause very serious injuries. High-speed angle collisions, or lower-speed collisions caused by a heavy truck, can make a vehicle roll over, subjecting occupants to catastrophic injuries.
- Sideswipe collisions. Sideswipes involving two moving vehicles are more likely to happen when the vehicles are moving in the same direction. They are usually caused by an unsafe lane change or merging into traffic from an entrance ramp. A driver’s lack of awareness that another vehicle occupies an adjacent lane is the most common explanation for sideswipes.
- Head-on collisions. While head-on collisions are less common than other collisions, they are more likely than other accidents to cause a fatality. Airbags, safety harnesses, and crumple zones provide some protection for vehicle occupants, but they cannot prevent all injuries when two vehicles crash into each other head-on. Driver fatigue, distracted driving, and drunk driving are the most common reasons for head-on collisions.
Other reasons for Florida auto accidents include unsafe backing and failing to notice pedestrians and bicyclists. Collisions involving motorcycles are often caused by a driver making a left turn in an intersection without yielding to an oncoming motorcyclist. Studies show that drivers underestimate the speed of oncoming motorcycles, and that they are less likely to notice motorcycles than other vehicles.
Injuries Caused by Florida Auto Accidents
West Palm Beach accident lawyers see the results of careless driving on Florida’s roads and highways. Some injuries resolve quickly, some require months of treatment and physical therapy, and some leave accident victims permanently disabled.
The most severe auto accident injuries are classified as catastrophic. Brain injuries, spinal injuries, limb amputations, severe burns that affect a large part of the body, and serious damage to organs are examples of catastrophic injuries. They prevent the injury victim from resuming former employment and may prevent the victim from doing any kind of work that produces a significant income. Catastrophic injuries often require a lifetime of specialized care.
Traumatic brain injuries are among the most devastating consequences of Florida auto accidents. Brain damage can affect the accident victim’s ability to think, speak, and move. Brain injuries can cause personality changes and emotional difficulties. Specialized care providers often work as a team to help victims cope with their limitations.
Serious spinal injuries cause paralysis. Accident victims often rely on wheelchairs for mobility and need to remodel their homes to add ramps and widen doors. Disabled accident victims who have use of their arms may be able to operate vehicles that are equipped with hand controls. Maximizing independent living is usually the goal when West Palm Beach injury lawyers help the victim of a catastrophic injury obtain compensation.
Less severe injuries can nevertheless be consequential. Common auto accident injuries in Florida include:
- Broken bones
- Joint injuries (knees, wrists, elbows, and ankles)
- Neck injuries
- Back injuries
- Facial scarring
- Eye injuries
- Dental injuries
- Puncture wounds
- Post-injury infections
- Nerve damage
- Stretched or torn muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage
Even the most common accident, a low-speed rear-end collision, can produce a painful whiplash injury. The insurance industry spent years trying to convince the public that accident victims fake the symptoms of a whiplash injury, but the science of biomechanics has demonstrated that the forces generated by a 10 mph rear-end collision are more than adequate to twist the spine while stretching or tearing muscles and tendons in the neck and back.
Compensation for Florida auto accident injuries covers past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss, and the expense of any devices or assistance needed to cope with the injury, as well as pain, suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress. Injury lawyers in West Palm Beach are dedicated to helping Florida car accident victims obtain all the compensation they deserve.
What to Do After a Florida Auto Accident
Every driver in Florida has certain legal obligations after being involved in an auto accident. There are additional things that injury victims should do to protect their rights. Here are the steps we think all Florida accident victims should take:
Step 1: Stay at the scene
Florida law requires all drivers who are involved in an accident to stay at the scene until they have complied with all their obligations. Driving away can lead to a criminal charge unless you are transporting yourself or another injury victim to a hospital or clinic for emergency care. If you do go to a hospital, however, you should immediately report your location to the police and explain why staying at the scene would have been unsafe.
Step 2: Don’t move unless you can do so safely
If you fear that you have been seriously injured, wait for a professional to remove you from your vehicle. It may be necessary to immobilize your head and neck to avoid worsening your condition. Wait for an ambulance to arrive so that paramedics can help you. If you can’t call for an ambulance yourself, ask the other driver or anyone else at the accident scene to make the call.
Step 3: Notify the police
When an accident results in an injury or property damage, drivers have an obligation to notify the police. If a cellphone is available, you should do that immediately. A police officer will investigate the accident and write a crash report. The officer can also assure that the situation remains under control if tempers begin to flare.
If the accident was the other driver’s fault, make sure to tell the officer exactly how the accident happened. If you think it was your fault, you might want to get legal advice before you say anything incriminating.
Step 4: Exchange information
Florida law requires each driver involved in a crash to provide the other driver with his or her:
- License plate number
Drivers have an obligation to give the police that same information.
The law also requires each driver to show his or her driver’s license to the other driver “upon request.” You should make that request if no police officer responds to the scene. In most cases, a police officer will arrive and will write down driver’s license information on the crash report.
Step 5: Render reasonable assistance
Florida law requires every driver involved in a crash to render reasonable assistance to any person who was injured. That doesn’t mean providing medical treatment. Treatment should only be provided by paramedics.
Usually, reasonable assistance means calling an ambulance. If an ambulance is unavailable or no phone is available to call for help, it may mean transporting the injured person to a doctor if that is clearly necessary or if the injured person requests it. However, you should never try to move an injured person who might have a head, neck, or back injury. Only a trained paramedic should do that
Step 6: Gather evidence
If you have a camera (or a camera app on your smartphone), take pictures of the cars before they are moved. Try to get pictures from several angles. Take close up pictures that show where the vehicles made contact, as well as more distant pictures that show the location of the vehicles on the road.
If witnesses are present who saw the accident, get their names and telephone numbers. The police or your West Palm Beach accident lawyer may want to interview them.
Step 7: Get medical attention
As soon as you can, see a doctor. Get treatment in an emergency room or an urgent care clinic. Make sure to tell the doctor about all your pain or discomfort, even if it seems insignificant. If you later base an injury claim on a problem that you didn’t report to the doctor, the insurance adjuster will probably insist that the problem wasn’t caused by the accident.
Sometimes, as in the case of a whiplash, you might feel fine at the accident scene, only to feel pain during the night, the next day, or even several days later. The delayed onset of pain is a common result of certain soft tissue injuries. At the first twinge of pain, see a doctor. Delay makes the symptoms more difficult to treat, and also encourages claims adjusters to dispute that the pain is both real and related to the accident.
Step 8: Get legal advice
As soon as you can, talk to an attorney about your injury. The West Palm Beach injury attorneys at Law Lavin will give you additional advice.
The claims adjuster for the other driver will probably contact you soon after the accident. It is smart to obtain legal advice before talking to the claims adjuster so that you do not say something that might hurt the settlement value of your claim. In most cases, it is better to have an attorney talk to the adjuster on your behalf.
A West Palm Beach accident lawyer can also give you advice about future medical treatment. Medical records play an important role in settlements. If the records show that you did not follow up on recommended medical care, the claims adjuster will assume that your injury had completely resolved. A lawyer can help you understand the importance of building the record that you need to protect your right to receive full compensation for car accident injuries.