There is no doubt that accidents happen. According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Miami-Dade was the scene of more than 62,000 crashes in 2021. One-third of those accidents resulted in injury. Accidents on roadways are only a portion of the many unexpected calamities that occur.
The rights of an injured person to seek compensation vary throughout the United States.
A handful of states won’t allow an injured person to file a lawsuit seeking damages if they share even a modicum of responsibility. Fortunately, Florida is not one of those states.
Right to Recovery in Comparative Fault
Even when someone is determined to be 99% responsible for a car accident, slip-and-fall, motorcycle accident, or another event, that person can seek the remaining 1% from the other party involved. Florida is joined by 11 other states in using comparative fault, also known as comparative negligence.
The 12 states that follow pure comparative fault/negligence are as follows:
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
The plaintiff can recover damages from the defendant minus their percentage of responsibility. If total damages from a car accident equal $100,000, for example, someone who is 60% responsible could collect $40,000. However, the defendant could countersue for damage to their vehicle and recover $60,000.
Most of the remaining states follow modified comparative negligence. These states limit how much culpability a litigant can have and still recover damages.
Twelve states follow the 50% rule. The injured person must be no more than 49% responsible. In the 21 states using the 51% rule, litigants may be up to 50% responsible for what occurred.
Contributory negligence prohibits the recovery of damages if the individual is even 1% responsible. Most states have moved away from this hardline. Florida did so in 1973.
Five jurisdictions still follow strict contributory negligence:
- North Carolina
- District of Columbia
The “slight/gross” negligence rule is used by one state – South Dakota. The plaintiff is prohibited from recovering damages if their fault is more than slight. These cases can be challenging because there is no clear definition of slight.
Florida’s Switch to Comparative Fault
The change from using the doctrine of contributory negligence came out of a court case before the Florida Supreme Court.
In Hoffman v. Jones (1973), Florida’s high court said:
“The rule of contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery was imported into the law by judges. Whatever may have been the historical justification for it, today it is almost universally regarded as unjust and inequitable to vest an entire accidental loss on one of the parties whose negligent conduct combined with the negligence of the other party to produce the loss. If fault is to remain the test of liability, then the doctrine of comparative negligence which involves apportionment of the loss among those whose fault contributed to the occurrence is more consistent with liability based on a fault premise.”
In Fabre v. Marin (1993), the Florida Supreme Court allowed further defined how the doctrine would be applied so individual defendants are not forced to pay for damages that they did not cause. Over the past five decades, the courts and the Florida legislature have continued to define how comparative fault is applied in the state’s personal injury cases.
Time Limits to File Injury Lawsuits in Florida
Florida law requires that personal injury lawsuits be filed within four years from the date of injury, with some exceptions. Some medical malpractice claims must be filed within two years from the time the injury was discovered or should have been discovered. Wrongful death also has a two-year statute of limitations.
Potential Compensatory and Punitive Damages
Compensatory damages fall into one of two categories. Economic damages are the most straightforward as they generally have a specific value. Hospital bills, prescriptions, physical and occupational therapy, and lost income are economic damages. Non-economic damages are less concrete. Insomnia, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, and other non-financial issues are examples.
Punitive damages are meant to punish the responsible party and deter similar behavior from happening in the future. Being awarded punitive damages only happens when the defendant is guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence. In most cases, these awards can be up to $500,000 or three times the amount of the compensatory damages – whichever is greater.
The Right Attorney Can Maximize Compensation
Your level of responsibility tremendously impacts how much someone can possibly receive for compensation in a Florida personal injury case. At Mitchell & West LLC, our attorneys turn over every stone in a case and thoroughly evaluate all evidence. We interview witnesses. We reenact what happened that day. Our goal is to limit our client’s exposure to sharing responsibility and maximize their potential for remuneration.
Accidents have a financial, emotional, and mental impact. We aim to help you find closure on all three levels.
Discuss your personal injury case in a consultation with one of our experienced lawyers. Contact our law firm online or by calling (305) 783-3301.