Part 1: Investigation and Letter of Demand
For the uninitiated, dealing with the Florida legal system can seem like a daunting prospect. Lawyers, judges and courtrooms are not part of the average person’s regular environment. Even the language used can seem as foreign as Sanskrit to the typical man on the street.
Unfortunately, if you have been involved in an accident and suffered an injury, it may become necessary for you to enter this strange setting. Insurance companies are not fond of giving up their money, and this often means, to receive what is properly due to you, it will become necessary to enlist the help of a personal injury lawyer and file a lawsuit.
To help relieve some of the stress of an already tense situation, Sinclair Law would like to offer this short primer on how a personal injury case is normally handled in the state of Florida.
Just because you have suffered an injury or are unhappy about a settlement offer that an insurance company has made to you doesn’t automatically mean you have the basis to file a lawsuit. When you start working with an attorney, the first thing they are going to do is conduct their own investigation into the facts of the case.
They will want to establish what damages you may be due, all parties who may be held liable and what resources they have available to pay those damages. In many cases, there simply aren’t enough recoverable damages to warrant committing the resources of their office to a case.
To make this even more complicated, it must be remembered that Florida is a comparative negligence state. This means that the value of a claim has to be adjusted by what degree of liability can be assigned to each party involved.
As an example, if you were involved in a motorcycle accident where a car has pulled out in front of you, the other driver would clearly be at fault. But, if it can be shown that you were speeding at the time, a judge or jury could decide that you were 25 percent at fault due to excessive speed. This would restrict your recoverable damages to 75 percent of your claims total value.
Your attorney will also need to determine that there are solid legal grounds for a claim and possible future suit to be based on. Again, being upset or angry is not justification for a legal action. Florida personal injury law is very specific about what does and does not constitute sufficient grounds for legal action.
Provided that the person at fault, or more usually their insurance company, has sufficient assets to pay a claim, a letter of demand will be sent to their representative. Though called a letter, this would more accurately be called a file and could possibly contain several hundred pages.
At a minimum it should contain:
- A summary of all the facts and information regarding the claim
- The rationale and legal theory behind why they are liable for damages
- A detailed description of any injuries sustained or damage caused
- A detailed description of any medical treatment and expenses associated with the claim both past and future
- A detailed description of all lost income, past and future
- A detailed description of all other damages that are due
- A demand for a specified dollar amount acceptable to resolve the claim
This letter will become the basis for all future negotiations and actions taken as the case moves forward and must be constructed with great care.
These are just the first two of the many steps that a Florida personal injury case may go through. It is possible that the at fault party’s insurance will accept the terms of this letter, and the claim will be settled at this point. In our next blog post, we will delve into how things progress if your offer to settle is rejected.