As in any state, in Florida, if you are injured as the result of another person's negligence, you have the legal right to sue to recover the compensation you are owed for your injury. For example, if another driver was driving negligently and struck your vehicle, you could pursue a legal action against that driver to recover the amount of damages you are owed because of the accident. However, the amount of compensation you are entitled to is dependent on several factors, ranging from the severity and cause of your injuries, the impact the crash had on your ability to work, your pain and suffering, as well as the circumstances surrounding the accident.
Determining Who Was At Fault for the Accident
Having represented injured car accident victims for decades, at Taylor, Warren, Weidner & Hancock we know our job often centers around proving who was “at fault” for the accident. Meaning, whose negligent driving caused the accident? Before you can recover, there must be a showing that the other driver's negligent driving directly caused the accident and your injuries. While proving fault can sometimes be easy—for example, in a read-end collision where the first car was stopped—in other cases it can be far more challenging where there are certain things both drivers did that could be argued as negligent. In addition, most people do not like to admit they were at fault, particularly when there are large financial consequences to such an admission. Also, it may be difficult without eye-witnesses, footage, or other evidence to accurately recreate an accident that no one else saw.
Florida's Comparative Negligence Law – an Example
When there is a question, in a Florida motor vehicle accident, who is to blame for the accident, Florida law operates under a “comparative negligence” standard in order to determine responsibility for the accident. An example will help explain how Florida's comparative negligence law apportions blame.
Let's say Martha is driving to work in Pensacola. It is a rainy day and she is driving 11 miles over the speed limit and does not have her lights on. Bob is also driving to work on a street perpendicular to Martha's. He looks right and left at his stop sign near a bend and doesn't believe he sees any cars coming so he pulls out to cross Martha's street. By the time he makes out Martha's car coming around the corner, it is too late for Bob to get out of Martha's way, and Martha is going too fast to brake to avoid a collision. The two get into an accident, and Martha is severely injured. Martha struck Bob toward the back of his pickup bed and he only suffered damages to his vehicle, but his truck was totaled as a result. Martha files a personal injury action against Bob to recover for her injuries.
In this situation, both Bob and Martha have driven negligently. Martha is speeding in the rain without her lights on, but she has the right of way. Bob pulled out from a stop sign into Martha's right of way. To settle this case, a judge or jury would need to assign a percentage of fault to both parties before damages could be awarded. A comparative fault negligence standard essentially compares the two drivers' conduct and apportionments of negligence to determine the amount that is owed.
Florida Used to Follow a Pure Comparative Negligence Standard - Now It is Comparative
A comparative negligence standard allows an injured party, even one who was partially at fault (like Martha in our example), to collect damages. They are simply reduced by that person's allotted negligence. For example, if the judge found Martha was 30% at fault for the accident and Bob, because he pulled out into Martha's right of way, was 70% at fault for the accident, Martha's recovery would be reduced by her 30% allotment of fault, but she could still recover 70% of her damages. Meaning, if her damages were determined to be $100,000, Martha could still recover $70,000 from Bob. Bob could also countersue and collect 30% of his vehicle damages from Martha, if he chose to do so.
Florida used to follow a “pure” comparative negligence standard which would allow a plaintiff to recover regardless of his/her amount of blame for the accident. Meaning, even if the plaintiff was 90% responsible for his injuries, he could recover the remaining 10% from the other driver. However, as of March 24, 2023, when Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 837 into law, Florida now follows a "modified comparative negligence" standard as opposed to a "pure comparative negligence" standard. Under modified comparative negligence, a plaintiff is barred from recovery if he is more than 50% at fault for his injuries. This change does not apply to actions based upon medical negligence.
Understanding Florida's NEW Modified Comparative Negligence
Prior to March 24, 2023, a driver in Florida could recover in proportion to the defendants' percentage of responsibility for his injuries regardless of his own liability. Thus, a driver could be 90% at fault for his own injuries but could still recover 10% of his damages from the driver of the other vehicle. This new "modified comparative negligence" standard does not allow a person to recover any damages whose apportionment of the fault was over 50%. Meaning, Bob would no longer be able to countersue for his vehicle damages in Florida, which now operates under the "modified" comparative negligence standard (no longer the pure standard) because he was more than 50% at fault.
Contributory Negligence (Recognized In Very Few States)
There are only a handful of states who still follow a contributory negligence standard. Under this rule, if you were the slightest bit negligent in your conduct, and a judge or jury found you to be only 1% at fault, you would not be able to recover any damages. Contributory negligence is a pretty severe rule that is not widely accepted. In fact, only four states currently follow this rule—Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia—plus the D.C. Florida does not.
How to Protect Your Rights If You Were Partially At Fault
Proving negligence in a car accident can be more difficult than it may seem. Memories fade or change. Some people modify their stories. Evidence (such as tire streaks, damage to the vehicles, and/or the method of injuries) can be interpreted and argued multiple ways. To help our clients who have been injured in a car accident, we have often had to hire a skilled accident reconstructionist to prove our version of the accident in order for our client to recover. If you have been injured in a car accident, even though you feel you may have been partially at fault, do not wait to protect your rights. If you do not feel you are being treated fairly by the at fault driver's insurance company or you have not been offered enough to truly compensate you for what may be a life-changing injury, please never hesitate to contact us. We never charge any fee or cost or require any obligation from you to simply sit down, answer your questions, and explain your rights.