The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) estimates that more than 400,000 motor vehicle accidents occur on Florida’s roads each year. Almost 30,000 crashes occur in Hillsborough County, including Tampa and the surrounding area. Tampa drivers with registered vehicles must carry a minimum amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage to comply with the state’s no-fault insurance laws.
What to Do After a Tampa Car Accident?
After a Tampa car accident, your PIP coverage covers a portion of your medical expenses and lost wages regardless of who caused the accident. But many Tampa crashes quickly exhaust PIP coverage limits, forcing accident victims to seek additional financial compensation from the at-fault driver or any other party responsible for the accident. The decisions you make after a car accident that you did not cause can significantly impact whether you will get the money you need to pay your bills and move forward with your life. Below we offer a guide to help you make the best choices to preserve the value of your car accident claim against an at-fault party, and ensure you have the best chances of winning your case.
Of course, it’s not always possible to follow all of the steps below. That’s ok. Having a friend, family member, or experienced Tampa car accident attorney assist you can go a long way in preserving and protecting your legal rights.
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Have a Physician Examine You ASAP
All too often, car accident victims choose not to seek medical treatment because they walk away from a crash without feeling badly injured. But standing, walking, or feeling okay are not reliable measures that you did not suffer car accident injuries.
Even if you only feel a little sore or have minor bumps and bruises, you need to let a medical professional examine you for common car accident injuries. The excitement of a car accident releases adrenaline into the body, which can mask pain and hide injuries. And some injuries do not reveal symptoms for hours or days after an accident. Untreated, these injuries can worsen or become life-threatening.
Examples of common hidden car accident injuries include:
- Internal bleeding
- Organ damage
- Brain injuries
- Spinal injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
Make protecting your health your top priority. Seek medical treatment to ensure you get the proper care. If emergency response teams (EMTs) respond to the scene of your accident, let them look you over. Then seek follow-up care with your regular doctor, at an urgent care center, or the nearest Tampa-area hospital emergency room.
Seeking medical care also protects your legal rights. It’s next to impossible to take legal action against an at-fault party if you fail to seek treatment for your injuries, and if your medical records fail to reflect the connection between them and the accident. Insurance companies will use every strategy possible to avoid financial liability, including questioning whether the crash harmed you or blaming you for making your injuries worse by not getting the care you needed.
Gather Information from Others
The Tampa Police or the Florida Highway Patrol often come to the scene of a Tampa accident. One of their jobs is to gather information and statements from the drivers, passengers, and witnesses, which will go into their official traffic crash report.
But officers at the scene are human. Sometimes they miss things or get the story wrong. If you can gather contact and (when applicable) insurance information from others involved in the accident and any eyewitnesses, you should do so.
You have a legal obligation to exchange that information with the other driver. And getting similar information from others can serve as an effective backstop against police errors, and a way to ensure that your lawyer has the most information possible with which to build your case.
When gathering information try your best to remain calm, and always put your and others’ safety first. Don’t put yourself in danger to get information, such as if the other driver appears angry, belligerent, or drunk. Don’t make accusations about who was at fault, or say anything that insurers might interpret as you taking the blame. And never get in the way of law enforcement and first responders doing their jobs.
Take Pictures or Video with Your Smartphone
Soon after a Tampa car accident, the police or a road crew will begin to clean up debris at the scene. This is necessary for public safety, but it also means that valuable evidence of how the accident happened can get lost forever.
If you can do so safely and without getting in the way, take photos and video of the accident scene with your phone before that cleanup begins. If the accident damaged your phone, ask someone else to help.
Photos or videos can supply important clues about how the accident happened and who should bear the blame. Sometimes, photo or video evidence can even disprove the traffic crash report, or convince an insurance company to pay a claim they might otherwise have denied.
Take photos of anything potentially relevant to your case, including:
- The location of the vehicles after the accident relative to each other;
- Damage to vehicles, including up-close shots if possible;
- Vehicle license plates, registration stickers; and inspection stickers;
- Accident debris on the roadway;
- Damage to or paint marks on roadside guardrails, curbs, lane dividers, fences, etc.
- Visible tire skid marks on the road surface;
- The area surrounding the crash site;
- Road features like lighting, signage, or lane markings; and
- Road conditions like standing water or loose gravel.
There is no such thing as taking too many photos or too much video of a crash scene. At worst, you’ll duplicate the police officers’ efforts. At best, you’ll capture images of an important detail that might otherwise have gone overlooked, and that helps secure you the financial damages you deserve for your injuries, expenses, and losses.
Order a Copy of the Official Traffic Crash Report
As an accident victim, you have the legal right to obtain a copy of the official traffic crash report that the officer who responded to the accident submitted to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). It may take up to two weeks before the report gets filed and uploaded into the system.
You can order your traffic crash report online through the FLHSMV website for a small fee. You must access and download your accident report within 48 hours after being notified by email that it is ready.
If you do not have internet access or would rather request your traffic crash report in person, you can visit the nearest Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Troop Station to submit a written request and pay the fee. FHP Troop C serves the greater Tampa and central Gulf Coast area. Its Tampa station is at 11305 N McKinley Drive, near the University of South Florida campus.
Notify Your Auto Insurance Company and a Submit a Claim Under Your PIP Coverage
By law, Florida drivers who register a vehicle must carry auto insurance covering at least $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. If you get hurt in an accident, your own PIP coverage serves as the primary source of funds to pay up to 80 percent of your medical expenses and 60 percent of your lost wages, no matter who caused the crash.
Notify your PIP insurance carrier about the accident immediately. To cover your medical expenses under your PIP insurance, you must also seek medical care for your injuries within 14 days of the accident. If you do not seek medical care within that window of time, you may have the right to receive any benefits under your PIP policy, and it could affect your rights to receive compensation from other sources.
If your medical expenses and lost wages exceed your PIP policy limit, and you suffered a severe injury, you may seek financial compensation from the at-fault driver or another party responsible for the accident. But in most cases, you must still turn to your PIP coverage first, before pursuing legal action against others.
If you suffered injuries in a Tampa car accident as a passenger, your own or the driver’s PIP coverage will likely cover you. Generally speaking, PIP coverage extends to drivers in the immediate family that live in the household. Your PIP policy will also generally cover injuries your child suffered in an accident while driving or while riding with someone else.
Keep Records of Your Expenses and Financial Losses
Car accident injuries throw a financial one-two punch at crash victims, burdening them with sudden, unplanned expenses while simultaneously depriving them, at least temporarily, of the ability to earn an income. As the victim of an accident caused by someone else’s reckless or negligent conduct, you should not have to pay for any of those expenses and losses. Instead, your PIP insurance should cover what it can, and (in many cases) the at-fault party should foot the bill for the rest.
To ensure full reimbursement of your costs and losses, try to keep complete records.
Do not throw anything away. Instead, start a file containing every scrap of paper showing the money you had to spend, that you lost, or that you could not earn because of the crash and your injuries, such as:
- Medical bills for ambulance services, emergency room treatment, doctor visits, radiology, hospitalization, surgery, and medication;
- Gas receipts for travel to/from the doctor, hospital, or clinic for treatment;
- Bills for rehabilitative services, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy;
- Receipts for services you hired to help with day-to-day activities you cannot perform while you heal, such as lawn care, transportation, and childcare;
- Bills for care in a transitional or long-term healthcare facility, if applicable;
- Receipts for modifications you need to make to your home to accommodate your injury or disability, such as wheelchair ramp construction and handrail installation;
- Receipts for medical and other equipment you need to assist in your healing process or to adapt to a disability, such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or specialized footwear;
- Pay stubs and other payroll information that show the wages and employment benefits you would have received, or the value of paid-time-off (PTO) you would not have spent, if you hadn’t gotten injured.
It’s always better to save too much than miss out on recovering damages because you don’t have the documentation to prove them. Your Tampa car accident lawyer can review everything you save to determine the damages you should receive.
Only Discuss Your Tampa Car Accident Case With Your Lawyer
Liability insurance companies covering potentially at-fault parties in an accident will typically complete a thorough investigation before paying a claim, especially if a crash victim files a lawsuit against their policyholder seeking damages. For that reason, you should never think of anyone else’s insurance carrier as a friendly party.
If anyone investigating the accident tries to contact you, especially if it’s a representative of an at-fault party’s insurance company, do not agree to an interview without first discussing it with your attorney. An investigator could use anything you say to defend against your claim.
By the same token, avoid discussing the accident with others, even your friends and coworkers. Only your discussions with your lawyer are confidential. Likewise, avoid posting about the accident on social media—insurance investigators and defense lawyers will try to use anything you write to undercut the value of your claim.
Contact an Experienced Tampa Car Accident Lawyer
If you suffered injuries in a Tampa car accident, you may have the right to demand financial compensation from anyone at-fault. To learn more about your rights and options, contact an experienced Tampa car accident lawyer for a free case evaluation.