If your child is injured in an accident, depending on the severity of the injuries, it may be one of the most frightful experiences in your life. Of course, the first thing you must do after such an accident is to obtain medical care for your child. After a doctor has seen and treated your child, then you can address the legal questions. The most common and important legal question that parents ask after their child has been injured is “Can we sue?” Like everything else in the law, the answer to that question is “It depends.” Your first step in seeking justice after your child has been injured is to discuss the case promptly with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer as Quickly as You Can
For several reasons, you’ll need to contact a personal injury lawyer as quickly as you can after your child has been injured. If you choose to file a personal injury lawsuit after consulting with an attorney, that attorney will need to begin gathering evidence and questioning witnesses at once. Evidence can quickly deteriorate, witnesses can quickly become forgetful, and both evidence and witnesses can quickly disappear if you don’t act decisively and swiftly. A second reason why you must act quickly is that just like every other state, the state of Florida imposes a limit on the amount of time you have after an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit – a statute of limitations.
KEEP THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN MIND
Under Florida’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases, you are allowed four years from the date of most accidents to file a lawsuit in Florida’s civil courts. But don’t wait four years – you should take action at once. If you don’t file your case within this four-year period of time, a Florida court will very likely refuse to consider your personal injury claim. In the rare cases where an injury isn’t immediately detectable after an accident – such as certain types of brain injuries – the courts may allow for an extension of the amount of time you have to file a personal injury lawsuit. However, if the defendant in your lawsuit is a Florida state, county, or municipal government or a governmental agency, the statute of limitations in those cases is only three years.
If you’re a parent, you already know that your child can be injured in any number of different ways: in a traffic accident, in a swimming pool, on a playground, and even at the mall or the amusement park. In traffic accident cases only, Florida law follows a no-fault system, which means that after most traffic accidents, an injured person’s own insurance company will provide the coverage for medical expenses and lost income without regard to who was at fault for the accident. The no-fault system also means that you can’t hold the other driver liable after a traffic crash in Florida unless a “serious” injury has taken place. Thus, most minor traffic accidents in Florida will fall under the no-fault umbrella, and you won’t be able to file a claim. But you may be able to file a liability claim against an at-fault driver if your child sustained a permanent injury, a disabling injury, significant and permanent scarring, or physical disfigurement. These terms can be difficult to define precisely, especially when the lawyers get involved, so your personal injury attorney should be able to tell you if you have grounds for filing a lawsuit that will be heard and that will prevail.
DOG BITE INJURIES
If your child is injured by a biting dog, dog owners in Florida may be held liable for any injuries without regard to the dog’s previous behavior. In legal terms, this is called “strict” liability, in contrast to several other states where an owner must be aware of the dog’s violent tendencies in order to be held liable. The dog bite law in Florida is simple, and it’s simply stated: “Owners of dogs shall be liable for any damage done by their dogs to a person.”
If your child is injured on someone else’s property – by a biting dog, in a swimming pool, in a retail establishment, at an amusement park, or even at someone’s private home – you’ll need to discuss a premises liability claim with your attorney. In the state of Florida, property owners are legally responsible to keep their properties safe from the kinds of hazards that can cause accidents and injuries. If your child is injured on another person’s property because of a property owner’s negligence – a failure to keep the property safe – you may be legally entitled to file a premises liability lawsuit and to receive compensation for all of your child’s medical care and your other accident-related losses and expenses. Your child can be injured anywhere the public is allowed: apartment complexes, shopping malls, restaurants and hotels, amusement parks, theaters, and parking lots and garages. If the property owner (or manager or caretaker) had a responsibility to keep the premises reasonably safe, and the owner failed to meet that responsibility, the consequences can be tragic, and your child could be an injury victim.
SWIMMING POOL ACCIDENTS
We trust those people who run schools and conduct summer camps to protect and to supervise our children properly. At swimming pools, we trust lifeguards to be alert, and we trust that pools are locked and fenced by their owners for safety and security. Sometimes, however, that trust is misplaced. When safety measures haven’t been implemented and an injury or a drowning takes place, a pool’s owner(s) or operator(s) may be held liable, and parents can pursue a premises liability claim, or in the worst-case scenario, a wrongful death claim. As early as possible, teach your children how to swim. Most children can learn by age five, and some can learn earlier.
In some personal injury cases, the person you seek to hold liable for your child’s injuries may turn around and allege that your child was actually to blame – at least in part – for causing his or her own injuries. If that claim is true – for example, if your child read and ignored a “beware of the dog” or “no swimming allowed” sign – it can reduce the amount of compensation you can receive from other at-fault individuals, businesses, or other partially-liable parties. In cases where the responsibility for an accident is split several ways, the state of Florida follows a “pure comparative negligence” rule. This means that the amount of compensation you’re entitled to receive after your child’s injury will be reduced by an amount that is equal to your child’s percentage of fault for the accident.
Here’s an example of how Florida’s comparative negligence rule might work in an actual case. Let’s say that you are driving with your child as a passenger. Another driver runs a red light and crashes into your vehicle, but you were driving ten miles per hour over the speed limit. If your child is injured in this kind of accident, the court may determine that you are ten percent responsible for your child’s injury and the other driver is ninety percent responsible for the injury. If the total damages add up to $5,000, under Florida’s comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced by ten percent to $4,500. Florida courts are obligated to follow the comparative negligence rule in all personal injury cases.
Damage cap statutes impose a limit on the amount of compensation that your family can receive in certain kinds of personal injury cases or for certain types of losses. Typically, damage cap laws limit the amount of non-economic damages (that is, punitive damages and pain and suffering damages) that an injured plaintiff can recover. In Florida, damage caps work primarily to limit the punitive damages that are meant to punish negligent parties in the most egregious personal injury cases. The law in Florida limits punitive damages to three times the amount of the total compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever amount is greater. However, there are no caps on financial aid awards issued by universities, private financial aid providers or government subsidies.
If your child is injured in central Florida because of another person’s negligence, an Orlando personal injury attorney can first try to negotiate an acceptable settlement out of court on your behalf, but if a negotiated settlement isn’t possible, your attorney should be ready and able to take your case to a jury trial. Most lawsuits, however, are settled out of court without ever going to a jury trial. Your personal injury attorney can file the lawsuit, gather evidence on your behalf, conduct research on the case, consult with experts, and file and argue motions before your lawsuit even gets close to a trial or a courtroom. In Central Florida, when you need sound legal advice or aggressive legal representation after your child has been injured, discuss your case with an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney. If you are interested in learning more? Leave a comment below or connect with us on social media, we’d love to hear from you.