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Defining Serious Injury in Florida: When Can You File a Liability Claim?


In Florida auto accidents, not every injury qualifies for a step outside the no-fault insurance system. The law sets a specific threshold that an injury must meet to be considered “serious,” thereby allowing the injured party to file a liability claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Florida statutes define a serious injury as one that results in significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or death. This definition is crucial because it determines whether an injured person can pursue further compensation beyond what is offered by Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance.

The threshold is designed to prevent the courts from being overwhelmed with minor injury claims while ensuring that those seriously affected by an accident can seek adequate compensation. It’s a balance between protecting the rights of accident victims and maintaining the efficiency of the state’s legal system.

Criteria for Serious Injury Claims

The criteria for a significant and permanent loss of bodily function are not always straightforward. A significant and permanent loss typically means that the injury has had a profound and lasting impact on the victim’s daily life. For example, an injury that permanently affects a person’s ability to walk, work, or carry out other essential activities could meet this criterion.

Permanent injury, as stated, must be proven within a reasonable degree of medical probability. This means that a medical expert believes it is more likely than not that the injury will not heal completely and will continue to affect the victim’s life. This could include traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or other conditions that do not fully heal.

Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement is another category that can elevate an injury to serious status. Injuries that result in considerable scarring or changes to one’s appearance can have profound psychological and emotional effects, which the law recognizes as a legitimate basis for extending a claim outside the no-fault system.

Lastly, in cases of death, the victim’s family may pursue a claim against the at-fault driver, seeking damages for their loss. This is clearly understood as the most severe outcome of an accident and unambiguously qualifies as a serious injury.

Recoverable Damages in Serious Injury Claims

When an injury qualifies as serious, the scope of recoverable damages extends beyond the immediate medical costs and lost wages covered by PIP. In such cases, victims may seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages include any financial losses related to the injury. This encompasses current and future medical expenses that exceed PIP coverage limits, full compensation for lost wages if the victim is unable to return to work, and any costs associated with long-term care or rehabilitation. These are quantifiable losses that can be calculated based on bills, receipts, and expert testimony regarding future needs.

Non-economic damages cover the more subjective consequences of an injury. These damages are intended to compensate the victim for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other psychological impacts of the injury. These damages are not capped in Florida, reflecting the recognition of the profound impact serious injuries can have on a person’s quality of life.

In fatal cases, the victim’s family can also recover damages for loss of companionship and support, as well as funeral and burial expenses, under wrongful death claims. These damages address the emotional and financial toll that the unexpected death of a loved one can take on a family.

Contact Lance P. Richard, P.A.

Florida’s serious injury threshold plays a vital role in determining a victim’s ability to step outside the no-fault system and seek full compensation from those at fault. Understanding what injuries qualify as serious is critical for anyone involved in a car accident in Florida. For those who meet the criteria, the potential to recover comprehensive damages can provide crucial support through recovery and beyond.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident in Stuart, Florida, and you believe the injuries suffered qualify as serious, it’s important to seek knowledgeable legal guidance. At Lance P. Richard, P.A., we are dedicated to helping our clients navigate the complexities of Florida’s auto accident laws and to securing the compensation they rightfully deserve. Contact us today to discuss your case and explore your options.



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