Who Is Liable in a Car Accident? Car accidents can occur at any given time, however vigilant or careful an individual driver may be. They are sometimes simply the result of poor road conditions or even vehicle malfunctions, but more often than not, car accidents are the result of human error.
While some car accidents are fairly simple affairs and the responsible party is easily identifiable, in some cases it’s not as cut and dry. One such example might be when the liable party is not the owner of the car they were driving.
Who Is Liable in a Car Accident, the Owner or the Driver?
In most car accidents, the person driving a car is also the owner. However, that is not always the case, and the answer to “who is liable” depends. If you loan your car to someone and they get into an accident, you may still be liable, even if you were not the one driving the car.
There are two legal doctrines which have been developed in order to hold vehicle owners liable in the case of negligent operation of their vehicles by others, and those doctrines are called negligent entrustment and vicarious liability.
Vicarious liability has been recognized in Florida ever since 1920 and under this doctrine, the vehicle owner is liable for any damages caused by the negligent operation of their vehicle by a consensual driver. An exception to this doctrine is when the vehicle was stolen. The doctrine may still be applied against the owner, however, if a non-consensual driver comes into possession of the vehicle as a result of the owner’s negligence. An example of this might be when the owner attends a house party and leaves their car keys unsupervised.
Any damages available from a vicariously liable vehicle owner are capped by Florida Statute 324.021(9)(b)3, meaning that the damages may exceed the owner’s exposure.
The difference between vicarious liability and negligent entrustment lies in the fact that the owner is independently at fault for granting the driver consensual use of their vehicle. Florida courts hold that if someone negligently entrusts another person with their car, they are liable for any damages that may come as a result of the misuse of the car. Negligent entrustment is recognized in nearly every U.S. state and Florida is no exception.
As opposed to vicarious liability claims, the damages that are awardable under negligent entrustment are not limited by the arbitrary damage caps of Florida Statute 324.021(9)(b)3.
What Happens After a Deposition in a Car Accident Case?
After filing a lawsuit in a car accident case, a key step in developing your case and ascertaining who is responsible in a car accident is a process called “discovery.” This is how the parties involved in a lawsuit obtain information from each other that may end up being helpful to their case.
One type of discovery is called a deposition, which is an out-of-court testimony that is given under oath. The person giving the sworn testimony is called a “deponent.”
Deposition testimony may sometimes be used as evident at trial in order to impeach a witness if their trial testimony differs from their deposition testimony.
Who Attends Depositions?
Typically, depositions are held with the participation of the person being deposed, the parties to the lawsuit, their attorneys, and a person who is qualified to administer oaths, such as a court reporter. They will also record the testimony and prepare a written transcript upon request.
You Will Most Likely Be Deposed by the Defendant’s Side
Filing a personal injury lawsuit is a near guarantee that the defendant or their attorney will ask to take your deposition. The rules of procedure which govern civil lawsuits typically require that parties to a lawsuit participate in a deposition if it has been requested by the other side.
Defense counsel should work with you to find a convenient date for you and if you have an attorney, they can help prepare you for the deposition, but being represented by counsel is not a requirement.
You will be asked many questions during the deposition, many of them seeking background or personal information. You will be asked to testify as to your recollection of the circumstances surrounding the car accident. You may also be asked about where you were going, in order to determine of you may have been in a hurry and distracted, thus contributing to the accident.
Your medical records will have likely been reviewed by the defense counsel and you will probably be asked to expand on the information in those records. If you are also claiming lost wages, they will ask you about your employment history, your current job duties, the income you earn, and why you were unable to work as a result of the accident.
It is important that you listen carefully to each question and answer honestly. If you do not know an answer with absolute certainty, say so, do not make anything up. It can be aggravating to answer questions which seem irrelevant or intrusive, but try to be patient and polite. An obstructive attitude or refusal to answer may hurt your case. If you are truly being asked irrelevant or overly intrusive questions, you can object and refuse to give an answer. You may also ask the court for assistance.
An important thing to remember is that you can review your deposition afterward and ensure that all your statements were accurate and there weren’t any incomplete answers or things you said which may be interpreted differently than they were meant. It is better to be certain about everything you said in your deposition than risk it being used against you if you go to trial.
Under Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.360, filing a lawsuit for personal injury allows defendants to hire a physician of their choice to perform a Compulsory Medical Exam (CME), also called an Independent Medical Exam (IME). The doctor assesses your injuries and provides their opinion regarding the cause of the injuries, whether they are related to the car crash, what exact injuries were sustained, the necessary treatment, and whether you suffered a permanent injury.
Remember, though, that the doctor performing the CME is not your treating physician and they do not establish a doctor-patient relationship with you. They are not responsible for your medical care and do not provide any medical treatment. Their sole purpose is to evaluate you on behalf of the defendant and give their opinion on your injuries.
What Happens After Discovery Is Complete?
After the information from discovery has been collected, the lawyers for each side will again try to reach a settlement once it’s clear who is responbile for the car accident. This is known as an alternative dispute resolution and sometimes lawyers can settle a case by simply talking among themselves.
Typically, this is when mediation will be attempted. This is a process where the clients and their lawyers meet with a mediator approved by both parties who will help them reach an agreeable settlement. Florida courts generally require that mediation be attempted before allowing the case to proceed to trial.
Mediation will typically include both parties, their counsel, the mediator, and an adjuster from the defendant’s insurance company who has authority to offer a certain amount of money to get the case resolved. The process begins by each attorney making opening statements on behalf of their clients which outline the case for the mediator and include each party’s theory of liability, injuries suffered and damages. Mediation is always confidential, meaning that the parties are not allowed to discuss anything that goes on during the process with anyone who is not involved, and no information about the process will ever be discussed during the trial.
After the attorneys have finished with their opening statements, the parties are separated into two rooms and the mediator then acts as a conduit of negotiations, going back and forth between them until a settlement is reached or the parties conclude that the case will not settle.
A second type of alternative dispute resolution may follow, called arbitration. A hearing typically takes place between the plaintiff and the defendant, which is judged by a neutral third-party. The difference between mediation and arbitration is that mediation is not binding, while an arbitrator’s decision about the settlement is final.
In some cases, if the judge thinks that a reasonable settlement can be reached, they may require the case to go to arbitration instead of to actual court.
Finally, if none of the above actions are successful in reaching a settlement, the case goes to trial. Personal injury cases can last anywhere from hours to months. At the trial, all the information gathered through discovery is presented to the jury and they decide on the settlement amount.
Predicting the outcome of a trial is next to impossible, as it ultimately depends on the jury, which is made up of different individuals from different walks of life. Your attorney should talk with you prior to the trial and explain to you what the whole process entails and what the risks and benefits are of trying your personal injury case.
Who Pays the Medical Bills in a Car Accident?
In most accidents, damages are covered by one of the involved drivers’ insurance company, most likely the one who is liable for the crash. However, things can get a little more complicated when the liable party does not own the car he was driving.
While the process of filing a claim may become more complicated, there are certain protocols in place meant to resolve such issues. The bottom line is that as long as the owner of the car has insurance, their policy will handle the damages.
If the driver also has insurance, then their policy will act secondarily to the car owner’s policy. That means that if the owner’s insurance doesn’t cover all the damages and other expenses, then the driver’s insurance will kick in and cover any leftover bills.
If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, or you want to find out for sure who is liable in a car accident you should contact the Palm Legal Group with our skilled and experienced lawyers go above and beyond to ensure that our clients get the full compensation they deserve.
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