Frequently asked questions

Below we have listed some of our most Frequently Asked Questions regarding Personal Injury and Auto Insurance — two of the most common types of cases we handle. If you cannot find what you are looking for, please give us a call at 850-444-4444. We will be happy to help.

Personal Injury

Yes. If you want to talk to one of our lawyers about a case, just call us and ask. After you have answered a few basic questions with one of our staff members, we will be happy to discuss your case for free on the telephone or in our office.

A lawsuit must be filed within a certain period of time or you will be forever barred from bringing your claim. Each claim must be evaluated thoroughly before determination can be made as to the “Statute of Limitation”. Depending on the type of accident you have been involved in, the amount of time you have to file a claim may vary. In Florida, most accident claims must be filed within four years. In most cases of wrongful death, a personal representative must commence action within two years of the death. Claims against the state, counties or cities have special limitation periods and notice requirements. Since the Statutes of Limitation are somewhat complex, a case-by-case determination by a qualified attorney is required.

There is no definitive period of time that determines when a case should be settled. Every case has its own unique set of practical and legal circumstances. However, we take great care to diligently manage every case to eliminate unnecessary delays. While aware of our clients understandable desire to have their cases resolved as quickly as possible, we will not recommend settlement of any case until all of the losses are fully assessed and all injuries have stabilized. Even though many cases settle before trial, this does not usually happen until both sides have prepared the case. Generally, lawsuits take about two years from the initial filing to trial. This can vary significantly, in either direction, based on the complexity of your case, the congestion of court dockets and other factors. Our advice to clients? Be patient. We are always willing to tell you exactly what is happening with your case. In the meantime, you have to trust that we are working hard for you.

Our firm only handles cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that we never charge a fee unless we make a recovery for you. There will be costs associated with the handling of your case. You have the option of paying those costs yourself as they are incurred or having the firm pay them for you and being reimbursed out of the proceeds of your settlement. All financial issues will be thoroughly discussed and reduced to writing at your initial consultation.

Every personal injury case involves the analysis of two elements: liability and damages. Liability is determined by analyzing the negligence of the at-fault party. If you can’t prove liability, then you can’t recover for your damages. Deciding how much your accident related injuries are worth is a critical aspect of any accident claim and is the part of the claim which is the most difficult to generalize. The “value” of your case depends on many factors, such as the extent of your injury, the amount of your medical bills and your condition after you have finished treating. The calculation also involves the ability of the other party to pay a judgment and whether you played any role in causing the accident. We will not take your case unless we think it has a good chance of success. Even so, there are no guarantees. All we can do is give you a fair assessment of the outcome of your case based on our experience, the injury itself and what jury verdicts have been achieved in cases similar to yours.

If you hire us to be your lawyers, you will be a significant part of your case team. We will ask you to help us gather the information that we will use to support your case. Just as we will keep you informed about your case, you will need to keep us informed about your medical treatment and your physical limitations. After we file a lawsuit, you will have to answer written questions called “interrogatories” and sit for a question-and-answer session with the opposing lawyer called a “deposition”. (Of course we will prepare you first, find a time convenient for you and sit next to you during the deposition.) You may have to be evaluated by other doctors. If your case does not settle, you will have to be present for the trial.

Since a consultation is free, it won’t hurt to ask us if we think we can help. Having worked as lawyers for many years, we have a bias against insurance companies and what they might tell you. This bias is based on our knowledge that no matter how nice insurance adjusters sound on the phone, they have one goal in mind above all others -- to pay you as little as possible. Insurance companies do not work for you. They rarely help you figure out your legal rights and may not fully understand them. They rarely give you a fair assessment of the value of your case. If your injuries are significant, there are several reasons why a good lawyer can help you. When you hire a lawyer who is willing to take a case to trial, value is added to your case in a number of ways. A good lawyer will seek every category of damages that applies to your case and find ways to support those damages with evidence that will be admissible in court. The threat of a trial itself adds to your bargaining power. Make no mistake -- the insurance company knows that it’s almost impossible to take your case to trial on your own.

Case costs are the money that we pay out to others in order to get your case ready for trial. Examples would be, the filing fee required by the court and expenses for depositions and experts. Case costs vary depending on the complexity of the case. We always have an up-to-date balance available for your case if you want to see it. Remember: if we do not recover anything for you, you do not have to pay back the case costs to us. This is not true of all law firms, so make sure you understand what other firms may propose to you. Of course, we will be happy to answer any of your questions about fees or costs before you decide to hire us.

Make a list of witnesses. Anybody that can provide firsthand knowledge of how the loss is affecting you may be important. When you realize that friends, neighbors and relatives are aware of the problems you are having, make a list of those persons’ names, addresses and telephone numbers. Save everything --every bill, record or piece of paper that has anything to do with your case. Do not discuss your case with anyone other than your attorney, pastor, priest, rabbi or doctor(s). Do not sign anything with respect to your case until you have checked with the attorney handling your case. Keep a diary of events.

The law firm of Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson has specialized in the area of personal injury and accidental death since 1975. It was our belief that the client’s interests would be best served by a firm that gave all its energy to this specialty. We have years of experience representing clients before judges and juries. We are tenacious and we move cases toward resolution whether through trial, settlement or alternative resolution. We thoroughly research, analyze and prepare each case and we will not enter a courtroom or a settlement conference unless we know each and every legal, factual and strategic detail. We understand how to work within the justice system and use it’s rules and procedures for our clients’ best advantage. Our firm understands that a personal injury or trauma can change a client’s entire life and the legal matters that accompany the injury frequently cause additional stress and anxiety. As your legal representative, we will be aggressive advocates on your behalf and we will do everything we can to make your experience with the legal process as free from emotion and personal frustration as possible.

What may appear to be a simple case is often not. For example, many of the worst drivers on the road are often not insured or do not carry enough insurance to pay for all of the damage and injury caused in an accident. Many people do not know that their own insurance policy may cover some or all of their damages. It takes an experienced attorney familiar with insurance policies to help you weed through the legal verbiage to make this determination. Other cases may involve injuries that do not appear serious at first but may, in fact, plague someone for life. Our attorneys and support staff are experienced in this regard and can help insure you are compensated for all of your injuries -- current and future. Sometimes insurance companies will aggressively defend even those cases that do not involve life altering injuries or complex legal issues. At Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson, our attorneys are experienced at dealing with the various issues that arise during the course of your case.

No. Based on the information insurance agents and insurance carriers provide us, simply because an injured person pursues a claim does not mean their insurance premium will be increased. It is when a person’s negligent or wrongful acts cause injury that their own insurance premiums are increased.

Not in the traditional sense of the word. Defendants in civil actions for personal injury do not receive jail terms or criminal fines as punishment. Those are criminal sentences and personal injury cases are civil actions. However, in some cases, juries and courts can award what are called “punitive damages” which are designed to punish defendants who have behaved recklessly or intentionally against the public’s interest. The goal in ordering the payment of punitive damages is to discourage such defendants from engaging in the same kind of harmful behavior in the future.

Whether or not your case goes to trial is largely your decision. Our years of experience and reputation for tough-minded advocacy on behalf of our clients frequently enable us to reach a timely and successful resolution with opposing lawyers through negotiation and settlement. However, our attorneys will not settle your case before thoroughly explaining to you the details of any settlement offer and receiving your informed consent. Also, remember, we will never hesitate to proceed to a jury verdict when it is in the best interest of a client.

Automobile Insurance

Yes. Just because you have health insurance doesn’t mean you don’t need UM Coverage. Your health insurance may cover your medical bills, but it will not compensate you for out-of-pocket expenses, wage loss or pain and suffering. In addition, most health insurance policies have subrogation rights. Subrogation is the right of an insurance company, based on contracts, to recover money from the injured party when the injured party recovers from a third party. In other words, your health insurance has a claim for reimbursement of all accident related medical bills paid under the policy.

Every owner or registrant of a motor vehicle (other than a motor vehicle used as a taxicab, school bus or limousine) registered in the state of Florida must be covered for $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and $10,000 in Property Damage Liability. This coverage is required by Florida law.

Bodily Injury Liability (BI) pays for economic (actual medical and funeral) and non-economic (pain and suffering) damages for serious and permanent injury or death to others when you are legally responsible for an accident. Your insurance company will pay for injuries up to the limits of the policy and provide legal representation for you if you get sued. Your insurance company pays for injuries caused by you or members of your family who live with you, even if they were driving someone else’s vehicle. It may also cover others who drive your automobile with your permission. The more assets you have, the more bodily injury liability coverage you should obtain because, if you do not have enough coverage to compensate the injured person for their damages, they may elect to forego your bodily injury liability coverage and make a claim against you personally.

Medical Payments Coverage is optional coverage that will pay the 20% of medical bills that PIP does not cover. It is offered in various amounts.

PIP, also referred to as No-fault Coverage, is a legal requirement in Florida. Regardless of who is at fault, PIP coverage provides medical, disability and death benefits for persons injured or killed in an accident up to the policy limits. A minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage is required although higher limits may be purchased through some insurance carriers. PIP pays 80% of all necessary and reasonable medical expenses incurred as a result of a covered injury, 60% of wage loss and all reasonable expenses for replacement services (such as, childcare, housekeeping or yard work) up to the $10,000 policy limit. PIP also pays reasonable mileage or expenses for transportation to and from doctors’ offices for medical treatment. All PIP payments are made by your own insurance company regardless of whose negligence caused the accident. That is why PIP is often referred to as “No-fault” coverage.

NOTE: If no treatment is received within fourteen days (14) of an accident then NO personal injury benefits need to be paid. Only those diagnosed with an Emergency Medical Condition (EMC) by a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathic medicine, dentist, physician’s assistant or registered nurse practitioner within the first 14 days of an accident will be eligible for the $10,000. Everyone else will be limited to a maximum of $2,500.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM) Coverage pays for “accidental” bodily injury, including death, when an insured sustains such injury as the result of an automobile accident and the legally obligated party does not have Bodily Injury (BI) Coverage, or does not have sufficient limits to satisfy the injury claim. This includes both economic (actual medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses) as well as non-economic (pain and suffering) damages. In short, UM coverage allows you to collect from your own insurance company in the event that you are injured through the negligence of somebody who has little coverage or no bodily injury coverage. Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage may also be stackable. Stackable means that it can be combined with other UM coverage issued to relatives residing in your household and on other vehicles that you may own or occupy. We strongly recommend that you purchase as much UM Coverage as you can afford because there are many drivers on Florida roads with no Bodily Injury Liability Coverage. We also recommend that you purchase stackable UM Coverage if there is more than one vehicle in your household.

The personal automobile insurance policy covers the named insured, spouse and relatives who reside with the named insured, providing all licensed drivers have been disclosed. Your insurance policy may also cover other drivers who have permission to use the automobile. In other words, if an insured loans their vehicle, they are most likely loaning their insurance policy as well. It the person using the automobile lives with the insured or has regular usage of the automobile, they must be added to the policy. Otherwise, the insurance company may cancel the policy and refuse to pay the claim. Some automobile insurance policies will not cover a person who is not listed on the policy. Read the policy carefully to be sure a permissive user of the vehicle is covered.

If the accident was not your fault, you should not be singled out for a rate increase. If your rates do go increase, it may be because the insurance company is raising rates for your whole region.

NOTE: This coverage definition is intended only as a guideline. All terms and coverages are defined solely by your policy and your insurance company.

Buying insurance from a customer-friendly company is your strongest protection against hassles after an accident happens. When shopping for insurance, ask what percentage of the vehicle’s worth will result in the company’s totaling a car. Some will total a car when the damage exceeds 51% of its worth, while others will total a car when damage exceeds 80% of its worth. Also, ask about the company’s policies for returning a totaled car. If the company won’t return totaled cars or decides whether to do so on a mysterious “case by case” basis, you may want to keep looking for a company that puts a higher priority on its customers’ needs.

If you look at your auto insurance contract, you will notice a provision that if your car is damaged in an accident, your insurer does not have to pay you more than your auto is worth. If it would cost more to fix the car than a certain percentage of the car’s value, your insurer will consider the car a total loss, i.e., “total” it. All you will be able to get is a check for the value of the car. This can be bad -- because it usually will not be enough to replace your car and it will not be enough to fix it. Plus, if you do get your car back and use the money to fix the car, many insurers will refuse to provide more than basic liability coverage on it.

When a car is severely damaged, it is usually taken to a salvage yard, auctioned off and chopped up for parts. The insurance company will keep the money it gets at the auction. If you decide you want to keep your car and repair it, you should be able to do so. Many insurers will usually return the car to you if you request it. Certain insurers will not return a car if it is rare or newer and the insurer believes it will get a substantial sum at auction. Unfortunately, this is a bad time to find out whether your insurance company is policy holder-friendly or not. If your car is returned, the insurer will have to pay the car’s actual cash value, minus your deductible and the amount the insurance company would have received at auction. Then you are going to have to pay for repairs. That is where the next problem arises -- insurers can refuse coverage for a totaled car beyond basic liability insurance unless the car passes a Department of Motor Vehicles inspection. If you want complete coverage on your totaled car again, you will have to have it repaired completely.

Insurers keep proprietary databases on car prices, similar to the Blue Book or the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) Official Used Car Guide. The insurer’s valuation of your car is mostly based on its age. So, your car might be totaled if it is 13 years old and receives only minor damage. On the other hand, an expensive newer car, say a Porsche, may not be totaled even though it has been in a devastating collision.

Valuation problems arise in two ways. The most common problem is that the insurer’s valuation is not anywhere near enough to actually buy an equivalent car in the marketplace. For example, if a driver’s 6-year-old Toyota Corolla is totaled, the driver will understandably want enough money to buy another 6-year-old Toyota Corolla with comparable options. The less common problem is where an older, more valuable car has been kept in mint condition and has only a small fraction of the expected mileage on the odometer. Such a car will be worth much more than the run-of-the-mill cars of its age on the road. If you don’t agree with an insurer’s estimate of your car’s cash value, your best bet is to pay an independent appraiser to provide an estimate. You may need to bring in more than one appraiser -- so the car will have to be fairly valuable to make this process worthwhile.

If negotiation doesn’t bring any results, you can try to resolve the matter either through arbitration or litigation. But, before doing that, it may be worth asking a lawyer if he or she can help get a more favorable settlement informally. Arbitration, which is less troublesome and less expensive than going to court, will usually result in a decision favorable to the insurance company. Insurance companies are practiced at arbitration, and arbitrators have to deal with them all of the time. Some arbitrators don’t want to get the insurance companies upset. Having an attorney at arbitration will increase your odds. However, if your going to try arbitration, the best bet is to see if nonbinding arbitration is an option. That way you can still take the matter to court if you are not satisfied. Keep in mind that going to court is rarely a cost-effective option. Unless the car was extremely valuable and the insurance company’s offer is a tiny fraction of what you believe the vehicle was worth, you may spend more in attorneys fees and costs than the amount you may recover.

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