Interviewer: What misconceptions do people have about Florida car accidents when they first see you?
Guy S. DiMartino: A typical client's misconceptions are two-fold. First, believe that because they were injured in a car accident that they are entitled to money. In Florida, this misconception is even more so because of the number of billboard lawyers out there with the billboards that have pictures of people saying, “Thank you so and so, you got me a million dollars”. The truth is that insurance companies do not give somebody a million bucks unless they have catastrophic injuries, and if you ask the person, they will tell you that they would give back to the money tomorrow if they would be put in the position they were the day before the accident. So the first misconception involves money and the factors that drive the value of a car accident case. For instance, if the other driver was drunk, that will add value to the case because “drunk driving” will get a jury angry. On the other hand, the facts involved in a typical car accident case are usually not so glamorous as to inflame or piss off a jury.
Where a client gets tripped up because the facts of the accident is personal to them is the “almost”. They will come into the office and say: “You know something, the guy almost killed me. They need to pay for that. If the accident happened a split second later, my car would have been hit right in the driver's door. Based on the speed of the accident, I would have gotten killed, and I want to be compensated for that”. The law doesn't allow for compensation for “almost”. It's not like darts or hand grenades. The law only allows money for actual injury. So, the other driver could have been a jerk, weaving in and out of traffic, going 90 MPH in a school zone. Somebody could have died in the accident. But these “almost happened” or “could have happened” do not equate to money. This is a difficult concept for some people to understand. The other driver's behavior may have been bad, but if there's no permanent injury the case value will not be large. It is the nature and extent of the injury not the facts of the accident that drives the value of car accident cases. This is why these cases are called “Personal Injury” claims.
Interviewer: In the end, do people usually get a windfall from a case or they just nearly break even and pay their medical bills?
Guy S. DiMartino: That's a loaded question because the value of car accident cases depends on the facts of the individual case. There are no windfalls. In spite of John Grisham's book – there are no run-a-way juries. In my experience, a jury awards an amount of money like they did in the McDonalds case, when something triggers them to really piss them off. And in the McDonald's case there were enough facts to really piss the jury off, and the lady's injuries were horrific. Collectively, jurors are smart and no matter how many times I've walked away sometimes aggravated with the verdict that a jury has come in with; when I sit down and really think about it, most of the time they are right on. There are no windfalls, there's no free ride in car accident cases or any other type of personal injury case. It just doesn't work that way in 2015. I can't talk about 1972 but I can talk about what's happening in Central Florida in 2015.
Interviewer: Any other misconceptions people have about the process, the claim's process or what they're going to have to do or what will happen?
Guy S. DiMartino: Clients have misconceptions about the timing or what's going to happen with their case. Because an injury case is actually based on the person's injuries, most of the time the case cannot be settled until the client is done treating or has reached a point of maximum medical improvement. In the best interests of the client, I cannot settle a case or recommend settlement until we have a handle on the nature and extent of the client's injuries, past medical treatment and any future medical treatment that will be needed. Once a client signs claim is settled, it is done – finished – over. You can't go back 6 months later and say, “I want to reopen my claim”.
Another misconception that we see regarding personal injury cases is that they are really insurance determinative. Most people who drive in Florida do not have enough insurance to pay for the injuries involved in a car accident. In Florida, bodily injury insurance is not required to drive legally. I can't tell you how many people I have met over the years who have been seriously injured because of another driver's carelessness that get no money because the other driver did not have bodily injury insurance and they did not purchase uninsured motorist coverage.
So, I say that these cases are insurance determinative because you can have a million dollar case but if the other driver only has $10,000 of insurance, your case just became a $10,000 case.
With most drivers being underinsured, I spend a portion of my time negotiating my client's medical and hospital bills just trying to get some money into their hands. Car accident victims get very aggravated by the small amount of insurance available, but a client has to understand that the personal injury lawyer has to protect them from bill collectors. We also have to understand that we, as drivers on Florida's roads, have a duty to protect ourselves. So, if you're reading this, you need to go out and purchase enough uninsured motorist coverage to protect yourself if you're injured in a car accident. Remember, the odds are that if you stop at a light and you look to your left or you look to your right, those drivers do not have enough insurance to compensate you if they hurt you in a car accident.