By: Grace Hancock
After a car crash, it’s difficult to imagine that an attorney would turn you down in your time of need. The truth is, law firms reject car accident cases all the time. I sat down with attorney Mike Hancock and asked him: “What are some of the reasons you might decline to take someone’s car accident injury case?” Here’s what he had to say.
Mike: “Some of the reasons would include, first and foremost, if the statute of limitations has expired, if the client wasn’t injured, if the client was at fault or substantially at fault, or whether there is disputed liability, there’s no insurance coverage, and the last one is you can handle the case on your own and recover more on your own than you could with an attorney. So those are some of the reasons.”
Grace: “What is the statute of limitations in Florida and how long do you have to file a claim? What does “statute of limitations” mean and what does it mean in Florida?”
Mike: “The statute of limitations in Florida for a car accident case is four years. If it’s caused by an uninsured driver and you have uninsured motorist coverage, you have five years. But it’s either going to be four or five years. There are some special situations if you have a case against a governmental agency in Florida. Even though you have four years to file your lawsuit, let’s say a school bus ran a stop sign and ran into you and caused an accident. You still have four years to file the lawsuit, but you have to file certain notices putting the governmental agency on notice within three years of the accident. So, generally speaking, it’s going to be four years, it could be three years, it could be five years, and if it involves a wrongful death, there’s only a two-year statute of limitations. So that’s one reason to seek the advice of an attorney early on after a crash because you can’t just say it’s always four years, it could be sooner. Statute of limitations is just a legal term that says you’ve got a certain amount of time after an injury to file a lawsuit against the appropriate party. If you don’t file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you forever lose your right to do so.”
Grace: “Why wouldn’t you take on a case where the client wasn’t injured?”
Mike: “For us to take a personal injury claim arising from a car accident, our client has to be injured. We don’t take any cases involving just property damage. One reason we don’t need to get involved in that if it’s the other person’s fault and they have insurance- property damage liability insurance- those property damage issues such as either getting your car repaired or having the other insurance company total your car and pay you for the car, ninety-five percent of the time it gets taken care of without any problems and without the need for an attorney getting involved.
We represent people in a wide variety of injury cases. We’ve handled countless wrongful death cases arising out of car accidents and all the way down to cases in which there’s not much damage to either vehicle, but our client has injuries as a result of it. We represent people who have been life-flighted from the scene of the accident to people who might not have even gone by ambulance from the scene of the accident and might not have had sought medical treatment for a number of days after the crash. There’s really no specific guideline as to what type of injury that you need for us to represent you, but if you call us and tell us that “I was in an accident. It was the other person’s fault and I feel as if I was injured” that is the type of case we would handle. As long as you feel that you’ve been injured and you feel the need to seek medical treatment. It may not be the “million-dollar” case, but we treat every case individually and so if your case involves a situation where your injuries might only last a few months, we’ll definitely take that case in addition to the “million-dollar” case in which you were life-flighted away from the scene of the accident.”
Grace: “Can you explain what disputed liability means and how it affects your decision as to whether or not you’ll take on a case?”
Mike: “I can break disputed liability down into two different things. One in which lets say you had a car crash, the police come out, investigate, and indicate that you were at fault. Even though the police officer’s determination as to who caused the crash is not admissible in your personal injury claim, it typically gives everyone involved a pretty good understanding of who caused the accident, but it’s not necessarily always correct.
We’ve had situations in which we’ve had a client call and say “Well, the police officer gave me the ticket” and we’ve been able to successfully represent that person and explain why that person wasn’t at fault and why the other person was truly the one at fault. Generally speaking, if you’re the one who got the ticket at the scene, it might make it difficult for us to pursue the case. We have to be able to prove that the other person was negligent and that their negligence caused the crash. Occasionally we get clients who call and they think that they weren’t at fault but in fact, the police officer thinks that they were at fault and sometimes I agree with the police officer.
If I think based upon my investigation that the client calling me is actually the one who caused the accident, I might not take that case. But then, Florida follows what’s known as comparative fault or comparative negligence, it is a system where it’s not all or nothing. A jury can conclude that you were fifty percent at fault and the other person was fifty percent at fault. That would just reduce the amount you’re entitled to by the amount of your negligence- your comparative negligence. If we think that you’re one hundred percent at fault, I wouldn’t take the case. If we think that the damages are large enough and we think that you might be found partly and not fully at fault, we still might take that case.”
Grace: “Can you explain why you wouldn’t take a case if it was found that there was no insurance coverage?”
Mike: “Unfortunately since the 1970s, Florida has followed what’s called the Florida No-Fault Insurance laws as it relates to car insurance. This set of laws does not require anyone to have bodily injury liability coverage, which is the type of coverage you need if you’re at fault to cover the other person’s injuries. In Florida, right now about twenty-seven percent of all people are completely uninsured on the road, and about an additional ten percent chose the bare minimum coverage which doesn’t include any bodily injury liability. We got about thirty-seven percent of all people out on the road who don’t have any bodily injury liability, so it’s essentially a little bit more than one in three chance that when someone hits you, they’re not going to have any insurance coverage to pay for your injuries. In literally about one in three people that call me, there might not be any insurance on the other side to pay for their injuries and then that’s why it’s so important for everybody to have what is called uninsured motorist coverage so that if the other person doesn’t have any insurance or doesn’t have enough, then your uninsured motorist- which also in Florida includes underinsured motorist coverage- that will then kick in to take the place of what the other guy should have had. That’s another reason why I wouldn’t take the case. Now, what we do in that situation is if you are injured in a car accident, we will start representing you, one of the first things we do is send out appropriate letters pursuant to a certain Florida statute that requests- it’s a letter that goes out pursuant to a Florida statute that requires the insurance company to provide us with certain information under oath within thirty days of our request. Typically, within thirty days of a client contacting us, we can find out if the driver who caused the accident had insurance and if so how much insurance they had. At the end of that thirty days, if the person’s insurance company says they just had the bare minimum but no bodily injury liability and our client didn’t have any uninsured motorist, we would make sure that we find out whether that person who caused the accident was by chance working in the course and scope of their employment which means that even though the individual might have not had any insurance, their employer is responsible for their bad driving. If it turns out that they don’t have any insurance, they weren’t working at the time, and our client doesn’t have any uninsured motorist coverage, we then look and basically run searches in some databases we belong to, see if the person has any sufficient assets to justify filing a lawsuit against that person even though they don’t have any or they don’t have very much insurance and we look to see if they have sufficient assets that might justify actually filing a lawsuit, going to trial, conducting a trial, getting a verdict, and rendering that verdict down into a judgment so that we can go collect that judgment from that person. We do all that research before 100% determining that there’s no insurance and the person doesn’t have sufficient assets and they weren’t on the job,and that there’s just nothing to go after.”
Grace: “Why would you turn down a case if you think that the client can make a larger net recovery by themselves than they could with you as their attorney?”
Mike: “My goal is to help people and there are going to be certain cases in which I might listen to the potential client tell me their story and I may say “Hey, based on everything you’ve told me, I think you might be able to easily handle this on your own and actually net a larger recovery on your own than you would be able to if you hired an attorney to represent you.” And so, since my real goal in life is to be helping people, if I think that they can truly handle it on their own and net a larger recovery by themself, I’m going to tell them that’s what they can do, and oftentimes I actually tell the person “Hey, I think you can do this on your own, it’s not a very large case” and I kind of guide them through the process of “Here’s what I would do…” “Here’s how to handle it on your own…” and if I can do that within a short period of time and tell them how they can handle it on their own, the person is appreciative because they would much rather handle it on their own most often, they would much rather be able to recover a larger amount of money, and their appreciative of all my recommendations and advice that I’m giving them for no charge. One reason that we do that is, number one, we like to help people, and number two, that person is going to remember the kind-hearted help that we gave them and the good advice that we gave them and then in the future, those clients have referred us other clients because we took just a little bit of time out of our day to give them a little bit of help.”
In short, an attorney like Mike Hancock may not take your car accident case for the following reasons: if the statute of limitations has expired, if you have no injuries, if there is disputed liability, if there is no insurance, and if it’s determined that you can handle the claim on your own and recover more without hiring an attorney.
If you believe you have a personal injury case, but either the at-fault party doesn’t have insurance or you did not maintain injuries, Mike may still be able to represent you in your legal claim. At Hancock Injury Attorneys, our goal is to help people. If you believe our firm can help you, give us a call at (813) 901-1110 or visit our website to schedule your free case consultation today.