In short, yes – it is a mistake to admit fault after a car accident. Nevertheless, you might avoid incurring liability in a “no-fault” state like Florida. Under certain circumstances, however, admitting liability could spell disaster. Without a lawyer, the likelihood that someone will trick you into admitting fault at some point or other is high. The damage to your claim could be significant, even if you weren’t really at fault.
How Does Florida’s “No-Fault” Auto Insurance System Work?
Florida is currently a “no-fault” auto insurance state. Florida’s mandatory auto insurance requirements include $10,000 in Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance and $10,000 in Property Damage Liability insurance. Oddly, Florida law doesn’t require motorists to purchase bodily injury liability insurance. When an accident happens, each driver looks to their own PIP insurance to pay for their personal injury, regardless of fault.
Exiting the No-Fault System in Florida
If your personal injury claim exceeds $10,000, you are probably better off exiting Florida’s no-fault system and suing the at-fault driver if Florida law allows you to. By filing a personal injury lawsuit, you can claim “pain and suffering” and other non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are often worth far more than economic damages.
To exit Florida’s no-fault system, your injuries must be “serious.” Under Florida personal injury law, a “serious” injury means either:
- A significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- A permanent injury;
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; or
- Death (allowing the estate executor to file a wrongful death lawsuit).
Remember that the defendant, who may have suffered an injury in the accident as well, can file a counterclaim against you if their injuries were also “serious.” This is where admitting fault can get dangerous.
How Can Admitting Fault Damage Your Claim Under Florida’s “Modified” Comparative Fault System?
Once you exit Florida’s no-fault system, Florida’s “modified” comparative negligence system kicks in. Under this system, each party is responsible for damages to the extent of their percentage of fault for the accident. In addition, Florida’s 51% rule means you’ll be barred from recovering damages if you were mostly to blame.
If the court says you were 10% at fault, for example, you are responsible for 10 percent of your own damages plus 10 percent of the defendant’s damages. If the defendant was 90 percent responsible, they must pay 90 percent of their damages plus 90 percent of your damages. A court will set these amounts off against each other and order one party to pay damages to the other party.
Contributory Negligence States
If you admitted fault, consider yourself lucky that the accident didn’t happen in a “contributory negligence” state jurisdiction such as Alabama or Washington, D.C. In a contributory negligence state, you would lose your claim to any damages if you were even 1% at fault for the accident.
What Can I Expect From the Insurance Company?
Insurance companies exist to make a profit. Their profit comes from accepting premiums, not from paying out claims. Once you file a claim, the insurance company becomes your adversary. You can expect them to seize upon any excuse to deny your claim or at least minimize its value. An admission of fault from you is exactly the excuse they need. A personal injury lawyer can help.
How Can You Avoid Admitting Fault?
Avoiding an admission of fault can be surprisingly difficult, considering all the tricks that the insurance company, the defendant, and the defendant’s lawyer might try to pull on you.
Observe the following principles:
- Avoid polite apologies. Assume that the other side will be happy to use your good manners against you.
- If someone such as the police question you before you have had a chance to retain an attorney, tell the truth (or refuse to answer) when someone questions you, but be concise. The more you say, the greater your chances of harming your claim.
- Hire a seasoned personal injury lawyer as soon as you can.
- Once you retain a lawyer, never talk to the police, the defendant, or an insurance company adjuster without your lawyer present.
Observing these principles should drastically lower your chances of making an unintentional admission.
Do Circumstances Matter?
Yes, circumstances matter with respect to when you admitted fault and to whom you admitted it.
Admitting Fault at the Scene of an Accident
If you admitted fault at the scene of an accident, it might be because you suffered an injury that left you confused. This could be a strong defense, especially if you suffered a head injury.
Admitting Fault in Response to Insurance Company Questioning
Insurance adjusters can be tricky. An adjuster might, for example, press you to commit to the time of a car accident, right down to the exact minute. If you comply, they might say that the accident was your fault because you checked the time instead of watching the road. You need to prepare psychologically for this level of manipulation.
Admitting Fault in a Deposition or in Court
An admission of fault is harder to avoid when you are under cross-examination. If you admit fault in a deposition and contradict yourself later in court, the defense will use it to discredit you. Your lawyer can coach you in advance on how to handle this kind of pressure.
Admitting Fault on Your Social Media Account
This is more common than you might think. The defendant can use the contents of your social media account against you. Even an indirect admission, where you admit facts that add up to fault when put together, can harm your claim.
How Can You Overcome an Admission of Fault?
If you did admit fault and you cannot undo it, all is not necessarily lost. You might not be at fault even though you thought you were. Your lawyer can help you build a strong case that the accident was not your fault despite your admission. In this way, you can preserve most, or even all of your damages claim.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Mitigate the Damage to Your Claim
Hire a personal injury lawyer early, and they might be able to prevent you from admitting fault. Hire one after you have admitted fault, and they might be able to help you undo the damage. A skilled personal injury lawyer can help you out in many other ways as well.
Our attorneys enjoy the benefit of decades of collective experience. We are proud that many of our current clients were referred to us by former clients.
Contact our experienced car accident lawyer in Jacksonville, FL at Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers by calling (904) 396-1100 or by completing our online intake form. We offer free initial consultations, and you will owe us nothing in legal fees unless we win.