You may think that the process for settling a boat accident injury claim in Florida is easy, particularly if the accident was a clear case of negligence on the part of another party.

This blog post will discuss the steps involved and demonstrate why it is important to hire a knowledgeable, experienced attorney.

First step: Determining who to file the claim against

It may seem like a no-brainer to simply file a claim against the insurance company of the boater who caused the accident. But boat accidents may fall under maritime injury law. On top of that, many boaters in Florida fail to carry the required amount of insurance.

Many people try this step themselves, only to learn that they don’t know the process or the full value of their case. They also quickly discover that the insurance company will put up every road block it can. There will be claim forms that must be filled out correctly and within the deadline. There will be medical evidence required and reports to submit. If the company doesn’t deny the claim outright, they will certainly undervalue the amount of damages you are seeking.

Settlement negotations

If your claim is denied or your don’t accept the counter-offer, you will have the option of negotiating with the boater’s insurance company lawyers. Most people retain a maritime injury lawyer to represent them for this step of the process. Negotiations may take place for weeks and even months. Insurance companies in Florida know that they better negotiate in good faith or face a potential civil lawsuit, where potential financial damages are likely to be significantly higher.

Mediation and alternative dispute resolution

As part of the negotiations, you may agree to take the case to mediation, arbitration or some other means of alternative dispute resolution. Before you agree, make sure you understand the process and whether you are agreeing to abide by the settlement or decision that comes out of it. Don’t allow yourself to get locked into something that may turn out to be in the insurance company’s favor.

Filing a lawsuit

If you still fail to resolve the matter to your satisfaction, the next step is to file a lawsuit. Even if you haven’t yet hired an attorney experienced in maritime and boat accident cases to this point, you will certainly want one for the court process. The insurance company will be served with the lawsuit and must respond within a specific period of time. From this point on, you will be the plaintiff and the insurance company will be the defendant.

One of the first steps is discovery of evidence. All of your medical records and  reports must be made available to the defendant. Your own lawyer will require you to make a deposition, and so will the insurance company. Everything you say and do during this step will be under oath and a matter of legal record. This is another reason it is so important to have an attorney advise you of your rights.

If the judge decides the case has merit to proceed, negotiations will resume to seek a resolution out of court. In Florida, judges assigned to civil lawsuits expect parties to do everything they can to resolve the matter outside of trial.

Your boat accident injury case might take a year or more to come to trial. During that time, there will be active offers and counter-offers taking place between your attorney and the insurance defense team.

Most Florida personal injury claims settle out of court

Fortunately, most personal injury lawsuits in Central Florida settle out of court; sometimes just days or even hours before the trial is set to begin. If your case proceeds to trial, there will be further pre-trial hearings between the judge and attorneys for both sides. The rules of the trial will be established and the trial proceeds. Throughout the trial, attorneys for both sides may continue to negotiate toward a settlement before the case is turned over to a jury.

The jury will be faced with two verdicts. First, whether the defendant should be held liable for damages at all; and, if so, the amount of damages to be paid to the plaintiff. (In one famous civil trial, the National Football League was found guilty of violating anti-monoply laws but was subsequently ordered to pay three dollars is damages to the plaintiff.)

Hiring an attorney early in the process is the smart option

Throughout the complex process of a reaching a fair settlement for your boat accident case, you will be facing a team of insurance company defense lawyers who understand maritime law and will work aggressively to protect their client’s rights and financial interests. It makes sense to get the same level of aggressive legal representation fighting to level the playing field, to make sure you get the compensation you are entitled to.