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New York Car Accidents: 5 Things You Should Know Before Filing a Lawsuit

Firefighters Helping a Car Accident Victim

You’ve been involved in a car accident in New York. Questions are racing through your head. Who’s going to pay for the damage? Should you call a New York car accident lawyer? Can you sue the other driver? Here are five things you should know about the legal process before taking action.

The Nightmare Scenario

You’re heading to the city on a busy Monday morning. You usually avoid driving into Manhattan, but you’re late for work and couldn’t make the train in time. You manage to stay calm and focused, but the other drivers aren’t so fortunate. A rushing motorist takes a hairpin turn too fast, loses control, and plows into the passenger side of your car. Before you know it, an EMT is examining you, the police are questioning you, and a tow truck is hauling your crumpled car away.

Being late for work is now one of the furthest things from your mind. Now you’re wondering whether you can afford the medical bills and the car repair bills. You’re wondering whether you should call a car accident attorney. You’re worried that you’ll spend the next week or even the next month on the phone with bureaucratic insurance company officials. Your schedule for the foreseeable future is filled with red tape and legal formalities. You don’t have time for this.

5 Facts About Car Accident Law in New York

You’re not alone. New York streets can be dangerous. Between distracted drivers, overcrowded intersections, and icy roads, it’s no wonder the state sees hundreds of thousands1 of accidents every year. Those who suffer through the ordeal of a crash are left with the inevitable question: What next? Before taking the wrong action, consider these five facts:

Fact #1: New York Is a No-Fault State

Many people believe they have a right to sue if they’ve been injured by another driver. What they don’t know is that New York State law can be complicated, dictating the specific conditions under which you can and cannot file a lawsuit. Even if you can pursue legal action, you’ll face a dizzying array of considerations and hurdles.

First and most importantly, New York is a “no fault” state. That means the law doesn’t assign blame for an accident. In most cases, it doesn’t matter who was distracted or who failed to stop. Since fault is not an issue, legal action becomes unnecessary, and the state doesn’t allow either party to sue the other. Instead, each driver must appeal to their own insurance provider if they want to receive compensation.

In effect, the law says insurance companies must pay for the following accident-related costs, no matter who was at fault:

Medical treatment (e.g., emergency room bills, doctor’s consultations, physical therapy, psychiatric treatment)
Lost wages or earnings (up to $2,000/month for up to 3 years)
Additional expenses (up to $25/day for up to 1 year)

Fact #2: The No-Fault Law Has Its Limits

In most cases, it doesn’t matter who is at fault. In some cases, it does. That’s because New York’s no-fault rule contains at least one important caveat: the serious injury rule. If the state deems that your injuries are sufficiently serious to warrant an exemption from the no-fault rule, then you are allowed to sue the party who is to blame for the accident.

Examples of serious injuries2 that fall under the exemption to the no-fault rule include:

  • Death
  • Bone fracture
  • Dismemberment
  • Permanently damaged organ, member, or system
  • Significant disfigurement
  • Terminated pregnancy
  • Injury that results in an inability to perform normal daily functions for at least 90 of the 180 days following the accident

Keep one thing in mind: The no-fault law covers up to $50,000 in damages whether or not the injuries are serious. Even if your injuries are serious, your own insurance company should pay up to $50,000 in damages under New York law.

That also means that if you incur more than $50,000 in medical bills, you have the right to sue the other party regardless of the severity of the injuries. Of course, anything that requires more than $50,000 worth of treatment might be classified as serious, regardless of the type of injury.

You should be aware of another caveat. New York’s no-fault statutes were not intended for property damage cases. The law does allow you to sue the other driver in order to recover the cost of property damage (e.g., car repair bills). Finally, the state’s no-fault provisions do not cover criminal behavior—the law does not apply if one driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Fact #3: Evidence Matters and It Has a Habit of Disappearing

Sometimes people choose not to call an auto accident attorney in the days following a crash. Perhaps they underestimate the severity of their injuries and the subsequent cost of medical bills. Perhaps they think they have no right to sue under New York’s no-fault law. Perhaps they’re simply too tired or confused. Only later do they realize that a lawsuit is not only permissible, not only advisable, but necessary.

All too often, people wait too long. By the time they realize they have a legal case, the physical evidence has long since disappeared. Within less than a day, authorities have cleared up the accident scene. Before long, photos have been deleted; witness contact information may have found its way to the trash; cars have been repaired; evidence has been lost forever; your hopes of proving fault and receiving compensation have vanished.

The only way to prevent such a catastrophe is to plan ahead, even if you don’t believe you have a valid claim. You never know what the future will bring, and it’s always best to prepare for every possible scenario.

At the very least, schedule a free consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer who can tell you what you what evidence is important and how you can collect it. At the end of the day, you have nothing to lose nothing except a few moments of your time, and those brief moments may save you months’ if not years’ worth of legal troubles in the future. At the very least, a lawyer will be able to gather the evidence for you and hold onto it for safekeeping.

When dealing with the aftermath of a car crash, remember this simple rule: The longer you wait to take legal action, the harder it will be to gather evidence and build a successful case. When in doubt, call a lawyer to ensure your case is handled properly from the outset.

Fact #4: Witnesses Are Notoriously Unreliable

If physical evidence has an inconvenient habit of disappearing, then memories are a lawyer’s worst nightmare. Witnesses soon forget details. Sometimes they add or embellish details as the passage of time distorts their recollections of events. Reliable witnesses are hard to come by, no matter the circumstances. Even if you record their statements in the minutes following the accident, you may find discrepancies. The longer you wait, the more unreliable they become.

Once again, the key is to collect witness statements as soon as possible. The best way to secure reliable testimony is to call in the professionals. An experienced lawyer knows which questions to ask and how to ask them. A law firm will also keep the witness statements on file in case they prove useful in the future.

Fact #5: Time Is of the Essence

Disappearing evidence and unreliable memories are two reasons to start building a legal case as soon as possible. There’s at least one other reason: New York’s statute of limitations3 for car accident cases, which sets a three-year deadline for legal action. That means you have three years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. If you fail to submit the paperwork in time, you lose all hope of recovering damages.

Since the clock starts ticking the moment the accident occurs, it’s important to take action sooner rather than later. Filing a lawsuit is almost always more complicated than people first believe, and it always takes more time than they assume. Start now, and you may not have to pay so much later.

Contacting a New York Car Accident Attorney

Calling an experienced lawyer is the first thing you should do after seeking emergency medical attention and reporting the accident. Call The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. at (212) 970-6500, and we’ll help you manage the aftermath. First, we’ll advise you on your legal options. Then we’ll investigate your claims, gather evidence, talk to witnesses, file paperwork, deal with insurance companies, negotiate on your behalf, and fight for you in court if necessary.

Whether your case falls under New York’s no-fault provisions or not, we’ll do everything we can to help you receive the compensation you deserve.