Anyone who has seen the smoldering wrecks along Burlington Pike time and again knows that Newark can be a dangerous place to drive. But what if one day that poor soul standing on the shoulder is you? It is impossible to truly prepare for the physical and emotion trauma of a major crash, but FindLaw has created this guide to at least help sort out the general legal concepts behind a Newark car accident.
First Things First
There are a couple of easy steps you can take immediately after an accident to preserve your legal rights. First, hit-and-run drivers can face serious criminal charges, so pull over to a safe location where you won't impede traffic. If the accident was severe enough to immobilize the vehicles, you should leave the accident scene intact and take careful notes of each vehicle's location. You can even store a disposable camera in your glove box so you know you'll be prepared with photographic evidence. These days a smartphone is just fine, too.
Next, you are required by New Jersey law to report any accident that involves injury, death, or over $500 worth of damage to vehicles or property to the authorities. If law enforcement wasn't called to the accident scene and only minor property damage resulted from the crash, you need to send a letter to your local Motor Vehicle Commission Agency within 10 days of the accident, stating the circumstances and providing as much information as possible.
Finally, be sure you exchange information with all parties involved, including names, addresses, phone numbers, driver's license numbers, car tag numbers, vehicle descriptions and insurance information. If there were any witnesses, get their names and addresses. It's also a good idea to write down the time and the weather, as well as road conditions at the time of the accident. However, you would be smart to avoid apologizing for the accident or admitting responsibility, as these statements could be used against you should another driver try to sue or pin the blame on you.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist to store in your glove box, just in case?
New Jersey drivers are required to carry a minimum amount of auto insurance coverage, which includes:
- $5,000 per accident for property damage;
- $15,000 per person per accident for personal injury protection benefits;
- $250,000 per person per accident in personal injury protection benefits for certain serious injuries, such as brain or spinal cord injuries.
New Jersey is one of rare states that have enacted "choice no-fault" legislation for determining financial responsibility for injuries after car accidents. This means that New Jersey drivers have the option of choosing between no-fault and traditional car insurance when they purchase their policy. Traditional coverage allows drivers to file a claim against other drivers for all damages that result from an accident.
No fault coverage means that the driver will recover from his or her own auto insurance policy first in order to pay expenses related to the crash. This includes medical bills, and the parties can only sue each other in limited circumstances. For drivers who choose the no-fault option, a lawsuit is only possible in New Jersey if the accident resulted in dismemberment, significant disfigurement or scarring, displaced fractures, loss of a fetus or other permanent injuries.
Read more about New Jersey auto insurance laws with this thorough booklet provided by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.
Filing a Lawsuit
Under New Jersey law, you have two years to file your lawsuit to recover expenses associated with your injury or property damage caused by the accident. This limit, called a statute of limitations, prevents plaintiffs from dragging defendants to court for ancient injuries long since forgotten. Be warned, courts take this deadline quite literally.
The Newark Municipal Court has jurisdiction over all civil cases that occur within the boundaries of Newark. You can file your lawsuit at 31 Green Street. To file, you need a brief complaint which describes the accident and requests relief. Various other procedures may be required too, so be sure to double check with the court.
These technical hurdles exemplify the value an experienced personal injury attorney can bring to your case. Personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don't pay them until you recover. Many offer free consultations, too.
Types of Lawsuits
The most common lawsuit following an auto accident is negligence. Negligence governs accidentally caused injuries. You must show that the other party was not exercising a reasonable level of care under the circumstances, and that this resulted in your injuries.
For serious accidents involving a fatality, the deceased individual's family members may be able to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit aims to recover lost wages, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
Sometimes circumstances are such that parties can pursue vehicle manufacturers in a products liability lawsuit. To succeed, they must point out a design or manufacturing defect that caused the accident. Proving a defect usually requires the analysis of an automotive expert, and the cases can get quite technical.
Shared Fault - Comparative Negligence
The comparative negligence doctrine governs situations where both plaintiff and defendant are partly to blame for the accident. Under New Jersey law, fault is assigned to each plaintiff and defendant, and the plaintiff's total recovery is reduced by the percent he is found to be at fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury which was found to be 10% your fault, you would likely be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. However, if a jury determines that a plaintiff is more than 50% responsible for the incident causing the alleged injury, the plaintiff cannot recover anything.
Arm yourself with more knowledge by reading up on general car accident law.