Accidents happen. Even the most careful driver could end up on the shoulder of Route 24 with a totaled vehicle. Or worse, you or someone else could be seriously injured. Whose fault was it, and how will you pay your medical bills? Sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to recover your losses.
Over 300,000 auto accidents are reported in New York each year. Even a small accident can be an overwhelming experience. It doesn't help that you must navigate the complex New York legal system in order to recover compensation. Below, we've provided a guide to help you deal with your Long Island car accident.
It can be difficult to remain calm after an accident, but there are a few easy steps you should take to protect yourself from legal action. First, pull over if the accident resulted in either injury or property damage. State law requires you to stop and give your name, address and insurance information to the other party. Failing to stop could result in serious criminal charges . You should also lend a helping hand to any injured individuals or call for medical attention if necessary.
Second, you should call the Nassau of Suffolk county police ASAP so that a proper report can document the accident. It's important to keep the scene intact for the police. Unless the vehicles are blocking traffic, do not move them until a police officer says so. If you must move a vehicle, take careful note of its position. Photographs are even better.
You should also gather a list of names and contact information from anyone who was involved in or witnessed the accident. In addition, you must file a written report with the New York DMV within ten days for any accident where a person was injured or where property damage exceeds $1,000. Use Form MV-104 to complete this report.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so it may be a good idea to print out a helpful checklist and store it in your glove box for that rainy day.
No-Fault Auto Insurance
New York is one of 12 states that have enacted a "no-fault" law for determining financial responsibility for injuries after car accidents. Under New York's no-fault insurance law, your medical bills and lost wages up to $50,000 will be paid by your own insurance, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. If you incurred additional expenses, you can still file a lawsuit for the remainder. It's important to note that no-fault insurance covers only personal injuries; the at-fault party can still be sued independently for property damage.
The no-fault system allows your medical bills to be paid by your own insurance company, without filing a lawsuit at all. However, if you have suffered severe injuries requiring more than $50,000 in medical care, or you seek compensation for damage to property or pain and suffering, you will probably need to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Types of Lawsuits
Negligence claims are the most common types of injury claims made after car accidents. In a negligence claim, you must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating his or her vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws, or was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Additionally, in fatal accidents, the surviving family members may sue the person responsible for wrongful death. A successful wrongful death suit will allow the surviving family members to receive compensation for any medical expenses, funeral costs, lost financial support, and the loss of companionship.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the car if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. To succeed on this claim you must prove:
- The defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous;"
- The vehicle was being operated as intended, and
- The vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.
If the other driver is found to be negligent, you will be compensated for all property damage, and for medical bills and lost wages in excess of the $50,000 no-fault protection. However, you can only sue for "pain and suffering" damages after a judge has determined that your injury is "serious." Serious injuries are those that involve death, bone fractures, disfigurement, loss of bodily function, or permanent impairment. If your injury is deemed to not be serious, you cannot sue for "pain and suffering" damages.
New York has adopted a comparative negligence rule for assigning fault. In a comparative negligence state , fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party.
Filing a Lawsuit
The New York statute of limitations protects people from being sued for old injuries. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations for filing is three years from the day that the injuries were incurred. This means that if you fail to file your lawsuit within three years of the accident, you will be barred from filing.
You will most likely file your lawsuit at either the Nassau or Suffolk County Supreme Court. Since small claims are barred under the no-fault law, your claim probably won't be heard at either the District or County courts, as their jurisdiction is limited to claims worth less than $25,000.
To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, or a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but specific enough to show why you should win the case. To learn more about your legal options, you should contact a personal injury attorney.