It's 7:45 a.m. on Monday morning and you're late to work. You spent the night at your parent's place in Jersey City. You planned to take the PATH, but you're running late. You dread driving in lower Manhattan during rush hour. It's a nightmare and parking is expensive. On this morning, however, it looks like driving might not save you much time after all. The Holland Tunnel is jam-packed and no one seems to be following the traffic laws.
Suddenly, you are involved in a car accident right off the tunnel and you're blocking traffic. What's next? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in New York city.
What to Do at the Scene
First, you must stop at the scene of the accident -- whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. New York state law requires drivers in a crash to stop and stay at the scene to exchange information or render reasonable assistance to the injured. If you leave, you could be charged with hit-and run and face severe penalties. Depending on the damage or injuries, you may be fined, sent to jail, or both. You also could lose your driver's license.
Do I Have to Call the Police?
Call the New York City Police Department or 911 as soon as possible. If a person is injured or killed, you must report the accident immediately. If you hit a parked car, or other object like a traffic device, you must inform the owner. Leave a note with your name, address, license plate number and insurance information and report the accident to local police.
An officer will respond to your location and take a report. This means assessing the damages and interviewing key witnesses to help determine the likely cause of the accident.
What Information Should I Gather at the Scene?
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver -- your name and driver's license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car's owner, the name and address of your insurance company and your insurance policy number. Make sure the investigating officer records complete insurance information on the crash report for all parties involved. Some other information you may wish to collect contact information about:
- Other car's owner;
- Any passengers in the other car; and
- Any witnesses to the accident.
Also, consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene if you are able. Take photographs if you can.
Liability: Who is Really at Fault?
Automobile accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.
It's also important not to volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. You may think that you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are. You may wish to first talk to your insurance agent, lawyer, or both. Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later. Generally you should not agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
Reporting the Accident to the DMV
You are required to file a report (MV-104) with the DMV if property damage to one driver exceeds $ 1,000, or if any person is injured or killed. Don't wait. The report has to be filed within 10 days after the accident or your driver's license may be suspended.
State Insurance Level Requirements
New York is one of 12 states with a no-fault insurance program. As a driver of a car registered in this state, you must purchase New York State (NYS) liability insurance from an in-state provider. Out-of-state coverage is not valid. According to the New York State DMV, you must carry a minimum liability:
- $25,000/50,000 for injury
- $50,000/100,000 for death
- $10,000 for property damage caused by any one accident
No-fault automobile insurance is designed to cover any injuries you sustain as a result of the accident provided you were not intoxicated by drugs or alcohol or engaged in other criminal behavior. It doesn't matter who is at fault. Your own insurance company will pay out of pocket for personal injuries up to the policy limits. This means you don't have to sue the other party's insurance company to take care of medical bills and other resulting damages such as lost wages. Simply contact your own insurance carrier and make a claim.
Property Damage Liability
Property damage covers any damage that you, a family member or other covered individual driving your vehicle may cause to another person's property while driving. This type of coverage will not pay out for any damages you sustain to your own vehicle. It's only meant to cover the other driver's personal property damage.
New York does not require you to carry coverage that insures your own vehicle, although it's certainly recommended.
After the Crash: Dealing with Insurance Companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. You are required to report a crash within 30 days to claim no-fault benefits. Your carrier will open an investigation of your matter. A claims adjuster will contact you and do any or all of the following:
- Request a copy of the police report;
- Take photographs of your car;
- Contact the other driver(s);
- Talk to any witnesses;
- Ask you to sign a medical release form to review your records;
- Contact your medical provider;
- Request for you to get estimates on vehicle damage.
After an investigation, the insurance company will most likely attempt to reach a settlement agreement with you depending on the type of damages you are claiming such as personal injury or property. You are not required to accept any settlements from an insurance carrier.
If you can't reach an agreement with the adjuster, you may have other options, such as taking your appeal to the adjuster's supervisor or initiating a lawsuit.
Seeking Compensation Beyond No Fault-Coverage
As the victim in a car accident, you retain the right to sue for personal injury losses including:
- Medical expenses and other economic losses exceeding $50,000;
- "Pain and Suffering" if you suffer an injury that results in significant disfigurement, a fracture, or other kinds of significant injury as defined under the no-fault law; or
- Injury resulting in death.
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. If you think you need a lawyer, click here.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. However, generally speaking if you are involved in mediation, arbitration, or a civil case in one of the five boroughs, you will likely appear in one of the following divisions:
Civil Court of the City of New York: All civil cases actions in which the controversy does not exceed $25,000 and small claims matters not exceeding $5,000.
The Supreme Court of New York Civil Division: All civil cases including automobile negligence matters for controversies over $25,000.
Find a Local Attorney to Evaluate Your Car Accident Claim
Being involved in a car accident is a stressful event that can involve complex legal issues concerning liability and injuries. If you find yourself in this situation, the best thing that you can do is to talk to an attorney right away. An experienced car accident attorney can help you understand your rights during this difficult time. Find a local attorney to help you.