New York’s roads, highways and city streets see nearly 300,000 car accidents every year. Around 40% of these accidents result in at least minor personal injuries, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Car crashes take an enormous toll on New Yorkers, leaving drivers, passengers, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians struggling to recover from physical injuries and emotional trauma.
Filing A Car Accident Lawsuit In Queens
Legal action may be possible. The vast majority of car accidents are, at least partially, caused by driver-related factors, including inattention, overly aggressive driving behaviors and speeding. In many cases, drivers are found to have acted negligently, with careless disregard for the safety of other people on the road.
These instances of negligence can create a solid foundation for personal injury lawsuits, allowing injured victims an avenue to secure significant financial compensation. In New York State, however, strict auto insurance laws only allow lawsuits to be filed under specific circumstances.
In this guide, our experienced auto accident attorneys will help you understand the complex set of laws that govern car accident lawsuits in New York and New York City.
No-Fault Insurance Laws In New York
New York is one of 12 states to have established a “no-fault” auto insurance law. In other states, someone who was injured in a car accident will pursue damages from the other driver’s insurance company. After the accident is reported, both insurance companies will begin to determine which driver was at fault for the accident. This determination of fault, or “liability,” has a big effect on which insurance company has to pay out damages, and how much those damages will be.
Things are different in New York. Rather than working through the other driver’s insurance company, injured victims in Queens will have to pursue damages through their own auto insurer. At this point, “fault” doesn’t come into the equation. Your insurer is required to compensate you for medical expenses and lost wages, but that guarantee only exists up to a certain dollar limit. Moreover, New York’s “no-fault” laws do not allow victims to claim damages for pain and suffering. That only becomes possible in a personal injury lawsuit, but due to its no-fault insurance laws, New York places strict limitations on which drivers can file a private legal action.
Before we move forward, it’s important to note that New York’s no-fault restrictions only apply to accidents involving personal injuries. Where property damage is concerned, drivers have every right to file an insurance claim with the responsible driver’s auto insurance company or pursue a lawsuit over the damages.
What Is A “Serious Injury” In New York?
New York only allows an injured driver to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, whether or not the other driver was completely responsible for the crash, if the injuries meet a legally-defined threshold of severity.
Here’s how New York’s Insurance Law defines “serious injury,” as outlined by the New York State Bar Association:
- Dismemberment (loss of limb)
- Significant disfigurement
- Fracture (broken bone)
- Loss of fetus
- Permanent loss of use of body organ, member, function or body system
- Permanent consequential limitation of a body organ or member
- Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- Medically-determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than 90 days during the 180 days immediately following the accident
As you’ve likely noticed, some of these definitions are fairly clear-cut, while others are more ambiguous. A broken bone, for example, is a broken one – and proving that you have suffered a fracture should be fairly simple using diagnostic tests (like an X-ray) and the testimony of medical experts. Demonstrating the “permanent consequential limitation of a body organ,” on the other hand, can be more complicated. Soft tissue injuries, including herniated discs and whiplash-type injuries, must be significantly debilitating to pass this test.
In either case, objective medical evidence, along with the opinions of an independent medical expert, are crucial. Pain, on its own, is not enough to substantiate a car accident lawsuit in Queens. New York City’s courts have repeatedly ruled that subjective reports of discomfort are insufficient to establish that a serious injury has occurred. In short, most car accident lawsuits will come down to the strength of medical evidence.
Negligence & Liability In Car Accident Lawsuits
“Serious injury” is only half of the story. In order to win a car accident lawsuit, victims will have to prove that their injuries were caused by the car accident and that the accident itself was (at least partially) caused by the negligent actions of the other driver. To secure compensation, plaintiffs will have to demonstrate five crucial elements:
- Duty Of Care – Every driver, along with bicyclists and motorcyclists, have a basic duty to travel our roads in a non-negligent way. In short, motorists and cyclists have a legal responsibility to operate their vehicles in a manner that does not create an undue risk of harm, including obeying traffic laws.
- Breach Of Duty – The other driver in your case violated their basic duty, operating their vehicle in a negligent manner. Where car accidents are concerned, breaches of the duty of care can be minor, like failing to properly use a turn signal, or egregious, like drunk driving.
- Causation – The other driver’s breach of duty caused your damages, either personal injuries, property losses or both.
- Damages – The final step in securing compensation is outlining specific ways that you were harmed by the other driver’s improper conduct. Damages can range from medical expenses and lost wages to the effects of emotional trauma and the complex neurological consequences of a traumatic brain injury.
Negligence can take many forms in a car accident, but few auto crashes do not involve some level of careless conduct. In today’s technically-driven world, many drivers crash because they are texting, reading emails, or making phone calls. Other common accident causes include speeding, tailgating, changing lanes without signaling, ignoring traffic signs and stoplights, failing to yield, and, of course, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Is There A Time Limit For Car Accident Claims?
Yes. New York enforces a strict deadline for car accident lawsuits, assuming that your injuries meet the relevant “serious injury” threshold. This law, known as a “statute of limitations,” allows victims up to three years to file suit, beginning on the date of the car accident. This three-year statute of limitations applies to lawsuits involving personal injuries, property damage or both.
Can I Afford An Attorney?
Most personal injury cases settle before going to court, but it is imperative to have an experienced attorney by your side to protect your rights.
At Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, our car accident lawyers offer free consultations, so that you can learn more about your legal options at no cost. Our attorneys are committed to pursuing justice for anyone injured on the road, including bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.
Our car crash lawyers work on a contingency-fee basis. That means you don’t owe us anything until we successfully settle or win your case. Contact us today to learn more about your rights.
How Much Is My Auto Accident Case Worth?
After investigating their legal options, this question is at the forefront of a lot of our client’s minds. There are a variety of factors involved in each individual case that make the answer vary greatly. In general, however, the amount of your compensation will depend on:
- The amount of your medical bills
- The details surrounding your case
- Loss of wages due to time off work or long-term injuries
- The negligence of the driver who caused the accident
As time progresses and our experienced car accident lawyers gather details about your individual case, we may be able to estimate the amount of compensation you could be entitled to. In each of our cases, we work to get you the maximum recovery possible by law.