What to Do When Your Car Accident Was Not Your Fault
A serious car accident can change your life forever. Medical bills pile up. Physical, occupational, and mental health therapy can take you away from your job. Your injuries may prevent you from working and supporting your family, or may limit your ability to do your job at the same level you did before your accident. As a result, your family has suffered. You experience constant physical and emotional pain. What can you do?
New York’s No Fault Law
In the 1970s, New York enacted a no fault auto insurance law. What this means for you as a driver is that you are required to meet minimum coverage requirements on your car insurance plan and that your plan then pays you for damages suffered in a car accident regardless of who is at fault. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) covers you and your passengers, and any pedestrian injured by your car, and pays for damages such as medical and rehabilitative costs and lost wages up to $50,000.
The idea behind a no fault law is to pay injured persons promptly for damages they suffered in car accidents and to restore them to health as soon as possible. It provides as much as $2,000 per month in income replacement for three years from the date of the accident and a small daily allowance for household expenses. The survivor of a person killed in a car accident may receive a $2,000 death benefit in addition to the $50,000 in medical and other cost reimbursement.
PIP serves as the injured person’s health insurance for injuries sustained in a car accident, but it does not pay for damage to your vehicle, the other driver’s vehicle, or any loss of personal property sustained in the accident.
Monetary Damages Over the No Fault Limit
If your economic damages (monetary damages) exceed $50,000, you may bring a lawsuit against the person who was at fault in your accident. If you are a high earner or your injuries are severe, your economic loss may well exceed $50,000 in a short period of time and the law accounts for that. You may also go to court against the other driver to recover property damage or other economic loss not covered by your insurance. In such a situation, you would bring a personal injury lawsuit against the other party, which you must file within 3 years of the date of your accident.
Pain and Suffering Damages
Under New York law, you may have the right to recover damages for pain and suffering or other “non-economic” losses you suffered as a result of a car accident. However, you are only entitled to such damages if you have suffered what is deemed a serious injury under the Insurance Law. To qualify as a serious injury, it must fall into one of the following categories:
- Death (the lawsuit would be brought by the deceased’s survivors)
- Significant disfigurement
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent loss of a body organ, member, function, or system
- Permanent consequential limitation 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 occurrence of the injury or impairment.
Immediately After Your Accident
Call the police to the scene of your accident. Law enforcement will create a police report that you will want to request a copy of in its final form because it may be important if you pursue a lawsuit for your car accident.
In addition, to receive reimbursement for your lost wages under your no fault insurance plan, the State of New York requires that you apply for disability insurance. Failure to do so can result in a denial of your lost wages claim. Apply right away.
Document Your Damages
You will want to make sure that you keep close track of all the expenses you incur as a result of your car accident. This includes medical bills, verification of missed work time, official diagnoses, vehicle repair bills, and proof any costs of ongoing physical, rehabilitative, or mental health therapy. When in doubt, keep that piece of paper!
File Your Initial Claim and Expenses
New York’s Insurance Law contains strict time frames by which you must file your accident-related insurance claims and documentation proving your expenses. Failure to do so may result in your insurance claim being denied unless you can provide proof (in writing) of a clear and reasonable justification for your failure to comply with these time limitations.
- Initial filing of an insurance claim with your insurance carrier: You must file your initial claim within 30 days of your accident.
- Healthcare bills: To recover compensation for your medical care, you must submit proof of those costs no later than 45 days after treatment.
- Lost wages: You must submit proof of lost wages within 90 days.
Keep in mind, these are the deadlines for filing an insurance claim with your own PIP carrier. Other deadlines apply to taking legal action against an “at-fault” party when you have suffered damages exceeding $50,000, as discussed above.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney if You Still Have Questions
The system of recovering damages suffered in a car accident in New York State can confuse anyone, but that shouldn’t keep you from pursuing a damages award against the person who injured you for costs your insurance company does not cover. Severe injuries can have lifelong financial, psychological, and physical consequences and costs. Contacting an experienced car accident attorney can help you figure out whether you can seek compensation for those damages from the person at fault in your accident.