can i sue after a car accident

Can I Sue After a Car Accident?

Yes, but it is dependent on two major things. New York law allows lawsuits after car accidents when you meet two requirements. First, you have to fall into an exception to New York’s no-fault insurance system that blocks car crash lawsuits. In a minor crash, New York forces you to rely on your no-fault coverage rather than suing the other driver. Second, you must prove the other party caused your accident. Depending on the target of your lawsuit, you will also need to prove how the other party’s behavior failed to meet the expected level of care. This explanation only scratches the surface of the laws that cover car crash claims in New York. You should speak to a car accident attorney to fully analyze your situation. A car accident lawyer has the knowledge and experience to determine your rights after a car crash and identify the sources of injury compensation you can pursue. Read on to learn how lawyers determine whether you can sue after a car accident and when you should speak to a car accident attorney.

What Makes Finding Fault for an Accident so Important?

New York Car Accidents

In one recent month, New York City had 7,818 crashes. Of these, 3,092 caused at least one injury or fatality. In total, 4,037 motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists were injured or killed in just one month. This is a staggering number. If all the people injured in these accidents sued after their accident, the suits would clog the courts. Judges would have no time to spend on any other types of cases. And insurers would need to raise premiums to defend all these cases. New York faced this problem in the 1970s. To deal with the overwhelming number of lawsuits that resulted from traffic crashes, New York’s legislature adopted a no-fault law in 1974. The no-fault law offered drivers and insurance companies a trade-off. Insurers had to offer medical and disability benefits to everyone riding an insured vehicle. These benefits would get paid regardless of who caused the accident. In other words, even the at-fault driver could receive no-fault benefits. In exchange for these benefits, the no-fault law protected at-fault drivers and their insurers from lawsuits in minor crashes. This reduced the exposure to legal fees and generous juries that insurers and at-fault drivers faced.

No-Fault Insurance and Its Exceptions

Under New York law, car owners must buy no-fault coverage with their auto insurance. This no-fault coverage guarantees that everyone injured in a car accident has at least $50,000 in medical and disability benefits. After a traffic crash, accident victims do not file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Instead, they look to their insurer or the insurer for the vehicle they were in. For example, a driver files a no-fault claim with the insurance company for their vehicle. Passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists have a choice. If you own a vehicle, you can file a claim with your auto insurer. Under the no-fault law, you do not need to be in your vehicle to claim no-fault benefits from your insurer. You only need to be injured in a car accident. If you do not own a vehicle, you can file a claim with the insurer for the vehicle involved in the accident. Thus, a passenger would file a claim with the insurer for the vehicle they were riding. A pedestrian or cyclist would file with the insurance company for the vehicle that hit them. New York allows you to escape the no-fault system and file a car crash lawsuit in two situations:

Excess Economic Loss

No-fault insurance only covers your economic loss. Under New York law, basic economic loss includes:
  • Any medical expenses you incur
  • 80 percent of your lost income up to $2,000 per month
  • Reasonable expenses for replacement services, like childcare, up to $25 per day
If your no-fault benefits do not cover your economic losses, you can pursue compensation for the difference. For example, suppose that you have $60,000 in medical bills. Medical expenses of this size would not be unusual, even for minor injuries. An ambulance ride in New York City can run upwards of $1,500. Your medical treatment, therapy, and medication could cost tens of thousands of dollars, particularly if you need to stay in the hospital for a few nights. But your no-fault coverage has a $50,000 policy limit under state law. As a result, you will have $10,000 in excess economic loss. You could file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver for the $10,000 in economic losses that you incurred as a result of your injuries.

Serious Injury

Serious injury has a specific legal meaning under the no-fault law. Serious injuries include:
    • Fatal injuries
    • Dismemberment, meaning you lost a body part
    • A significant disfigurement, such as scars or burns
    • A fracture
    • Loss of a fetus
    • Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system
    • Permanent disability of a body organ or member
    • A significant limitation of a body function or system
    • An injury that is not permanent but will prevent you from performing regular activities for 90 out of the 180 days after the crash
These categories cover most permanent injuries. But they also include three types of non-permanent injuries—fractures, injuries that cause significant limitations, and non-permanent injuries that disable you from caring for yourself. The inclusion of these injuries is significant because this means you can sue after a car accident that causes:
    • Ruptured ligaments or tendons
    • Torn cartilage
    • Herniated disc
Importantly, when you file a car accident lawsuit for a serious injury, you can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic losses. When you file a car accident lawsuit for excess economic loss, you cannot pursue non-economic losses, also called pain and suffering.

Grounds for a Car Accident Lawsuit

You must have a legal basis to file a car accident lawsuit. Not every car accident will provide a basis for a lawsuit. Instead, you must prove that someone breached a legal duty owed to you. A car accident attorney can investigate your accident and ensure you have the evidence necessary to support your claim. Most car accident lawsuits result from negligent acts. Negligence requires proof of four elements:

Duty of Care

All drivers owe a duty of care to other road users. They must drive with reasonable care under the circumstances. This duty changes as conditions change. In rainy weather or icy roads, drivers must exercise additional care by slowing down and leaving larger gaps. The duty of care also tells you when you do not have a basis for a car accident lawsuit. If an accident’s cause was outside the control of any person or entity, you could not file a lawsuit. For example, if someone’s vehicle got swept away by floodwaters and hit your car, you might not have a basis for a lawsuit.

Breach of Duty

To file a car accident lawsuit, the other driver must have breached the duty of care. In most cases, this means the at-fault driver broke a traffic law by speeding, tailgating, making an unsafe lane change, or committing other illegal acts. New York follows the doctrine of negligence per se. This doctrine allows an accident victim to skip over the first two elements of negligence by proving that the at-fault driver violated a safety law that was intended to protect other road users. Drivers can also breach the duty of care by doing something unreasonably dangerous, even if it does not break the law. New York has a hands-free law that prohibits texting while driving. But the law does not specifically outlaw reading a newspaper or writing notes while driving. Non-electronic activities like these could take the driver’s mind, eyes, and hands away from driving just as easily as texting while driving. If these activities result in a distracted driving crash, it could constitute a breach of duty.


To have a negligence claim, you must suffer some losses. These damages include all the financial and human costs of your crash. These costs arise from the property damage and bodily injuries you suffered in the crash. In other words, damages do not include your broken arm. But the medical expenses and wage losses resulting from your broken arm will constitute damages. When you file your car accident lawsuit, your car accident lawyer will assemble the evidence to support your damages claim. This could include gathering documents to prove your past losses and hiring expert witnesses to prove your future losses.


The breach of duty that happened must be the actual cause of your damages. Under New York law, causation has two components. The breach would be a cause-in-fact of the damages if it were an event in the sequence of events that led to the accident. Thus, the other driver’s speeding was a cause of your injuries if the speeding driver slid off an icy road and hit a barrier that struck your windshield. Even though the sequence of events was unusual, you can still find a direct line between the other driver’s actions and the consequences you experienced. The breach would be a proximate cause of the damages if your injuries were a foreseeable result of the driver’s actions. This does not mean the driver had to foresee your exact accident or the injuries you would suffer. Instead, it means the driver’s actions were the type of behavior that could reasonably and foreseeably result in injuries.

Compensation You Can Pursue

can i sue after a car accident
Make sure the compensation you seek in a lawsuit justifies filing it. Your car accident attorney can evaluate your claim and the damages you can pursue to determine the value of your lawsuit. This will tell you how much to ask for from the insurance company during settlement negotiations and the jury during trial.

Economic Losses

Your economic losses include all the financial costs of your injuries. Some examples include:

Past and Future Medical Expenses

Your medical expenses can include costs that were necessary and reasonable based on your injuries. Your expenses can cover medical care, such as emergency room treatment, surgery, outpatient procedures, and medication. Your expenses also include physical or mental health therapy for rehabilitation or to address ongoing symptoms. Your losses also include your future expenses. For example, if you will eventually need a knee replacement due to the damage from your accident, you can include the costs of the surgery in your accident claim. You prove your past expenses using financial records like receipts, credit card statements, and bills. Your car accident lawyer might need to hire an expert witness to prove your future losses. This expert will look at the treatment you may still require and opine about its costs.

Lost Income

Your losses include the income you lost while you could not work. You can include any income you lost for time off from work for:
    • Rest and rehabilitation
    • Disability
    • Medical appointments
You can also include future income losses from disabilities you suffer. For example, if your back injury prevents you from lifting, you might need to change jobs or quit working altogether. The income you lose from these job changes constitutes an economic loss.

Non-Economic Losses

Non-economic losses cover the negative impacts of your injuries on your quality of life. Examples of non-economic losses include:
    • Disability
    • Inconvenience
    • Lost sleep
    • Reduction in your enjoyment of life
You do not need to prove non-economic losses. Instead, a jury will award a reasonable sum based on the severity of your injuries.

When to Consult a Car Accident Lawyer About a Lawsuit

Ivan Diamond auto accident lawyer

Ivan Diamond,Car Accident Injury Lawyer

If you meet all the requirements to file a lawsuit, you can file at any time. You should consult a car accident attorney soon after your accident because New York limits the time to file a lawsuit for your injuries. Some events that might push you to meet with a car accident lawyer about a lawsuit include:
    • Running out of no-fault benefits
    • Suffering a serious injury
    • Receiving a denial of an insurance claim
    • Losing a loved one to a fatal car accident
In these situations, you have probably reached a point in your case where you should consider filing a lawsuit. To discuss your situation and determine your legal options, contact a personal injury lawyer for a consultation.