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The law surrounding road collisions and compensation differs from state to state in terms of who should pay for damages and the statute of limitations for personal injury and property damages. Knowing Legal Issues on Auto Accidents in New York can help you stay out of trouble and get compensation for property, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.

New York is a no-fault state, meaning you cannot rely on the other driver’s insurance to pay for your injuries and damages, regardless of who is at fault. 

Legal Issues on Auto Accidents in New York- Negligence

Most road accident cases involve negligence claims. Negligence refers to the failure to act with the expected level of care of someone of ordinary prudence under the given circumstances, and it entails actions and omissions where there is a duty to act. Factors considered to determine the party at fault in such cases include:

  • the existence of a legal duty that the driver at fault owed to the victim
  • driver at-fault breach of that duty
  • victim’s suffering of an injury
  • proof that driver at-fault breach caused the injury

To determine if the driver has breached a duty, courts often consider three factors: the burden of taking precautions, the probability of loss, and the gravity of personal loss. If the burden of taking precautions outweighs the probability of loss and the gravity of loss, the defendant is said to be free from negligence liability.

If it is determined that the defendant had a duty to act and did not act, resulting in a breach that caused the accident or injury, such actions are referred to as misfeasance. The duty to act is determined in the following ways:

  • the diver responsible for the accident contributed to the risk, which resulted in the injury
  • the driver at fault volunteered to prevent the harm (voluntary undertaking)
  • the driver at fault is or was aware that his conduct would harm the plaintiff (knowledge)
  • there exists a business or voluntary relationship between the two parties

Finally, to establish the presence of an injury, there must be bodily harm and harm to property. Even in the absence of physical harm, emotional distress can serve as an injury. It is important to note that economic loss on its own does not usually meet the injury requirements.

Legal Issues on Auto Accidents in New York- how to act after a collision

Whenever you are involved in a crash, the law on Auto Accidents in New York requires you to stop regardless of the extent of damage. You should never leave a collision scene where a property has been damaged, as you may be held liable for traffic violations. Also, leaving an incident scene involving personal injury or fatality is a criminal offense. Drivers and persons involved in the collision should exchange information and provide the police at the scene with certain information, including their names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, vehicle registration, and insurance information (insurance policy number and effective date). If requested, you must also be able to show your insurance identification card. If there is damaged property or an injured animal, you should notify the police or the owner.

Critical actions when involved in a road crash:

  • If someone is injured or killed, you should immediately call for an ambulance and notify the police.
  • Look out for your safety first.
  • Always check for fuel leaks.
  • For safety from oncoming traffic, you may have to move your vehicle to the roadside if possible
  • Protect the scene with flares/reflectors.

Gathering evidence

Gathering evidence on how the accident occurred will go a long way in solving the case and getting compensation, especially if you are not at fault. It is best to collect information at the scene as soon as possible, as it may be challenging to obtain it later. Use your smartphone to record statements from the other driver and witnesses.

Some critical information may include:

  • Details of the other driver, such as names, addresses, driver’s license numbers, vehicle registration, and insurance information (insurance policy number and effective date).
  • Passengers’ and witnesses’ names and contact information.
  • Contact information of the responding police
  • Photographs of the scene of the accident, including the damaged vehicles.
  • A copy of the accident report from the police at the scene

Get a comprehensive medical examination

When involved in an accident, it is best to get a comprehensive medical examination even if you feel alright. Some injuries may not be apparent immediately. A comprehensive medical report might reveal critical injuries related to the accident, which may require treatment and documentation in case you need to file a claim.

Notify your insurer

You should inform your insurance company immediately after an accident occurs (often within 24 hours), regardless of the magnitude. Delays in informing your insurer of an accident can jeopardize your access to the protection you deserve, especially if the other driver doesn’t provide the required compensation.

Even if the other driver has admitted fault and agreed to compensate you, notifying your insurer is critical because the other driver may not pay as they agreed, or their insurance cover may not be sufficient for the damages you incurred. Also, a minor accident may result in severe damage. Your insurance company may also help you get compensation from the insurance of the other driver responsible for the accident. In some no-fault state cases, you may need your insurance to pay for certain losses, as stated below.

State laws on road collisions

Statutory laws regulate drivers’ and motorists’ operations, and failure to comply with these requirements is presumed to be negligence. Some of the traffic laws are codified from the common law while others are passed by the legislature. A motorist who violates these laws and causes an accident is said to be at fault and has to prove that his act of negligence was not the proximate cause of the injuries. Under the common law, an offense is referred to as a tort, and the offender is known as a tortfeasor.

There are four levels of fault as defined in the common law:

  • Negligence- referring to careless or inadvertent conduct that resulted in harm. It includes taking a wrong action or failing to take certain actions as required by law. Negligence lawsuits relating to car accidents do not occur in some no-fault states, such as Florida, because of the insurance and regulations.
  • Recklessness- also known as wanton conduct, refers to a willful disregard for the safety of others or a willful disregard for causing others harm.
  • Intentional misconduct- means conduct by a person with knowledge (at the time of the conduct) that the conduct is harmful to the health or well-being of another person.
  • Strict liability (irrespective of fault) applies in cases of defective products or hazardous activities, even in the absence of fault

The law on who is responsible for accident losses varies in different states. There are no-fault and at-fault states.

No fault states

In the 12 no-fault states, in case of a minor car accident, your insurer may have to cover your medical bills and part of lost wages. This means you cannot rely on the other driver’s insurance to pay for your injuries and damages, regardless of who is at fault. Also, this law restricts drivers from suing each other for personal injuries. These states include Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah. However, some of these states, such as Kentucky, are choice no-fault states, meaning the drivers or vehicle owners can opt out of the no-fault policy and sue for compensation.

The no-fault system helps persons involved in an accident to get the necessary medical care for the injured policyholder and passengers without waiting for the establishment of the driver at fault. No-fault states require drivers to have no-fault insurance or personal injury protection (PIP) to cover medical expenses, lost income, child care, and funeral costs for the policyholder in case of an accident. However, there are certain limits of compensation in no-fault state insurance policies, often not exceeding $25,000. It is worth noting that in no-fault states, the driver at fault is held responsible for property damages.

Drivers are also allowed to sue the driver or the entity at fault in cases of severe injuries. Specific rules apply as to when the injured can pursue a claim against the driver at fault, and they are based on the severity of the injuries or if the injured person suffered disability and medical expenses.

All drivers must have liability insurance that covers only third-party damages when the policyholder is responsible for the collision. Liability insurance is mandatory in all states and does not cover damages incurred by the policyholder. Liability insurance covers medical expenses for the injured third party, legal fees, and damages to property if it is established that the policyholder is at fault. As a result, drivers in no-fault states are required to have liability coverage.

Legal Issues on Auto Accidents in New York: When to sue the other driver

You have the right to sue the driver responsible for the accident in at-fault states and for property damages and severe injuries in no-fault jurisdictions. You may also opt to pursue a lawsuit if the insurance company of the at-fault driver offers an insufficient settlement for your damages and injuries in exchange for you giving up pursuing future claims related to the accident. It is essential to keep in mind that if the jury decides on the amount of compensation, the insurance company can only pay up to their set limit, and you may have to pursue the excess amount from the driver, which is not always possible.

At fault insurance

In at-fault states, drivers sue the at-fault driver for compensation for damages and injuries resulting from the accident. A driver can be at fault for causing an accident if they are negligent or failed to meet their basic obligation of acting with care and their behavior regarding safety did not meet that of an average person. Also, the driver’s negligence must have directly contributed to the accident. Such behaviors may include:

  • Drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs
  • Speeding
  • Failure to obey traffic signals and rules of the road
  • Distracted driving
  • Following another car too closely
  • Not yielding to pedestrians or other drivers who have the right-of-way

Even in no-fault states, it is important to establish the driver at fault because they are liable for property damages and severe injuries. The at-fault driver must compensate the injured for their personal injuries and property damages. Certain evidence has to be evaluated to determine the driver at fault, such as statements from drivers involved in the collision, observers’ statements, police reports, skid marks on the road, videos and photos of the scene, location, and the type of damages on the vehicles, and debris and blood evidence at the scene of the accident.

In at-fault accidents, the person pursuing compensation needs an experienced attorney to help them prove that the alleged driver at fault caused the accident. Some of the compensations you can sue for include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Property damage

There are several options for obtaining compensation in an at-fault accident, and they include:

  • Negotiating a lump sum amount in settlement with the insurance company of the driver responsible for the accident without having to go to trial.
  • Pursuing an injury claim in court where you prove your case, and the court awards damages it feels fit.

Whichever option you choose, you will need an experienced attorney to help you get the appropriate compensation for your injuries and damages.

Cases where you are both at fault

Certain legal rules apply in cases where both parties involved in a collision are at fault, and these regulations vary in different states. These rules are as follows:

Contributory negligence- if a driver is found to have contributed to an accident in any way, they cannot get any compensation from the other party regardless of their share of the blame.

Pure comparative fault states- in this doctrine, the drivers at fault share compensation in the same proportion as their share of responsibility for the accident. If both drivers were equally responsible for the collision, they claim half of the damages they sustained from each other.

Modified comparative fault states- drivers partly responsible for their injuries recover a portion of their damages if the other driver was at least 50% or 51% responsible for the accident, depending on the state.

It is important to note that each insurance company has a time limit within which the policyholder involved in an accident can file for a claim. Filing claims after the expiry of this period may complicate your eligibility for compensation.

Statute of limitations

Different states have legal time frames within which you can file civil and criminal cases, which generally range between two to six years from the time the event occurred or was discovered.  For instance, in the state of New York, you are allowed to file for a tort claim within three years, after which your lawsuit will be time-barred, and the court won’t allow your case to move forward.

Statutes of limitations help resolve claims as soon as possible and to ensure fairness to those involved. Remember, physical evidence can be lost over time, and witnesses are likely to forget certain details of the event. All these make it difficult for the plaintiff and defendant to obtain justice.

Exceptions to the statutes of limitations

However, there are certain exceptions to the statute of limitations relating to car accidents. These exceptions often apply because a different law related to the situation provides a different time limit.  Here are some exceptions to the statute of limitations:

  • Accidents involving government entities have a shorter statute of limitations
  • Claims made under dram shop laws have a shorter statute of limitations. Dram shop laws apply in some states, and they allow individuals to sue alcohol sellers responsible for cases of DUI accidents.
  • In cases involving a minor, the statute of limitation is tolled until the victim reaches the legal age of making a claim, which is 18 years. Consequently, the statute of limitation in these cases runs from the time the victim is 18 years old.

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