An average of six million car accidents happen in the U.S. every year, and half of them result in injury. The physical and financial burdens associated with car accident injuries can cause overwhelming stress, especially when filing a lawsuit is the only way to get the compensation that you need. In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the other driver is responsible for the accident. When you hire a car accident lawyer, he or she will conduct an investigation into your case, gather evidence to prove the other driver’s fault, and help you get the compensation you deserve.
How Is Fault Handled in Auto Accident Cases?
The laws that govern fault in car accident cases come from the state. In order to determine the proper distribution of compensation, the jury or insurance company must assign fault in the case. Sometimes it is clear who is at fault, and sometimes both parties share fault.
Consider these car accident lawsuit examples and how the court determines fault in each:
- If the investigation deems one driver 100% at fault for the accident, the insurer for that driver is responsible for covering all associated damages.
- In cases where a determining fault is too difficult, the insurance companies sometimes agree to an even payout of 50% each.
- When both parties share fault but the plaintiff is more than 51% responsible, state law decides if he or she can recover any compensation.
If you know how to tell who is at fault in a car accident, you have a better chance of winning your case. However, knowing who is at fault and proving who is at fault are two different things, and experienced car accident lawyers know where to look for evidence.
Who Decides Who is at Fault?
Every car accident is different and goes through several investigations. The police, insurance companies, and attorneys all conduct independent investigations and draw their own conclusions about who is at fault. Sometimes their conclusions are in sync, and other times they disagree. Regardless, cases have more than one way to reach a conclusion.
The Parties Involved Decide
Sometimes the two drivers agree on the scene. In the immediate aftermath of a car crash, drivers are often shaken up and still dealing with a rush of adrenaline. At times they point fingers at the other drivers or themselves, but an admission of guilt could damage your car accident lawsuit.
In the event of an accident, you should follow these simple steps:
- Call the police and speak to no one about the accident
- Take out your phone or camera and begin documenting the scene, including the surrounding area
- Write down the information of everyone involved, including passengers and witnesses
Make sure you record the make and model of the vehicles and ask the other driver for his or her insurance information and driver’s license number.
The Police Officers Called to the Scene Decide
Once the police arrive on the scene, they make sure everyone is safe and call for medical assistance if needed. They then begin an investigation. The position of the vehicles may play a vital role in determining who is at fault, and the officers make note of that in the police report. Police reports are not infallible. However, insurers go over them carefully and search for evidence of fault.
The Insurance Companies Decide
The insurers of both companies conduct investigations once you file a claim. While insurers generally know how to tell who is at fault in a car accident, they often disagree in cases where fault is not definitively clear. Sometimes they resort to bad faith tactics to avoid payouts, and that is when you need the help of a car accident lawyer.
The Decision Is Made in Arbitration
Sometimes insurance companies that cannot agree on who is at fault turn to arbitration. In this case, they allow a third party to hear the case and make a decision. Arbitration is less costly for insurers than car accident lawsuits, therefore, they typically prefer to try this route first.
A Jury Decides
Not every personal injury lawsuit makes it to court. In fact, the majority end in settlement. When you decide to file a suit against the insurer, you may begin negotiations at any point during the lawsuit. You also need evidence to justify the value of your claim. This is where you most need legal representation. A car accident lawyer knows how to properly value your claim and has the negotiation skills to help you get the compensation you deserve.
How Is Fault Handled in the No-Fault States?
How you handle a car accident claim depends on the state. All states are either fault or no-fault states. In a fault state, insurance companies pay in accordance with the amount of fault each party has for the accident. This sounds like the fairest option, but it often leads to disagreements between insurers over fault.
New York is one of only a few no-fault states. The state requires all drivers to purchase personal injury protection for registered vehicles operating in the state. If you have an accident, your own insurance covers the associated costs. PIP insurance covers:
- Medical expenses, including ambulance cost, necessary imaging, medications, psychiatric treatment, physical therapy, and more
- Lost wages, usually up to 80% of the claimant’s lost wages
- Burial expenses, if the accident results in death
- Other reasonable and necessary expenses, such as cost of transportation to treatment or household help
No-fault insurance makes it less necessary to know how to tell who is at fault in a car accident. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) covers the policyholder, all passengers involved in the accident, and any member of the policyholder’s household if injured as a pedestrian. Exclusions include motorcycle riders and passengers, non-residents of New York, those who intentionally cause their own injury, drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and drivers participating in racing or excessive speeding.
What Other Laws Govern Car Accident Cases in New York?
In New York, there are three important laws that govern car accident cases outside of the no-fault insurance requirement. Most of the time, your PIP insurance covers you in a car accident and limits your eligibility to file a lawsuit. However, under certain circumstances, you can and should hire a car accident lawyer and pursue compensation through a car accident lawsuit.
The Serious Injury Threshold
Drivers who sustained a serious injury in a car accident caused by another driver have the right to pursue legal action against the other driver in New York. The determining factor is the serious injury threshold set by the state. Article 51 of the New York Insurance Law defines a serious injury as:
- Significant disfigurement or dismemberment
- Substantially limited use of a body function or system
- Fractured bone
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent limitation of a body organ or member
- Significant disability lasting at least 90 days
Like no-fault insurance, motorcycle accident injuries do not apply to the serious injury threshold.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is a law that dictates how long you have to file a claim or lawsuit following an incident. New York mandates a three-year statute of limitations on car accident claims, and the clock starts at the time of the accident. Attempting to file once the statute of limitations runs out almost always results in a dismissal of your case.
The Rule of Comparative Negligence
When determining fault in a car accident case, the rule of comparative negligence is the most prevalent law. Comparative negligence states that the percentage of fault you bear for an accident represents the monetary percentage deducted from your awarded compensation. For example, if your award is in the amount of $200,000 and your fault is 30%, you receive $140,000 in compensation.
Each state operates using one of the two types of comparative negligence:
- Modified comparative negligence does not allow compensation for plaintiffs found more than 50% responsible for the accident.
- Pure comparative negligence states that your percentage of fault does not affect eligibility for compensation.
New York operates using pure comparative negligence. In this case, if you bear 60% responsibility for your accident, you receive $80,000 of the $200,000 in compensation. Even if you do not know how to tell who is at fault in a car accident but know you bear some responsibility, contact a car accident lawyer for advice.
What Damages Can You Recover From a Car Accident Lawsuit in New York City?
Car accident victims may recover several different types of damages. In a car accident lawsuit, plaintiffs seek compensatory damages in two forms:
- Specific, or economic, damages, refer to those losses that you can calculate. They include past and future medical bills, past and future lost wages, loss of earning capacity, costs associated with property damage, and any other expenses related to the accident.
- General, or non-economic, damages, refer to losses that are not quantifiable. They include physical pain, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment in life, loss of consortium, disability or disfigurement, and emotional distress.
You calculate specific damages using medical bills, pay stubs, recent tax returns, and repair estimates for damaged property. An attorney can help you value the general damages that do not already have a monetary value.
If a loved one died in a car accident, you may also seek compensation for damages through a wrongful death lawsuit. You may recover costs such as funeral expenses, lost income, loss of saving capacity, the cost of burial, and loss of financial support. Losing a loved one is devastating, especially in the sudden nature of a car accident. You may also recover compensation for the emotional damage in the form of loss of guidance or loss of emotional support.
Can You Get Punitive Damages From a Car Accident Case?
An award for punitive damages is rare in a personal injury case. Unlike compensatory damages, which should function to make the plaintiff whole again, punitive damages serve a deterrent purpose and strive to punish the defendant for particularly egregious action. If the at-fault driver acted in a way that is grossly negligent, meaning without regard for the safety and well-being of others, a jury may require payment of punitive damages. These are often significantly higher than compensatory damages.
Examples of Cases That May Award Punitive Damages
Driving while distracted and causing an accident is careless, but it likely does not constitute gross negligence. Some examples of cases that do depict drivers acting egregiously include:
- Intentionally causing an accident that results in injury
- Hitting another vehicle, causing injury, and running to avoid repercussions
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causing an accident that results in injury
- Driving aggressively, recklessly, at excessive speed and causing an accident
You may even receive an award for punitive damages if a driver knowingly operates a vehicle with malfunctioning parts, such as brakes. This applies to automobile and auto parts manufacturers that do not issue recalls or fix defective parts.
How Can a NYC Car Accident Lawyer Help You?
If you suffered an injury in a car accident, plan to file a car accident lawsuit, and need help with how to tell who is at fault in a car accident, you would likely benefit from the help of an attorney. Some advantages personal injury attorneys provide are:
- They offer support during a time when you need it most.
- They can advise you of your rights and guide you through the complex legal system.
- They conduct a thorough investigation into your case to help determine fault more accurately.
- They handle the insurance companies for you.
- They protect you from making costly mistakes and ensure that you meet all the deadlines.
- They possess the negotiation skills to maximize your chances of receiving the highest possible settlement.
- They try to avoid the lengthy process of going to trial but prepare for it nonetheless.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury in a car accident, you will find a car accident lawyer at Silverstein & Kahn P.C. that offers personalized attention and care to your case and can provide the resources necessary to obtain the maximum financial results. Contact us today for a free consultation.