Alex is making a left turn at an intersection in Albany, when he is hit by a driver coming from the other direction. Alex saw the other car approaching, but it was pretty far away, and Alex assumed that he could make the left turn before the car reached the intersection. Alex thought that the other driver never saw him and that she was going too fast.
Alex feels OK after the collision, but his neck and left shoulder start to hurt later that night. A few days later, Alex sees a chiropractor, who diagnoses neck and shoulder sprain/strain. Alex sees the chiropractor four times a week for five weeks. His neck and shoulder feel pretty painful and tight for the first couple of weeks, but start to ease up after that. By the end of the treatment, Alex feels 90% better, and, three months after the accident, he feels recovered. Alex is a carpenter, and missed one week of work due to the accident. He felt pretty bad for the next couple of weeks, but worked anyway.
The first thing that Alex should do is report the incident to his own car insurance company, and to the insurer of the driver that hit him. He should also comply with any New York state laws requiring drivers to report the accident to proper authorities. Learn more about these laws: Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in New York?
Even though New York is a no-fault car insurance state, Alex needs to be aware of New York’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit.
In New York, the statute of limitations for car accidents is three years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts. If you are only filing a property damage claim, the statute of limitations is still three years.
Why is this law so important? If you’re allowed to step outside of New York’s no-fault insurance system and make a claim against the driver who caused the accident, but you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, your case is almost certainly over. The lesson here is that if you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact a New York car accident lawyer.
If Alex is able to file a lawsuit against the other driver (rather than simply making a no-fault claim under his own insurance coverage), and the case makes it to trial, he needs to be aware of New York's comparative negligence rules, because the other driver could claim that Alex was negligent for turning without paying attention to oncoming traffic.
New York has what is called a “pure comparative negligence” rule to calculate damages when both parties are found to share fault for an accident. This means, if you are found to share some amount of responsibility for your injuries, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your share of fault. So if you were awarded $50,000 in damages, but were found 25% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $37,500. If you were 90% at fault, you would still get $5,000.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant’s adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Car Accident.)
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under New York’s car insurance laws, as well as no-fault coverage. In New York, a driver is only required to carry bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $50,000 per accident, property damage liability coverage in the amount of $10,000 per accident, and personal injury protection (PIP or no-fault coverage) in the amount of $25,000 per person.
The no-fault law means that, if you are injured in a car accident in New York, you typically need to handle any claim under the terms of your own no-fault coverage. You can’t ordinarily make a claim against the other driver unless your injuries and medical treatment exceed the minimum limits of the New York no-fault law.
In Alex’s case, let’s assume that he can make a liability claim against the other driver. His out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $7,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Alex and his attorney decide that another $7,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Alex’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $20,000 to settle the claim. After negotiating with the insurance adjuster, Alex accepts a final settlement of $12,500.
As mentioned above, you want to settle your claim or file a lawsuit (or at least turn the case over to a lawyer) well before the two-year statute of limitations time period runs out. But you also don’t want to settle it too early -- meaning before you are either fully recovered or are as good as you are going to get. This is known as reaching "maximum medical improvement" or MMI.
In Alex’s case, he was at MMI, and so he was ready to settle.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.