As personal injury attorney who has personally handled hundreds of car accident cases, many clients, potential clients, friends and even family tell me about a car accident and then ask: Do I have a case? Can I sue? If another driver or party caused or contributed to a car accident and if you suffered a serious injury, not only may you sue, but you may need to file a lawsuit to receive full compensation.
There are five critical steps that I advise people to take before deciding whether you want to consider a suit. While you can take the four steps without the advice or counsel of an attorney, the earlier in the process that you retain an attorney, the more he or she can help you. Here are the five steps:
- Take care of any medical issues
- Notify your insurance company
- Keep all possible evidence and notes. Take photos of the scene and any damage. Keep records of conversations and communications.
- If the damage exceeded $1,001 or if anyone suffered an injury, notify the local police department or the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.
- If you think you have a lawsuit, consult with a New York State personal injury lawyer experienced with motor vehicle accidents.
Take Care of Any Medical Issues
If you have been in a car accident, the most important issue is for you to get well. If you have any physical injuries or even pain, particularly head, neck or back pain, make sure you see a doctor and receive treatment. Do not put off seeing a doctor and do not avoid seeing a doctor. That small pain may be a sign of something more significant. By all means, follow the doctor’s orders. If your doctor recommends physical therapy, please follow through with the physical therapy.
Notify Your Insurance Company
New York State is a No Fault state, meaning that your insurance company will help take care of car repairs and paying medical bills before determining who was at fault in the accident. The first step to address each of these issues is to file a claim with your insurance company. You only have 30 days to file a claim, so please do not procrastinate; notify your insurance company right away. By the way, in New York, you have up to three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit, so you need not rush to file a lawsuit. That said, a lawyer is best able to serve you when hired soon after the accident.
Your insurance company should work with you to arrange and pay for car repairs (depending on your coverage) and pay for your medical bills. Most policies in New York cover the first $50,000 of medical expenses.
Keep Notes and Gather Evidence
You should do all you can to gather evidence and information about the accident. Take the time to write down a description of each car, including year, make, model and color — and the exact location of the collision and how it happened. If you did not take photos right after the accident, make sure to take photos of your car before any repairs and, if you can, go back to take photos of the accident scene. If there are witnesses, write down their contact information.
If there was Substantial Damage or Injuries, Make Sure You Notified the Police Department or New York State Motor Vehicles
New York State Law requires that you make certain notifications after a serious car crash. If the police came to the scene of the accident and issued a police report, then you have fulfilled this obligation. If not, then you may need to take additional action. If the property damage caused by the accident exceeds $1,001, then you need to notify the DMV. Click here for more information. If the accident injured or killed a person, you must notify the local police. Failure to make these notifications can lead to civil or even criminal penalties. If in doubt, you may want to consult with an attorney.
If You Think You Have a Lawsuit, Consult an Experienced New York Personal Injury Attorney
Motor vehicle insurance is designed to pay for your car repairs and medical bills up to at least $50,000. If you have damages that exceed those limits or if you have suffered significant pain and injury, then you will need to sue the party that caused or contributed to the accident to recover for your damages. Each case is different, but to succeed all car accident lawsuits must meet at least two requirements:
- Another person or party caused or contributed to the accident: Even if you may have contributed to the accident, if another person or party contributed to the accident, you may be able to sue for compensation because of New York Comparative Liability Law. You can click here to learn more, though if you have any doubts, you should consult with an attorney.
- You suffered a serious injury: New York’s No-Fault Law is designed to ensure rapid payment for medical expense, but makes it hard to sue for damages unless a person suffered a serious injury. The law lists the conditions that meet this requirement, including the most obvious: death, loss of a limb and broken bones. Most car accident injuries involve soft tissue injuries (sprains, damaged muscles, damaged vertebral discs, etc.) which may or may not meet the serious injury threshold. You can read more about the New York State Threshold requirement here, though if you have any doubts, you should consult with an attorney.
As you can see, there are many variables to consider in deciding to file a lawsuit following a car accident an even more issues to consider if you are to achieve success. You may listen to friends and relatives tell you about their experiences and offer advice, many with the best of intentions. THe best advice is to consult with a New York personal injury lawyer who has experience with accident cases.
How Much Will This Cost Me?
A good lawyer should not charge you a fee for a consultation. If you think you have a case, a good lawyer will gladly listen to you and offer advice without charging a fee. All my consultations are free.
If you have a case, the lawyer should accept the case on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer will not charge you any money upfront and the lawyer must win you money through a court award or a settlement to be paid a legal fee. The lawyer will be paid out of the money your receive from winning the case. Under most contingency arrangements (including mine), if the lawyer does not win compensation for you, the lawyer does not receive any fee.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you have questions about injuries suffered in a car accident or other motor vehicle accident, you may want to consult a New York personal injury attorney experienced with car accidents. I will be glad to answer your questions and assist you. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts. .
Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.