Hit in the Rear Car Accidents in New York State

Here’s another question from a client that may interest readers. “While stopped at a red light, another car struck my car from the rear and injured me; I automatically win my lawsuit, right?”

When it comes to car accident cases in New York, there are no “automatic” victories. In all New York car accident cases, we consider three aspects:

  • The liability of the other driver.
  • The ability to meet the threshold requirements of New York State’s Insurance Law.
  • The damages suffered by the plaintiff.

Here is a brief explanation of each aspect.

Proving Liability

New York State law assumes that a driver who hits a car from the rear bears responsibility for the accident. However, there can be exceptions if the defendant driver (the one who struck the first car from the rear) proves that the plaintiff driver (the driver who was hit) had caused or contributed to the accident. For example, if a driver changes lanes on the Long Island Expressway without signaling and cuts off another driver and that leads to an accident, then the lane-changing driver may be liable for causing the accident. In general, a driver who strikes another car from the rear is liable. If a driver strikes a vehicle in the rear that is stopped at a red light, the driver is 100 percent responsible for causing the accident.

Meeting New York’s Threshold Requirement

New York’s No Fault Insurance Law (Chapter 51 of New York State’s Insurance Law) limits the ability of victims of car accidnts to sue for damages beyond the No-Fault benefits. New York’s Insurance Law requires a person to have sustained a “serious injury” before that person can seek damages. This limit is known as the threshold law for serious injuries.

A person filing a car accident lawsuit in New York needs to prove that he or she suffered a serious injury. What is a serious injury? New York law establishes seven definitions and requires a plaintiff to meet one of the seven criteria for a serious injury:

  1. Personal injury which results in death;
  2. Dismemberment; significant disfigurement;
  3. Fracture;
  4. Loss of a fetus;
  5. Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system;
  6. Permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or
  7. A medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.

The law makes clear the definitions for items one through four. Items five, six and seven are more vague. In many cases, the ability of a person to meet the serious injury standard depends on meeting one of the requirements listed in items five through seven. Many car accidents result in soft tissue injuries – bulging discs, muscle spasms, ligament damage – and these injuries require meeting one of criteria five through seven.

The court will look at several key issues in assessing an injury:

  1. Do the damages meet one of the seven standards listed in the State Insurance Law?
  2. Were there pre-existing injuries and how do they affect this injury?
  3. What are the injuries?
  4. Were there gaps in treatment and why?
  5. Are the limitations quantified and documented?
  6. Are the medical records certified?

The case law is constantly changing. This situation certainly clouds the threshold for a serious injury in New York creating doubts for all parties, especially plaintiffs. An attorney handling auto accidents in New York or other accidents that involve the threshold requirement needs to stay on top of all court decisions and research the particular application of the case.

You can read more about New York’s No Fault Auto Law here and you can read more about the Serious Threshold Injury here.

The Damages Suffered by the Plaintiff

Assuming one can prove the liability of the other driver and can meet New York’s serious injury threshold, then a plaintiff must prove the damages caused by the accident and quantify them. Damages can include many factors including compensation for:

  • Injuries
  • Recovery efforts and time
  • Loss of past and future wages
  • Loss of ability to carry out activities that can range from cleaning the house to working on a computer to playing softball
  • Unreimbursed medical expenses both past and future
  • Unreimbursed property damage
  • Other losses or damages suffered because of the car accident

A New York attorney experienced with car accidents can help a client identify and quantify damages and will prove those damages in court. Proving damages is vitally important because it is possible to prove liability and meet the threshold requirement yet walk away with no funds if a plaintiff cannot prove liability.

A simple question about winning a lawsuit from a car accident results in a long answer. To prove victorious in a New York car accident case means proving liability, meeting the threshold requirement and proving damages.

This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.

I hope you found this information helpful. Please call or email me if you have comments, questions or would like assistance with an auto accident case. You can also visit my website.

Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney