WHAT IS MY AUTO ACCIDENT CASE WORTH?
According to the National Highway Safety Administration, approximately 900,000 automobile crashes occur each year as a result of distracted driving. Approximately nine people die each day from distracted driving. Your right to recover from your automobile accident injury is limited by the Comprehensive Automobile Insurance Reparation Act (the “No-Fault Law”). In 1973, No-Fault Law enacted automobile accidents in New York. This law was enacted to speed up the time it takes auto accident victims to receive medical treatment, reduce fraud, and alleviate the courts from an avalanche case of automobile accidents.
The No-Fault Law essentially created two paths to recover damages from automobile accidents.
- First, the No-Fault Law is meant to allow accident victims to recover for “basic economic loss” regardless of who is at fault.
Basic economic loss covers:
(a) Medical, hospital, psychiatric, and other professional health care services;
(b) Loss of earnings from work up to $2,000 per month for no more than three years from the date of the accident;
(c) All other reasonable and necessary expenses incurred, up to $25 per day for no more than one year from the date of the accident.
In sum, unless you purchased additional coverage, the total amount of money available for any no-fault case is $50,000. The $50,000 includes up to $2,000 per month for three years of lost wages. The balance will be apportioned between medical and other necessary expenses.
- Second, you can only sue the owner or driver of the car that caused your personal injury if you have a serious injury, as more fully discussed in the frequently asked section of this website.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS REGARDING MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS
What is my New York car, bus, or truck accident case worth?
I am often asked by clients at the intake stage of their case “How much money am I going to receive for my injuries?” I am forced to say “it depends on the facts and circumstances of your case”. There are numerous factors that determine the value of a car, bus, or truck injury case.
They include but are not limited to:
- the liability of the other driver;
- the seriousness of the injury;
- the existence of prior injuries;
- the amount of insurance coverage available;
- the claimant's criminal history;
- the existence of prior lawsuits;
- the claimant's future medical needs;
- the role of the claimant as passenger, driver, or pedestrian;
- the claimant's loss of income or wages; and
- the credibility of the claimant if called as a witness.
What is New York's serious injury threshold?
New York has established a No-Fault auto accident system to provide medical care and compensation for lost wages during a period of disability. In order to sue and recover for your pain and suffering, and future lost wages you must have suffered a serious injury. Insurance Law § 5102(d) defines a “serious injury” as:
- “a personal injury which results in death;
- significant disfigurement;
- a fracture;
- loss of a fetus;
- permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system;
- permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member;
- a significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or
- 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.”
Do my prior injuries affect the value of my current case?
The existence of prior injuries may limit the amount of money that is recovered for your current injuries. Your current automobile accident may have only aggravated a prior existing injury. New York allows recovery for the aggravation of a preexisting condition.
How does the amount of insurance coverage affect the amount of money you are compensated for your injuries?
The amount of insurance coverage that the negligent driver carries may limit the amount of money that is available for you to recover for your injuries. This does not mean that your damages are capped at the policy limits. For example, you may have an injury that is worth $100,000; however, if all the applicable insurance policy available is $50,000, then your money award from the driver's policy is limited to the policy amount of $50,000. There may be other policies available that can recover from your injuries. You may also have to look towards your policy's bodily injury coverage if it is higher than the negligent driver's own policy. You are also free to pursue the negligent driver or owner personally for the difference if you obtain a judgment for $100,000.
Does a criminal history affect my case?
You may be thinking what does my criminal history have to do with getting hurt in a car accident? If you have a criminal history that relates to your character for truth and veracity, this is a legitimate area for cross-examination by the defense counsel. Consequently, this is a consideration that you and I would discuss and weigh the cost and benefit of going to trial. It is always best if there is bad news that you and I bring it out on your direct examination. This way we can share with the jurors that you made a mistake in your life. A mistake that you regret having made and you are sorry for having committed the crime against society. We will demonstrate to the jurors that you are a good person who has paid his debt to society. More importantly, we will demonstrate that you are a rehabilitated person who has made a better life for yourself and your family.
However, if you fail to tell me of your criminal past and the defense lawyer brings it out on cross-examination then you and I will look like we were trying to hide information from jurors. In addition, we would not have been prepared to lessen the blow that the defense attorney will try to inflict upon your reputation. Jurors do not trust people who try to hide things from them. They may think that you are trying to get over on the system and will punish you with their verdict.
How does the existence of prior lawsuits affect my case?
If you sued for the same type of injury in the same body part or body function, then your recovery may be limited. If you have multiple lawsuits against multiple defendants for various bodily injuries, then it can reasonably be inferred that you may be a litigious person. That is why it is especially important that you disclose all your prior injuries and lawsuits. If you fail to disclose your prior lawsuits and it is disclosed for the first time at trial, then both you and I will be taken by surprise and placed in a disadvantaged situation. More importantly, the jurors may think that you are faking your injuries and should not be trusted by the legal system. You should always disclose your prior lawsuits so that we are prepared for any argument that the defense lawyer can bring up in court.
Can I recover from my future medical bills?
You can recover from your future medical expenses if you can demonstrate that there will be continuing medical care as a result of your injuries. Based on the advice and opinion of your medical and economic experts we will be able to determine your future medical expenses.
How does my role as either passenger, driver, or pedestrian affect my case?
A passenger is generally not responsible for the negligence of the driver. A passenger is entitled to assume that the driver will follow the rules of the road. However, if the passenger has knowledge that the driver does not have the knowledge, skills, or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while operating the vehicle, this will be a factor that the jurors will consider in determining whether the passenger was also negligent. For example, if you are a passenger in a car and know or have reason to know that the driver who is driving at an excessive speed is impaired then you are under a duty to take action to protect yourself from injury. Therefore, you must demand that the driver let you out of the car without unnerving or panicking the driver. You cannot just sit there and let an impaired person cause an accident. If you were a passenger and you were not wearing your seat belt this will be a factor in determining the number of damages. The failure to wear a seat belt is not considered in determining liability. Pedestrians are also required to follow the rules of the road. They must obey traffic signals and take care crossing the streets and look out for automobiles.
Does New York No-Fault Insurance pay for my loss of income or wages?
The No-Fault insurance company is required to pay 80% of your lost earnings up to a maximum of $2,000 per month. You are eligible to receive No-Fault insurance benefits for lost earnings for up to three years from the date of the accident. However, this is subject to the $50,000 limitation of benefits for medical, remedial, and healthcare expenses. Therefore, the length of time for your lost wages is being reduced by the number of medicals that you consume. If you have suffered a serious injury you can sue to recovery for future lost earnings not covered by the No-Fault insurance company.
How important is witness credibility in my personal injury case?
Your credibility and the credibility of your lay witnesses and experts are essential to your case. At the initial phase of your case, you should not worry too much about the value. No two personal injury cases are alike and each case must be valued based on its own merit. If you approach the case with some preconceived notion that you should receive a particular amount of money without a full medical history and report, and the defendant's coverage you may be disappointed in the ultimate outcome of your case.
The best thing to do at the early stage of the case is to keep all your appointments with your treating physician, keep a medical diary and meticulously detail your rehabilitation and work on recovering from your injuries. Remember to keep copies of all receipts, prescriptions, prescription bottles, or containers. Do not discuss your case with your friends, co-workers, or neighbors.
The insurance company is free to talk to your friends, neighbors, and co-workers and use your statements against you at trial. Remember, if your case goes to trial it's all about you and whether or not you are an honest and trustworthy person. The worst thing you want is to have someone you trust and confided income to court and testify that you were bragging about how much money you are going to receive and what you are going to buy.
Do not exaggerate your injuries. If you claim that you are experiencing pain in a particular part of your body when you are not experiencing any pain, it reduces your credibility about the part of your body that really hurts. It is unfortunate to say, but most people believe that there are a lot of accident victims who exaggerate or completely fake their injuries. Do not give the jurors or judge any reason to distrust or dislike you and undermine your case. You want to work on your recovery and let your family, friends, and co-workers know that you are not a whiner but a go-getter who is determined to work hard to recover from a tragedy.
Will my New York car accident case require expert testimony?
Generally, a personal injury case will involve experts such as medical experts, vocational experts, and economists.
- Depending on the nature of your accident you may need a medical expert including but not limited to a chiropractor, orthopedic surgeon, and neurologist to testify on your behalf as to the nature of your injury.
- A vocational expert is generally a vocational rehabilitation specialist who will testify as to the skills, training, and experience necessary for you to re-enter the job market. They may testify as to how the injury has limited or prevented you from continuing your current profession or from obtaining future employment. They will also testify on the cost and time associated with your retraining. Retraining will be determined by different assessment tools used to gather information on your strengths and weaknesses.
- An economist or certified public account is generally needed to explain to the court and jury how the injury will affect future income and medical expenses.