Even though the safety features in vehicles has become more advanced over the past few years, there were still over 2 million people injured on the US roadways in 2019.  Over 140,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries stemming from car accidents.  Car accidents often happen in a split second and there are a lot of factors that need to be put  into place after it occurs.  By knowing what to do and who to contact can help you build your case for a personal injury claim.  Here are 10 steps you can follow after you have been in a car accident:

Step 1 – Stop, Check for Injuries and Call 911

New York law requires drivers that are involved in an accident to immediately stop at the scene or as close as possible to see if anyone has been injured.  Call 911 and report the accident to the police.  The 911 dispatcher needs specific information to determine whether police, paramedics or tow trucks will need to arrive on the scene.  The dispatcher will need to know the location of the accident, read nearby street signs, give landmarks and describe what the scene looks like.  If anyone is complaining of pain, discomfort or is noticeably injured or if the accident is blocking traffic an ambulance and police will be sent. 

You are required to give the other driver your name and address, vehicle registration, drivers license information, insurance and license plate number.  If you are the one injured in the car accident do not refuse medical assistance.  Let the EMTs examine you and decide if you should go to the hospital for further tests and observation.  Seeking prompt medical attention after the accident can be crucial to the success of your personal injury claim.  The longer you wait to seek medical attention the greater the chance the insurance company will deny your claim.  If you have been injured and are physically unable to immediately contact the police you can wait until you are able to report the accident.  New York State does not require drivers involved in car accidents to assist those who may be injured.  Anyone who “voluntarily and without expectation of monetary compensation” gives first aid to the injured victim under the Good Samaritan law will not be held liable for the help given. 

If you hit an animal or a car that was unattended you should report the accident to the police.  For the unattended car, even though it is not required by law, you should leave a note with your name and contact information and a brief description of how the accident occurred.  If the animal was a dog or cat see if the animal is ok or needs help and try and locate the owner.  If the car accident resulted in injuries to any person or damage to property is $1,000 or more, you must file a report with the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days.  If the police came to the scene of the accident, they are required to file an accident report.  To obtain a copy of a police report, contact the local police precinct who investigated the accident. 

Step 2 – Preserve Evidence from the Accident Scene

The actions you take in the minutes following an accident are crucial for developing your vehicle damage and personal injury claim.  This damage can include: car repairs, medical bills including X-rays and MRIs, out of pocket expenses for prescriptions, wheelchairs and costs of travel to treatment, lost wages and pain and suffering.  Take photos if you have a phone or camera available.  This will help determine who was at fault if intoxication was involved and will capture potholes, road obstructions and street signs that were nearby.  Get the registration information, VIN number and make, model, year and license plate number of the other vehicle.  Record the weather conditions and time of day the accident occurred and ask the other driver for their license number, and contact information.  If a witness is present and willing to talk record their statement and make sure they sign off on the information they are giving with their name, address and signature. 

Step 3 – The Role of Police at Accident Scenes

When police arrive at the accident scene they have several different tasks they need to take care of:

  • Arrange care for the insured
  • Secure the accident scene with flares, pylons, tape, etc.
  • Search for physical evidence, including skid marks, obstructions, debris in the road, etc.
  • Question drivers, passengers and witnesses to get information about the accident
  • Conduct field sobriety tests
  • Run warrant checks
  • Issue traffic tickets
  • Give drivers a “case” or “service number” so they can obtain the police report

Wait until the officer is done investigating the accident to speak to them. If the officer is asking you to identify yourself and provide information you must comply but if you are being questioned about the possession of drugs or any other criminal activity, you have the right to remain silent.  If the police officer decides that you violate New York’s traffic laws, you may be issued a traffic ticket.  By signing the ticket it becomes an agreement that you will appear in court at a later date, not necessarily that you are guilty.  At this time you may enter a plea of not guilty to challenge the ticket. 

Step 4 – Call Your Insurance Company and Report the Accident

Call your insurance company as soon as you are able to.  They will open an investigation and a claims adjuster will contact you.  Most insurance policies have a Cooperation and Notice of Occurrence clause that refers to the contractual obligations between the driver, the insured, and the insurance company, the insurer.  This clause requires the insured to notify the insurers of the accident, regardless of fault and to cooperate throughout the investigation.  You should contact your insurance company even if the accident wasn’t your fault.  This is an important step because the other driver might tell their insurance company that you were the one at fault when in fact they caused the accident.  The investigation may show the other driver is fully or partially at fault for the accident due to texting, speeding or engaging in some other form of negligent behavior. 

Even if no one was injured you should still report the accident to your insurance company.  Some injuries such as neck or back pain can take hours or days to appear when you originally thought that you were fine.  The other driver may not have car insurance and that can affect your outcome.  Get as much information from them as possible and let the insurance companies handle your claim.  Sometimes at the scene of the accident, the other driver or passengers may say that they are not injured but at a later date they will file false claims saying they have whiplash to receive compensation from the accident. 

When the car accident is reported to your insurance company, a claim number will be assigned.  Make sure you keep this claim number handy because you will need it throughout the process.  You are not required to give a recorded statement to the claims adjuster but once you do what you say becomes permanent even if you later change your mind about what happened at the accident scene. 

Step 5 – New York’s No-Fault Insurance Law

New York State relies on a no-fault car insurance system also known as Personal Injury Protection (PPI) coverage.  No-fault is designed to cover medical bills, out of pocket expenses and lost wages if you get into an accident.  PIP does not give compensation for pain and suffering.  PIP covers bodily injury expenses regardless of who caused the accident.  This means you don’t have to sue the other party’s insurance company, just contact your own carrier and file a clim. 

You can pursue your injury claim against the at-fault driver and their insurance company if you are seriously injured.  A serious injury happens when your medical expenses exceed $50,000 and can include death, loss of a fetus, bone fracture, permanent loss of the use of a body organ and a medically determined injury or impairment that is not permanent but keeps you from performing your normal routine for at least 90 days.  If you have been seriously injured in the car accident, file a personal injury claim with your own insurance company (first party claim), file a personal injury claim with the at fault driver’s insurance company (third party claim) and file a lawsuit against the at fault driver. 

Step 6 – New York Auto Insurance Requirements

The minimum auto insurance liability coverage required by New York law is

  • $25,000 for bodily injury and $50,000 for death of one person in one accident
  • $50,000 for body injury and $100,000 for death of two or more people in one accident
  • $10,000 for property damage in one accident

New York required no fault of at least $50,000 to pay medical expenses, lost earnings and other necessary expenses within a reasonable doubt related to injuries suffered in an auto accident.  Auto insurance policies issued in New York State must also provide uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injuries in an amount equal to the policy’s liability limits for bodily injury coverage. 

Step 7 – New York’s Pre Comparative Negligence Law

Pure comparative negligence law occurs when an accident that occurred in New York State results in injury damages that exceed the no fault requirements.  The victim in an accident can still seek compensation from the negligent driver even if the victim shared some responsibility for the accident.  The amount of compensation the victim receives will be lessened by the percentage of their own contributing negligence to the accident. 

Step 8 – Retain an Attorney or Represent Yourself

Some personal injury claims can be handled without legal representation while others require an attorney.  Two types of injuries that occur from car accidents are soft tissue and hard injuries.  Soft tissue injuries include strains and sprains to tendons or muscles, minor bruises, first degree burns and whiplash.  Soft tissue injuries usually don’t result in substantial medical bills and since they don’t involve complex issues of law, a victim can usually negotiate their own injury claim with the insurance company.  Hard injuries are more series and include head trauma, fractures, gashes that require stitches and other injuries that require extensive medical care.  Hard injury claims often require filing a lawsuit. Compensation for a serious injury claim can be substantial and by representing yourself, you won’t be as effective as an experienced personal injury attorney. 

Step 9 – When to Consider Filing a Small Claims Court Lawsuit

If you are unable to settle your injury claim, you may want to file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court.  Small claims can be filed in city courts that may not exceed $5,000 and under $3,000 in town or village court.  Here is why you should file in small claims court:

  • The at fault driver was uninsured or under insured
  • Your car or other personal property was damaged and the cost to repair it is under the small claims limit
  • The insurance company refuses to offer fair compensation in the settlement
  • The insurance company denies your claim
  • You can’t find an attorney who will accept your case 

Step 10 – Know the Statute of Limitations

Whether you handle your own personal injury claim or have an attorney represent you, New York’s Statute of Limitations will apply.  A Statute of Limitations is the time period in which you have to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit.  If the statute of limitations expires (3 years) you forever lose your legal right to pursue compensation from the at fault driver or their insurance company.  If the statute of limitations is about to expire and you haven’t settled your claim, you must file a lawsuit to stop the statute from running out.  This makes your case exempt from the statute of limitations expiration date. 

The injuries that occur from a car accident could mean life long pain and suffering.  If you were recently involved in a car accident and need legal representation call Losi & Gangi at 716-854-1446.  We will represent you throughout every step of your case and make sure you get the compensation that you deserve. 

Article adapted from: https://www.injuryclaimcoach.com/new-york-car-accident-guide.html