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Who’s at Fault? Sorting Out Liability in a Car Accident

Nov. 4, 2021

View of two drivers argue on the situation scream together while standing near the crashed cars.More than 1,000 people are killed in New York car accidents every year. More than 11,000 people are seriously injured, and thousands more suffer less serious injuries. In most cases, someone involved either did or did not do something, leading to a crash. True accidents are rare.

After the dust settles, liability for the accident must be sorted out. Although who was at fault is often clear, this is not always the case. If you were injured in the incident, determining that fault is critical to your ability to recover compensation for your injuries and other damages.

For more than 25 years, Mr. Nichols has been helping clients in Syracuse, New York, and in Rome, Utica, Fort Drum, Watertown, and throughout Jefferson County sort through the facts to determine liability. Mr. Nichols is committed to delivering the best results possible for those injured by someone else’s negligence on New York roadways.

What Does it Mean that New York is a No-Fault Insurance State?

In no-fault insurance states such as New York, your own insurance coverage is the primary source of payment for your economic damages, including medical expenses and lost income. You are not compensated for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.

New York auto owners are required by law to carry at least $50,000 in personal injury protection to pay for those economic damages, no matter who is at fault for the crash. You will file a claim against your own policy benefits first and use those benefits until they are exhausted.

Does That Mean I Cannot File a Claim Against an At-Fault Driver?

The fact that New York is a no-fault state that requires you to use your coverage first does not necessarily preclude you from filing a claim against the driver who caused the crash. That is precisely why New York also requires auto owners to carry liability insurance. Minimum required coverages are $25,000 per person, $50,00 per accident, and $10,000 for property damage.

The no-fault insurance applies to personal injury liability, not to property damage. You can file a claim for damage to your vehicle against the at-fault driver’s policy.

If your injuries are serious enough, you can file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability coverage. “Serious” injuries include:

  • Bone fractures;

  • Physical disfigurement;

  • Permanent limited use of an organ or body member;

  • Significant limitation of a body function or system; and,

  • Full disability for 90 days or more.

Serious injuries will exceed the limits of most victims’ PIP coverage, so the law provides the option to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance or to file a civil lawsuit against them to recover your damages, including noneconomic damages.

Can More Than One Person Be at Fault?

New York adheres to a pure comparative negligence rule, which means everyone involved could be assigned a percentage of fault for the accident. The settlements for each party are then reduced by their respective percentages of fault.

For example, the other driver ran through a red light, and you hit their vehicle in the intersection. You were on your mobile phone at the time. The other driver may be assigned 70% of fault and you may be assigned 30% of fault. If a jury decides that your economic and noneconomic damages are $120,000, that amount would be reduced by your 30% share of liability, or $36,000. You would receive only $84,000 in full settlement.

Because shared liability can impact your settlement substantially, it is a smart move to have an experienced personal injury attorney in your corner. Your attorney can help not only value the damages you have suffered, but also help mitigate the amount of liability the other driver’s insurance company will attempt to have assigned to you.

Personal Injury Guidance You Can Trust

Third-party claims in a no-fault state like New York hinge on the ability to prove the seriousness of your injuries and document evidence that holds you to little or no fault. Mr. Nichols has been helping clients in and near Syracuse, New York for decades. He can help you, too. Set up a free consultation with Nichols Law Offices, PLLC to start moving forward.