Welcome back for the second Part of this crash course on motor vehicle accident cases. The first segment provided advice on what to do at the time of the accident and immediately thereafter. This segment will explore what happens next in the investigation stage of a car accident case. It may surprise you to learn that the investigation stage of your personal injury case is one of the most important stages and can often require the most time to complete. Let us examine why the investigation can be the longest part of a car accident case.
There are two fundamental components in every personal injury case. The first component is liability: who is responsible for your injuries? In a car accident case, establishing liability can be a straightforward affair. The police accident report provides an abundance of information. The police report gives the names and addresses of the other driver and the owner of the other vehicle. It also provides information on what insurance carrier may be responsible for compensating you for your injuries. It often provides a summary of the statements given by each driver to the police and may even contain information about potential witnesses to the car crash. An experienced personal injury lawyer will know how to unpack the information contained in a police report and build the foundation of your case by firmly establishing who is responsible for causing the accident and how you can expect to be compensated for your injuries. There are several additional tactics that a knowledgeable personal injury attorney can employ to establish a firm basis for liability against the other driver.
The second fundamental component is damages: what injuries were caused by the car wreck? It is a public policy in New York that every driver’s insurance policy must provide $50,000.00 of no-fault insurance benefits. The no-fault insurance benefits are used to pay medical expenses and reimburse wages lost if you are unable to work. The consequence of the no-fault benefits policy is that a person injured in a car wreck may not file a lawsuit unless the injuries fall within one of the defined categories of a “serious injury” as defined in Section 5102(d) of the Insurance Law. While some injuries, like a broken bone or loss of limb, automatically qualify as a “serious injury,” many of the most common injuries from car wrecks do not. Therefore, when and what you do to treat your injuries is paramount to bringing a successful motor vehicle accident case.
The opening segment of this series explained the importance of seeking medical attention immediately after the car accident to avoid the “gap in time” defense. After the initial medical screening at an urgent care facility or in the emergency department of your local hospital, it is important to establish a regular, consistent pattern of treatment for your injuries. A consistent and regular course of treatment is the best way to avoid a “gap in treatment” defense. The hospital or urgent care facility may have given you a referral to the medical professionals who have experience treating your injuries. If not, you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your primary care physician who can assist you with the needed referrals for various forms of therapy, rehabilitation, and diagnostic testing. As New York is a no-fault insurance state, the first $50,000.00 of your medical treatment will be covered at no cost to you. To receive these no-fault benefits, you must contact your car insurance provider and complete a no-fault benefits application. The attorney you hired at the outset of your injury case will be able to assist you with any questions about completing and submitting the no-fault benefits application.
You may be asking yourself, “But why does the investigation stage take so long?” The answer is simple. For a successful motor vehicle accident case, it is not enough to show that the other driver was responsible for injuring you. You must show that your injuries satisfy the threshold requirement of a “serious injury.” The most common injuries in car crash cases are “soft tissue injuries” such as injuries to your neck and back, or tears in your knees and shoulders. These injuries do not fall neatly within one of the more readily identifiable categories of “serious injuries.” For a “soft tissue” injury to qualify as a “serious injury,” the Courts and insurance companies look at the duration and types of treatment received, and whether the injuries have healed or resulted in some level of permanent disability or impairment. Therefore, a determination of whether your injuries qualify as a “series injury” may not take place until after your medical treatment has been completed.
If you have any questions or would like more information about this topic, email me or join me on April 26, 2023 for my webinar. Please join us next week for the third Part of this crash course on motor vehicle accident cases which will discuss how to decide whether to settle your car accident case or whether to start a lawsuit.
This is not intended to be legal advise. You should contact your attorney to discuss your specific situation.