We've all seen accidents along the shoulder of Kensington Expressway, but things look different when all the rubberneckers are gawking at the smoking ruins of your wrecked vehicle. Accidents happen. Over 300,000 auto accidents are reported in New York each year. Even the most careful driver can be caught off guard by a reckless motorist and end up with a serious injury. It doesn't help you must battle the unresponsive New York legal system to recover compensation. To help you navigate these murky waters, FindLaw has created this guide to prepare you for the aftermath of your Buffalo car accident.
There are a few easy steps you can take immediately after an accident to ensure the best possible legal resolution. First, stop your car if the accident involved either injury or property damage. State law requires you to stop and give your name, address, and insurance information to the other party. Failing to stop could result in serious criminal charges as a hit-and-run driver. Also, it never hurts to lend a helping hand to any injured individuals or call for medical attention if necessary.
Second, you should call the Buffalo police as quickly as you can to properly document the accident. It is important to keep the scene intact for the police. Unless a vehicle is blocking traffic, do not to move them until a police officer says so. If you must move a vehicle, take careful note of its position; photographs are even better.
You should also gather a list of names and contact information from anyone who was involved in, or witnessed, the accident. However, it may be better for your case if you do not volunteer any additional details until talking to a lawyer. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that you caused the crash.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so why not print out a helpful checklist (PDF) and store it in your glove box for that rainy day?
No-Fault Auto Insurance
New York is one of 12 states that have enacted "no-fault" legislation for determining financial responsibility for injuries after car accidents. Under New York's no-fault insurance law, your medical bills and lost wages up to $50,000 are paid by your own insurance, regardless of whose fault the accident was.
But remember that no-fault insurance covers only personal injuries. If you incurred more than $50,000 in medical expenses, or if you seek compensation for damage to property or for pain and suffering, you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit
The New York statute of limitations protects people from being sued for old injuries. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations for filing is three years from the day that the injuries were incurred. If you do not file your lawsuit within three years of the accident, you will be barred from filing.
The best place to file your lawsuit is likely the Erie County Court Building located at 25 Delaware Avenue. If you lawsuit is worth less than $25,000 you should file with the County Court; if it is over $25,000 use the Supreme Court instead.
To file a lawsuit, you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis for your lawsuit. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but it has to be specific enough to show why you should win the case.
At this point you should consider speaking with an experienced personal injury attorney. Personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency fee basis, which means they are paid a portion of your recovery.
Types of Lawsuits
The most common type of claim following a car accident is negligence. In a negligence claim, you must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws, or intoxicated.
Additionally, in fatal accidents, the surviving family members often have a right to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. To succeed on this claim you must prove that the defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous, the vehicle was being operated as intended, and the vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase.
If you prove the other party was negligent, you can be compensated for all property damage, and for medical bills and lost wages in excess of the $50,000 no-fault protection. However, you can only sue for "pain and suffering" damages after a judge has determined that your injury is "serious." Injuries are serious when they involve death, bone fractures, disfigurement, loss of bodily function, or permanent impairment. If your injury is deemed to not be serious, you cannot sue for "pain and suffering" damages.
New York has adopted a comparative negligence rule for assigning fault. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. Significantly, New York is one of the rare states to adopt a "pure" comparative negligence standard, which means that even if the you were 99% at fault, you will still recover 1% of the damages.
Contact a qualified attorney.