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What Happens When You Are At Fault for a Car Accident in New York City?

Posted in Car Accidents on March 19, 2021

pure comparative fault

New York uses a no-fault insurance system. After you cause a car accident in New York, your insurance coverage and the severity of crash victims’ injuries will determine what’s next.

Here are some things you should know about no-fault insurance and what happens if you are found to be at fault for a car accident.

New York No-Fault Auto Insurance

New York adopted no-fault auto insurance in 1974. The no-fault coverage in your auto insurance policy is known as “basic personal injury protection” or PIP.

No-Fault Auto Insurance vs. At-Fault Auto Insurance

In most states, the driver that causes an auto accident has financial responsibility for all injuries and property damage caused by the crash. Since most at-fault auto insurance states require insurance, the responsibility to pay for these damages will fall on the at-fault driver’s insurer.

An at-fault system can result in:

  • Slow claim payments (as the insurer must determine fault for every claim)
  • Clogged courts (as every accident claim that insurers cannot settle will turn into a lawsuit)

New York, along with 11 other states, replaced this system with no-fault auto insurance policies. With no-fault insurance, the insurer for each driver involved in the accident will cover its insured driver’s claims, regardless of fault.

Each driver in a two-car accident will file an insurance claim with their own auto insurer, even if the accident was caused by one of the drivers. If you were injured in a car accident, you will be compensated by your insurer even if you caused the crash.

The no-fault system results in faster claim payments and fewer lawsuits. No-fault insurance also protects you if you cause a minor car accident. In minor accidents, each insurer will cover the losses for their own insured driver, which means that a driver will not face lawsuits over the accident they caused.

Drawbacks of No-Fault Auto Insurance

The no-fault system has drawbacks, including:

  • Each driver’s policy will cap the compensation the insurer will pay
  • The insurance premiums may increase when a driver files a claim, even if the driver did not cause the accident
  • New York law prohibits recovery for pain and suffering under the no-fault system

In certain circumstances, an injured person can escape the no-fault system. When someone opts out of the no-fault system, they can sue the at-fault driver for all their economic and non-economic damages, including pain and suffering.

Conditions for Exiting the No-Fault System

If you cause a serious accident, the injury victims in the accident can leave the no-fault system when:

  • They have suffered more than $50,000 in basic economic losses, including medical expenses and lost income
  • They have suffered a serious injury from the accident

Under New York law, a serious injury includes:

  • Miscarriage
  • Loss of a body part or organ
  • Loss of the function of an organ or body system
  • Disfigurement
  • Fractured bones

Serious injuries may also include a non-permanent injury that prevents the person from performing all significant daily activities for at least 90 days out of the 180 days following the accident.

If a person has either a serious injury or medical expenses over $50,000, that person can sue the at-fault driver. For this reason, causing a serious car accident might not just expose you to one lawsuit. You could face a lawsuit from each person who meets the statutory conditions for exiting the no-fault system.

Defending Against Lawsuits When You Cause a Car Accident

In addition to basic PIP coverage, your auto insurance policy also includes liability coverage. This coverage comes into play when someone sues you for causing a car accident.

If you cause a car accident that is serious enough to expose you to lawsuits, your auto insurer must defend you. This usually means that your insurer will hire a lawyer for your case, and they will attempt to settle the case by negotiating on your behalf.

The insurer must also pay any judgment against you, up to the policy’s limits. In New York, the minimum liability coverage is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. But insurers will sell you more liability coverage at a higher premium rate.

If you have the minimum coverage and you lose a lawsuit, your insurance will cover up to $25,000 in damages from any single person and up to $50,000 in total if more than one person was injured.

Contributory Negligence in New York

When you are sued for causing a car accident in New York, you will have the opportunity to defend yourself.

In most cases, your defense will include:

  • Showing you were not at fault for the accident
  • Showing the injured person was also at fault for the accident
  • Proving the injured person miscalculated the damages

New York allows courts to reduce damage awards when the injured person’s negligence contributed to the accident. The court reduces the damage award in proportion to their comparative negligence.

For example, if a jury finds that you were 70% at fault for the accident and the injured person was 30% at fault for the accident, the injured person would only be able to recover 70% of the proven damages.

To prove contributory negligence, you will need to establish that the injured person failed to exercise reasonable care. You will also need to show that the failure caused their injuries, at least in part.

Suppose that you caused a traffic accident when you turned left across oncoming traffic and hit a vehicle moving through the intersection. You would bear at least some fault because the oncoming vehicle had the right-of-way. But if the accident occurred at night and the oncoming vehicle did not have its headlights turned on, you could argue that the other driver contributed to the accident.

New York’s contributory negligence law allows injured people to recover damages, even when they bear the majority of the fault for the accident. Thus, someone could recover 1% of their damages in spite of being 99% at fault for an accident.

Steps to Take After You Cause a Car Accident

If you cause a car accident, seek medical attention for anyone who suffered an injury. Exchange insurance information with everyone else involved in the accident. Exercise caution when speaking to anyone about the accident, except the police. Document the pertinent details surrounding the accident scene using your cell phone’s camera.

Report the accident to your insurer and file a claim to cover your injuries. Your insurer might request documents, such as your medical records.

Finally, if anyone files a lawsuit against you, cooperate with your insurer to defend the lawsuit and seek legal protection.

To learn more, call one of our convenient locations nearest you for assistance.

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