Car Accidents: When To Bring A Lawsuit

Car accidents are scary things. People get hurt and it is expected that whoever caused the accident should pay for those injuries. This is why New York requires all drivers to carry No-Fault insurance. No-Fault insurance provides coverage for medical expenses and lost wages, regardless of who caused the accident. However, sometimes No-Fault coverage isn’t enough. When someone is seriously injured and could possibly be permanently disabled, you should consider bringing a lawsuit.

The question of whether to bring a lawsuit is one we see a lot. People call after an accident and they want to know if they have a case. To make that decision, we have to answer three questions:

  1. Who caused the accident?
  2. Is the injury “serious,” as defined by the New York State No-Fault Law?
  3. Is there sufficient insurance coverage?

Who Caused the Accident?

Understanding who caused the accident is important because 1) You need to figure out who to bring the lawsuit against; and 2) If you caused the accident, then there isn’t really much point in bringing a lawsuit. Once you’ve established that someone else caused the accident, you then need to figure out if your injuries meet the “Serious Injury Threshold.” Only if you have a “serious injury” can you successfully bring a lawsuit for non-economic loss such as pain and suffering.

Serious Injury Threshold

New York Insurance Law §5102(d) defines serious injury as an injury that results in:

  • Death
  • Dismemberment (loss of limb)
  • Significant Disfigurement (severe scarring)
  • A Broken Bone
  • Loss of a Fetus
  • Permanent Loss of Use or Limitation of Use of a Body Organ, Member, Function, or System (such as lost range of motion in a limb, permanent nerve damage, blindness, or other injuries that result in the permanent loss or limitation of use of a body part)

If your injury DOES NOT fall under one of these categories, then a lawsuit for pain and suffering is not for you. However, your lost wages and medical treatment would still be covered by No-Fault insurance.

However, if you DO have a serious injury as defined by the law, then a lawsuit should be considered. You would still get No-Fault insurance coverage, up to a certain amount, for your lost wages and medical expenses. But, a lawsuit would allow you to sue for any lost wages and medical treatment above and beyond No-Fault coverage, in addition to compensation for pain and suffering, lost future wages, and other damages not accounted for by No-Fault insurance.

Insurance Coverage

So, assuming the accident was someone else’s fault, and you have a serious injury, the last issue is whether there is sufficient insurance coverage. The reality of a lawsuit is that there has to be money to collect at the end. New York State requires that every insured vehicle carry at least $25,000 for bodily injuries caused by the driver’s fault. You could win a $10,000,000 jury verdict but if the person who caused the accident has no insurance and no personal assets, then you’ll never see a dime of it. You want to make sure that there is money to go after before going through the stress and expense of bringing a lawsuit.

As you can see, the question of whether to bring a lawsuit is not merely one of fault, nor merely one of injury. It is a complex question that requires investigation and professional legal judgment. If you have questions about whether you should bring a lawsuit for injuries you sustained in a car accident, make sure you contact one of our attorneys to discuss your particular situation.