In enacting the No-Fault laws the New York State Legislature struck a compromise in order to assure prompt compensation to injured persons regardless of fault while reducing the burden faced by courts and the entire insurance/tort system. The essential feature of the system is the mandatory insurance that every car owner in New York State must purchase. Each policy has three required coverages:
No-Fault Insurance to insure payment for medical expenses and lost wages for a driver, passenger or a pedestrian injured by the owner’s car;
Liability Insurance to insure money value for harm caused by the car owner to other people and their property; and,
Uninsured Motorist Protection to insure against damages sustained by the car owner, his family or passengers in a hit and run accident or an accident with an uninsured motor vehicle.
Notable exceptions to the No-Fault system:
– Motorcycles are not considered Motor Vehicles for the purpose of the No-Fault laws. Because of this a motorcyclist is not considered a covered person under the No-Fault laws and is not entitled to the benefits thereunder. But, the Insurance Law does provide for separate rules for motorcycle coverage and pedestrians injured by a motorcycle would be protected by the motorcycle policy.
– Driving While intoxicated or impaired by the use of drugs that contributes to the accident
– Intentionally causing one’s own injuries
– Injured while committing a felony
– Injured in a vehicle known to be stolen
– Injured while racing or speed testing a motor vehicle
– An owner of an uninsured vehicle.
With limited exceptions the No-Fault law allows for recovery of basic economic loss. This includes lost wages and the cost of medical expenses. Only in the case of a serious injury can an injured person file suit and recover damages beyond the basic economic loss referred to above. This is called non-economic loss. In other words, there is no mechanism to recover damages for pain and suffering unless an individual falls within one of several statutory categories of serious injury. Four of the most common categories are:
- Permanent loss of use of a body . . . member . . .;
- Permanent consequential limitation of use of a body . . . member;
- Significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or,
- A medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than 90 days during the 180 days immediately following the occurrence . . .
It is in the area of serious injury and the recovery for non-economic loss that an attorney is most needed to evaluate the causally related damages. Here, I offer two concepts that transcend the No-Fault laws and are generically used in all tort litigation. There is typically a breakdown between what are referred to as special damages, or those damages that can readily be calculated and measured (these are often referred to as “out of pocket expenses”), and general damages, often viewed as the compensation for physical pain and suffering but also applicable to emotional pain and suffering endured.
Because the goal of personal injury litigation is to make the person “whole” again the collection of data relative to damages is one of the most fundamental aspects of litigating a personal injury claim. Once a causal link is established between the injuries and the conduct that caused the injuries, the case can be evaluated for settlement or prepared for litigation.
The forgoing is a simple overview of some of the most important concepts in dealing with an automobile accident in New York State. If you or someone you know has been injured in an accident, give Martin Kehoe and Associates, P.C. a call for a prompt, accurate evaluation of the circumstances. We will discuss the matter thoroughly and guide you through process of preparing your case.