Manchester New York Car Crash Demonstrates New York Law on “Spousal Immunity” and the “Seat Belt Defense”.

Thumbnail image for stopsign.jpgThe Geneva Finger Lakes Times reports a collision between two cars at the intersection of County Roads 7 and 27 in Manchester, Ontario County, New York at 8 p.m. yesterday. A motorist in the first vehicle was headed west on County Road 27, stopped at stop sign, but then entered the intersection, apparently without seeing southbound second vehcile, which had no stop sign and thus had the right of way. The impact overturned first vehicle, leaving his passenger, who appears to be his wife, unconscious. She was taken by Mercy Flight to Strong Memorial where she gained consciousness and complained of neck, hip and leg pain.

This is the fourth local accident I have recently reported on caused by a driver failing to yield the right of way at an intersection controlled by a two-way stop sign. The other three blog posts can be read here, here and here.

This Ontario County New York car accident provides us with an opportunity to explain two concepts in New York car accident law: (1) “spousal immunity” and (2) the “seat belt defense”.

As for the SEAT BELT DEFENSE, I wrote extensively about this in a prior blog post. As I stated there, the insurance company lawyer for the at-fault driver can defend the case brought by the injured party by alleging that the injuries she suffered were worse because she was not wearing her seatbelt. If so, then the unbelted passenger here will be compensated only for the lesser injuries she would have suffered had she been wearing her seatbelt. In this case, though, the seat belt defense seems likely to fail; seatbelts usually prevent or minimize injuries only in head-on collisions, not in side collisions. In this side collision, the passenger’s injuries would likely have been the same whether she was wearing her seatbelt or not.

As for the SPOUSAL IMMUNITY issue, it used to be the law in New York that spouses could not sue or bring a claim against one another for personal injuries. That law has changed, though, and now they can. Unfortunately, many New York auto insurance policies do not cover inter-spousal claims. You have to specifically request spousal coverage in your auto policy. YOU SHOULD CHECK WITH YOUR INSURANCE AGENT AND MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SPOUSAL COVERAGE. It is cheap — as low as 3 dollars a month — and well worth the investment to protect your husband or wife from your negligent driving.

If the the married couple whose car was overturned here had “spousal coverage” in their car insurance policy, then the injured passenger-wife can seek to be compensated for her pain, suffering and other loses caused by her husband’s negligent driving from their auto insurance. If not, she can’t. Don’t let that happen to you!

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