How can you read a story like this and not want to weep? The Post-Standard reports that a couple and their 4-year old son were returning home via Route 31 in Elbridge, New York Saturday evening when their Chrystler PT Cruiser left the road and hit a tree, killing the father-passenger, leaving the mother-driver in critical condition with head injuries, and, miraculously, sparing from any harm their 4-year old child in the backseat.
As a Central New York auto accident lawyer, I can’t help but be concerned for the future of the seriously injured mother and her child. In large part, their fortunes turn on insurance coverage. There are several types of auto insurance that are triggered in a case like this: (1) no-fault insurance; (2) no-fault death benefits; and (3) liability insurance.
Number (1), no-fault insurance, pays for basic medical coverage and lost wages regardless of whose fault the accident was, up to $50,000 for each injured person. Here, the only surviving injured person is the mother-driver. But she will surely run through her $50,000 no-fault insurance quickly (hospitalized for critical brain injuries). There will be nothing left to cover her lost wages, or her additional medical expenses. Bad news.
Number (2), no -fault death benefits, provides even less coverage: $2,000 for the death of the father-passenger. That’s it! Bad news again.
Number (3), liability insurance, pays for any medical costs or lost wages beyond what no-fault paid, plus any “pain and suffering” compensation for serious injuries, but only if you can prove that some driver other than yourself was at fault for causing the accident. Here, since the mother-driver was at fault for losing control of the vehicle, she will not qualify for any liability auto insurance. More bad news.
The father’s estate, however, will be able to tap that policy. His estate can bring a claim under New York wrongful death law for the mother’s negligent driving. The proceeds of that claim would go to his son (if he was providing economic support, which we assume he was). Good news, right? But read on!
How much insurance is available for this wrongful death claim? The minimum New York Car Liability insurance is $25,000 per person injured. Many car owners carry only this minimum, which is too bad, because in a case like this, much, much more is needed. The father was in his 30’s, and if he was working and supporting his child, then the economic loss claim is very large. It could easily be for hundreds of thousands of dollars (for all the economic support dad would have provided for his child until he turned 21). This child would end up with all this if only there were enough insurance!
But let’s face it; it isn’t going to be there. Yet more bad news! That’s why good personal injury lawyers don’t stop there. They don’t give up so easily. They thoroughly investigate the accident to try to find another responsible party who might have more insurance or other monies available. In a case like this one, where there are apparently no other cars or drivers involved, the logical place to look is at the roadway. Was there something about the roadway that was unsafe and made the mother-driver lose control of her car?
Most likely not. New York defective roadway cases are tough to make out. I blogged about these kinds of cases earlier. But a good car accident lawyer will thoroughly investigate that possibility because the injuries are so enormous and the available insurance so woefully inadequate. If it turns out that there was something wrong with the roadway (example: should there have been guardrails at this location?) that contributed to the accident, then there will be lots of compensation available — the roadway here is owned and maintained by the State of New York — a “deep pocket ” for sure. Well, maybe not so deep these days . . . but still deep enough!.