Common Misconceptions about New York Personal Injury Cases, Part IV: “I Got Hurt in a Car Accident in New York and It Was the Other Guy’s Fault So I Must Have a Good Case”

Thumbnail image for carcrash.jpgBeing hurt in a New York car accident when it’s not your fault doesn’t necessarily mean you have a good case. You have to be “seriously injured” to get compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance. Otherwise, all you get is your no-fault benefits (up to a maximum of $50,000 in medical bills and lost wages combined), which comes from your own insurance, even if you were not at fault. (That’s why it’s called “no-fault”!)

My many years of representing Central New York car accident victims have taught me one simple lesson: New York No-Fault Law sucks! It’s unfair and outdated and ends up screwing way too many Syracuse and Central New York auto accident victims. My partners and I can get around the limitations of the No-Fault Law as well as any New York auto injury attorneys, but sometimes even the best lawyers can’t lawyer-their-way-past the worst laws. Read what blogger Eric Turkewitz has to say about New York’s unfair No-Fault Law.

Bad, yes, but it’s the law (hopefully not for too much longer – there is a bill in the works to change it). Although you might think you are very hurt, and I might think you are very hurt, and you ARE by almost anyone’s definition very hurt, you still might not qualify as “seriously injured” under New York’s strict No-Fault Law. This is especially true for “soft tissue” and “whiplash” type injuries. Unless you are out of work for more than 90 days, these kinds of injuries usually have to be permanent to qualify as “serious”, and you still might lose your case if your doctor can’t point to any “objective medical findings” proving that the car accident caused the serious injury, and that it causes a significant limitation in the use of your neck, back, etc. (Even though the No-Fault Statute itself says nothing about “objective findings”, New York’s courts have added that requirement.)

This “objective finding” requirement is problematic. Often car collisions cause pre-existing “degenerative” (caused by the aging process) spine conditions, that were totally pain free, to become painful. In other words the “injury” was, in a sense, already there, in your spine, due to the natural aging process, but was causing no pain. The car crash “activates” the disc condition, causing pain, sometimes permanent pain. But how do you prove the car crash, rather than the pre-existing condition, caused your pain syndrome with “objective medical findings”? Sometimes there is no visible or other objective thing a doctor can point to. The only difference between your pre-accident spine and your post-accident spine is PAIN, and pain is SUBJECTIVE, not OBJECTIVE.

A good motor vehicle accident lawyer will try like hell to get the doctor to show him some “objective finding” that the collision caused the injury, but it can’t always be done.

Long story short: If you are only a little hurt, you probably have no car accident case against the at-fault driver, but even if you are very hurt, you may have no case under New York’s car accident laws. See a New York car accident lawyer to find out whether you may qualify.

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