WHAT IS THE LAW SURROUNDING CAR ACCIDENTS?

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2 WHAT IS THE LAW SURROUNDING CAR ACCIDENTS? How Does The Law Determine Who s At Fault? When determining fault, there is no one answer that covers all scenarios. Accidents produce and are produced by many different factors. All motor vehicle accident cases are going to be revolve around negligence. Did the person behave unreasonably under the circumstances? There is a certain duty that each person has regardless of their action. Particularly when operating a motor vehicle, somebody has a duty to operate a vehicle safely and appropriately and within the law. For example, the law expects: When there is a stop sign you stop at a stop sign. Where there is a red light, you stop at a red light. If you re going to make a left-hand turn you re supposed to turn on your left-hand signal. In a motor vehicle case, your goal is to establish the other party as negligent. It is possible that you contributed to the accident. It could be determined that you were anywhere from 0% at fault to 100% at fault. Any damage award that you may receive will be reduced by your percentage of fault. Each circumstance is going to carry its own factors that influence this. A judge or jury, depending on your case, will make the decision who was responsible for the accident and how much each party contributed to the problem. Here are a couple of examples: Instance #1: Sharing of Responsibility Two vehicles are heading in the opposite direction and the individual in the first car is looking to make a left-hand turn at an uncontrolled intersection. Another car is coming through the uncontrolled intersection in the opposite direction. What if that person makes a left hand turn in front of the oncoming vehicle? The vehicle that s oncoming has a right of way, therefore the left-hand turning vehicle would have to wait until that car would come through. If that car turns in front of that vehicle, the driver turning is probably more than 50% at fault already. If the vehicle that was oncoming saw that vehicle making a left-hand turn and had an opportunity to stop, they might have something called comparative negligence in the situation and might have some fault themselves. Comparative negligence is when both parties share responsibility for the fault of the accident. The amount the injured party would receive would be reduced in proportion to their determined negligence. For example, if a driver is determined to be 5% at fault and the damages determined are $10,000, that person would actually be awarded $9,500. Instance #2: Cars Stopping on the Road

3 If I m stopped at a red light and somebody rear ends me at a red light, it is their fault as they failed to stop. They hit me in a rear. There is nothing I can do to avoid that accident. That person will likely be found to be 100% at fault. What If I m Behind Them and They Stopped for No Reason? This situation is certainly an argument for mixed liability. If a person stops inappropriately in the middle of a fast moving highway for instance, without an emergency or perhaps a mechanical failure, it would be hard to explain that as reasonable under the circumstances. However, when you re driving a vehicle, you have a duty to know what it is in front of you and leave plenty of space for a certain stop for a vehicle in front of your vehicle. While this most likely will involve mixed liability, anytime you re rear-ending somebody you will most likely bear a larger percentage of fault. Should I Call The Police In The Event Of A Car Accident? My recommendation for anybody involved in an accident, minor or major, is to ensure that the police are involved. You might not realize it at the time, but there are a number of factors that could arise making it to your benefit to have the police there: somebody might be hurt somebody might be a little hurt somebody might claim to be hurt somebody might not have a proper license plate somebody might not be displaying proper identification When The Police Show Up, What Are Some Best Practices For A More Favorable Outcome? 1. If you re in an ambulance and you re getting taken away from the accident scene there is really nothing that you can say or do. Your health is your most important priority. 2. If you are able to communicate with the police, make sure that the police take down a statement from you. If they do not offer to take your statement, make sure to ask them to do so in writing. 3. Ask if you could review your statement to ensure that it is an accurate reflection of your facts. Are The Police Write Ups Gospel? No, the police write up is not gospel. The police listen to the story and they write down what they have interpreted the facts to be. Should you disagree with the police write up in a lawsuit, it can be hard to overcome the police statement, but certainly not impossible to overcome.

4 There might be an opportunity to depose (question) that police officer in the process of your lawsuit. In that event, we would likely question the officer s specific recollection of the accident, who they spoke with, whether or not he recognize the injured individual or any of the other parties to the accident, ask if he question any witnesses, and did he question any parties in the accident. The information procured from this deposition may give you an opportunity to build a case to refute the information in the police report. What Should I Do Immediately After The Car Accident? 1. Assess whether or not yourself or anybody else in your car is injured. If somebody is injured then have somebody call 911 and get first-responders to scene. This is the most important thing. 2. If possible, pull the car safely aside and get it out of the way of traffic. Get yourself in the safest possible position. Don t wait around for something else terrible to happen. 3. If you can get yourself to a safe place and you have the ability to take pictures of the damaged vehicle, you should do that and certainly try to exchange information with any other drivers that are involved. 4. You should also take pictures of the actual accident scene, as it may show a dangerous road condition or tire tracks that could explain the speed of the vehicles involved. What Legal Actions Should I Take Immediately If I Am In an Accident? Should I Call My Insurance Right Away? Yes. The longer you wait to contact your insurance company, the more likely you would be put in a position to compromise your own rights under that insurance policy. Should I Call An Attorney Right Away? Yes, if you experience one of the following: If you are injured, an attorney knows how to protect your rights. If you feel that your property damage rights, with respect to damage of your vehicle, aren t being addressed properly. How Do I Protect Myself From Lawsuits In the Event I m Involved in an Accident? What You Can Do: 1. Advise your insurance company as soon as you possibly can about the accident. 2. Protect yourself. Even if the car you were driving was not your own, put your own insurance company on notice. That insurance policy will still be relevant to any possible claim against you. You should also take the initiative to put the insurance company of the vehicle you were driving

5 on notice of an accident as well. You cannot assume that this is being done for you. Failure to put insurance companies on notice could compromise the rights you have under those insurance policies and could expose you to additional personal liability. What You Can t or Shouldn t Do: 1. Regardless of fault, there s nothing that you can do to control whether or not somebody is going to bring a lawsuit against you. 2. You should cooperate with your insurance company. Do not give them an opportunity to disclaim any kind of protection that exists on your behalf. If you re injured, you should also speak to an injury attorney who can advise you on how to move forward and protect your rights. What Are Some Common Injuries Or Symptoms To Look For After A Car Accident That May Indicate That You Sustained Some Serious Injuries? Immediately Obvious Injuries: laceration, cuts, bumps, bruises, obvious fractures, serious limb damage, and anything else that could be assessed easily. Non-Obvious Injuries: These are more complicated and are what we describe as soft tissue injuries. Soft tissue injuries will often involve a spinal injury where your body has moved rapidly back and forth. This could involve slamming forward into the dashboard, the steering wheel, or the seat in front of you and then snapping back very quickly. Soft tissue injuries could also arise if you had an airbag deploy at you that might have pushed you back very quickly. Injuries that Show Up Later: We frequently hear people complaining of neck pain or back pain that might not manifest itself right away. It might take a day, it might take two days, and it might take five days or longer for those symptoms to show up. What s the best thing to do? In the event that you ve been in an accident and you feel some pain in your body, go to the hospital or the emergency room and get yourself checked out. You never know what might have happened to your body. It s possible that you to have a serious injury that you re not recognizing right away. It s always a good idea to get your body checked out by going to some kind of medical provider. Make sure that you articulate exactly what it is that s bothering you. Should I Call An Attorney If My Neck Is Sore Today, But It s Going To Get Better? Sometimes your neck, or other pains, will get better quickly. It is true. But a lot of times your neck gets worse.

6 If you have pain that you re suffering as a result of a car accident, there is no harm in getting yourself checked out by the hospital or a medical provider. You really should do it for your own health and safety. If you are hurt and it get s worse, call your attorney. How Can I Best Protect Myself After an Accident? Doesn t insurance cover car accidents? There are a couple of different aspects of insurance in respect to car accidents. 1. First Party Coverage. In New York we also call this No Fault Insurance. No fault means that regardless of fault, if you ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident you have certain rights and certain coverages under your own policy. By law, no fault insurance will include some protection for lost wages and medical benefits. There is a minimum a limit of $50,000 in coverage for this benefit. However, insurance companies notoriously cuts off these benefits through independent medical examinations before the limit is exhausted. 2. SUM Coverage. Supplemental Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage. If you ve been involved in an accident that s somebody else s fault and that vehicle has limited or no insurance, there is a way to access your own insurance from what would otherwise be third-party coverage. This coverage could compensate you for your pain and suffering and other medical damages. 3. Comprehensive Coverage. This includes liability. If you ve been involved in accident that s your fault, you might be a target of a lawsuit. This liability coverage is there to protect you from another person s claim to injuries they suffered through your negligence. 4. Property Damage Coverage. This covers damage done to physical property, including the vehicle. Should I Sue if Someone Hurt Me Accidentally in a Car Accident? While this is a very personal decision, all people injured in accidents should explore their options and consult with an experienced injury attorney who can advise you of your rights. Think About Your Future If You Don t Sue Accidents often result in injuries that are long lasting problems. Who is going to be there for you when you re not able to do your job anymore? Or you re not able to make a living anymore? Or you re permanently scarred? Imagine you ve been laid up in a hospital for weeks at a time. Or you end up going through surgery

7 It Is Your Right: Holding somebody accountable for their negligence is by no means an insult. It s a right that you can to exercise and in many instances a right that people should exercise in the event that they ve suffered a serious injury in a motor vehicle accident. That is What Insurance is for: Motor vehicle owners are required to have insurance for exactly these circumstances. Serious Injuries Should Be Compensated: If you ve been serious hurt in a motor vehicle accident, it could be life changing. Many times people cannot return to their normal life. The only way to make people as whole as possible is by getting compensated for their injuries. It Makes Sense to Protect Yourself. Calling an attorney is one step you can take to protect yourself. It is your right to do that. It s your right not to do it as well, but time can go by and you could lose that opportunity to file a lawsuit. How Do I Protect Myself If I m Sued? Report the accident to your insurance company immediately. If you ve received a summons and complaint, if you ve received a claim letter from an attorney, or a claim letter from an individual saying that they wish to make a claim against you, call your insurance company without delay. You may also want to consult with your own private counsel to see what potential personal exposure you may have. Will Suing Someone Cost Me Anything? No. Injury attorneys don t charge by hour, but instead charge by a contingency fee. A contingency fee means that a legal fee is only payable upon the success of a case. In most instances, the attorneys shoulder any expenses associated with the case and get their expenses and fees only in the event that they are successful on your behalf. They are paid a percentage of whatever they recover for you.

8 Checklist: What to Do If You Are In A Car Accident Keep this checklist in your glove compartment to remind you what to do if you are in a car accident. 1. Think about my own body, my own health, and everybody else in the car around me. Try to ascertain if anybody is hurt. 2. If you can move your vehicle safely, move it out of the flow of traffic in a place of safety. 3. Call the police and/or ambulance. 4. Get the other person s information: their license number, insurance information and registration information. 5. Take photos of the scene, photos of the vehicles and skid marks. 6. When the police come, tell your side of the story. Make sure that they take down your statement. Review that statement for accuracy. 7. When you go home; report to the insurance company that you were in an accident. Follow up with your medical providers. 8. Finally, contact a lawyer to understand your rights. Injured? Call Gacovino Lake at:.

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