Can You Sue for a Rear-End Collision in New York?

Can You Sue for a Rear-End Collision in New York?
Can You Sue for a Rear-End Collision in New York?
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Can You Sue for a Rear-End Collision in New York?

Rear-end collisions are the second most common type of car accident, accounting for 1.5 million of the total number of collisions that occur each year nationwide. Though many rear-end collisions are low-impact — meaning they occur at low speeds and cause little to no damage — just as many can result in significant harm to the lead vehicle and its occupants. If you were involved in a rear-end collision that resulted in your or a loved one’s injuries and extensive property damage, you may wonder if you can sue the at-fault driver. The answer depends on several factors.

The Presumption of Fault in Rear-End Collisions

Per decisions that the New York courts have handed down over the years, a rear-end collision serves as prima facie evidence that the driver of the tailing vehicle acted negligently whereas the driver of the lead vehicle did not. “Prima facie” is an adjective that means an action alone is “sufficient to establish a fact or create a presumption.” It can also mean “on first appearance.” In laymen’s terms, “prima facie” is similar to the phrase, “caught red-handed.” In a prima facie case such as one that stems from a rear-end collision, the defendant has an opportunity to rebut the presumption with evidence of his or her own.

In a rear-end accident case, the courts will automatically assume that the tailing driver was at-fault for one major reason: Because tailing too closely is a direct violation of New York Vehicle and Traffic Law 1129. However, as in the criminal justice system, a defendant remains innocent until proven otherwise. The defendant in a rear-end collision case has the chance to rebut the assumption of liability by providing sufficient evidence that his or her negligence did not, in fact, cause the crash. Such a task can prove difficult to accomplish, but not impossible. Examples of scenarios in which the tailing driver is not at fault are as follows:

  • A mechanical failure led to the crash
  • The lead driver cut the tailing driver off and then proceeded to stop suddenly
  • A road emergency required the second driver to speed up

How Rear-End Collisions Happen

In most cases, rear-end accidents happen because tailing drivers perform negligent or reckless maneuvers behind the wheel. The most common types of negligent actions that cause rear-end crashes are as follows:

Most of these actions are avoidable, which is why the courts almost always rule against tailing drivers.

New York Is a No-Fault State

Unfortunately, New York is a no-fault state, meaning that fault is generally of little concern in rear-end accident cases. Assuming you meet the state’s minimum insurance requirements, your own insurance provider will reimburse you for certain costs you accrue because of the accident. In many cases, your provider will pay for your medical services directly so that you do not have to worry about billing issues. Your insurer has a legal obligation to cover your accident-related expenses regardless of who caused the accident.

Though a no-fault insurance system offers convenience and peace of mind to accident victims, it limits the amount of compensation claimants may recover for their damages. Under the system, you may recover the following:

  • Medical costs up to $50,000, plus costs up to your personal injury protection limits, if applicable
  • Up to $2,000 a month in lost wages for up to three years, if you become medically disabled as a result of crash-related injuries
  • Up to $25 per day for other crash-related expenses, such as travel to and from doctor’s offices, in-home care and medical devices

You have up to 30 calendar days to file a car accident claim with your own insurance company in New York.

Meeting the No-Fault Threshold and Suing Outside of the No-Fault System

Regardless of fault in a rear-end collision accident, and regardless of the extent of your damages, New York law requires you to go through your own insurance company before pursuing other avenues of monetary recovery. However, the state recognizes that the many car accidents — especially those that occur at high speeds — result in damages that are far more extensive than what no-fault polices cover. In these cases, the state grants victims the right to sue the at-fault parties for the remaining amount of damages. That said, you have the right to sue the at-fault driver in very limited situations and only if you meet a defined threshold.

The Policy Limit Threshold

Per New York Law, you have the right to file a third-party claim for excess damages if your basic economic losses exceed $50,000. “Basic economic losses” include medical expenses and lost wages. You must provide proof of your losses.

The Serious Injury Threshold

You may also pursue a third-party claim if you meet the serious injury threshold. The law defines a serious injury as one that results in the following:

  • Dismemberment
  • Fracture
  • Substantial disfigurement
  • Permanent loss of a bodily member, organ, function or system
  • Significant limitation of a bodily system or function
  • Permanent substantial restriction of a bodily member or organ
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Death

You may also file a third-party claim if you have a medical determination of a non-permanent injury or impairment that prevents you from substantially engaging in the acts that constitute your customary or usual daily activities. This impairment must continue for not less than 90 days in the 180 days following the accident.

Exceptions to the Threshold Rule

In New York, motorcycle operators are exempt from the state’s no-fault injury threshold rules simply for the fact that no-fault insurance does not cover motorcycles. Because motorcycles are inherently dangerous, New York requires motorcycle owners and operators to obtain private insurance to pay for accident-related expenses. While this law poses an additional hurdle for operators, it makes it easier for them to sue at-fault parties for damages. Without the threshold rules in place, motorcycle operators may sue the at-fault party for the following:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages (damages that punish the at-fault party rather than compensate the victim)

This exception may prove particularly beneficial to motorcycle operators who are victims in rear-end accidents, as operators have a heightened risk of sustaining severe or even fatal injuries in collisions.

Proving Your Case

If you hope to file a third-party claim for damages against the at-fault driver in your rear-end crash, you have your work cut out for you. Though a presumption exists that the tailing driver was the negligent party, he or she has an opportunity to prove otherwise. If you do not show up armed with the right evidence and documentation, there is a strong chance that the defendant will be successful. If you were the tailing driver and want to prove that the lead driver was at fault, your case becomes substantially more difficult. However, difficult is not synonymous with impossible.

Regardless of your position in the rear-end collision, if you were involved in a rear-end accident, consult with a New York car accident attorney right away. This is especially important to do if you sustain injuries in the crash. An experienced lawyer can help you build a solid case and defend your rights to the maximum amount of compensation. Whether you are ready to file a claim or simply want to learn more, schedule your free consultation today.

Sources:  

PR Newswire:
https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/what-are-the-most-common-types-of-car-accidents-nationwide-statistic-overview-301391422.html

Legal Information Institute:
https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/prima_facie

FindLaw:
https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/vehicle-and-traffic-law/vat-sect-1129.html

New York State Department of Motor Vehicles:
https://dmv.ny.gov/insurance/insurance-requirements
https://www.dfs.ny.gov/consumers/auto_insurance/filing_claims_under_your_own_policy

New York State Bar Association:
https://nysba.org/NYSBA/Sections/Torts%20Insurance%20Compensation/TICL%20PDFs/Serious_Injury_Threshold_in_New_York-5_Things_you_need_to_know.pdf

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