Being involved in a car accident can be a very traumatic experience. The start of your day can be delayed, your commute home can be interrupted, or your plans to get away for the weekend can be ruined in an instant.
No one likes to be stuck on the side of the road waiting for police or a tow truck to arrive. However, these examples are just inconveniences. Motor vehicle accidents can involve more than just property damage to your car. A motor vehicle accident can tremendously impact your life if you or a family member are injured in a car crash.
Any motor vehicle accident, regardless of its severity, is a source of distress as the mind immediately jumps to worst-case possibilities. Once the initial shock of “what just happened” and “did someone hit me” fade and you begin to understand the situation, other questions rush in to take their place: How will you pay for the medical treatment you need for your injuries? How will the matter of fault be determined, and how long will the legal process take? When will your life return to normal?
As we explore some of the more common questions that arise regarding NJ motor vehicle accidents, it’s important to bear in mind that every car accident is unique, and the circumstances of a particular accident may result in a different answer than what you find here. This article is not legal advice, and if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident it is strongly recommended that you seek the guidance of an experienced accident injury attorney to help you navigate the legal process before you and advise you on any decisions to come.
Should I Call the Police and Report the Accident?
In New Jersey, it is a violation of the traffic laws if you leave the scene of an accident or fail to report an accident, even if you are not at fault. You can be issued a summons and face a mandatory court appearance and potentials fines and penalties.
If you or your passenger are injured, your insurance company will require a copy of the accident report. If you are injured, make sure you tell the police dispatch whether you need an ambulance, and wait for police to arrive. If you are able, exchange license and insurance information with the other driver and take a picture of the other car’s license plate.
When the police officers arrive, make sure you describe all the details about how the accident unfolded. Do not leave out any important details. The officers were not there, so do not assume they will know what happened. If you don’t include something in your version, it won’t be included in the report. Make sure you tell the other officer if the other driver said “sorry” or apologized for the accident. If the police accident report is wrong, you should contact an experienced NJ Injury Lawyer to help you make corrections or file and addendum to the accident report. Ask the officer for his card and an incident number so you can obtain a copy of the accident report. State Police motor vehicle accident reports can be requested online at https://www.njsp.org/information/crash-report.shtml
Should I Go To the Hospital or See a Doctor?
When someone is involved in a car accident, some injuries manifest right after the impact from the collision with the other vehicle. If this happens you should request treatment at the accident scene or accept a ride to the hospital from an ambulance. Do not refuse treatment if it is offered to you. Some injuries do not manifest until hours, days or even weeks after the accident. Many people wait to see if their aches and pains will go away, but often these injuries become worse. If this is the case, you should always seek medical treatment if needed. Also, if you file a claim for personal injuries from the accident, you will need the medical records to document the injuries, the course of treatment, and diagnosis from the doctors and treatment providers. Remember, insurance companies will always try to fight your claim for personal injuries. If you delay too long to seek treatment for your injuries, the insurance company may argue that the treatment was too long after the accident, and the injuries weren’t caused from the crash. An insurance company may try to say that if you were really injured, you would have waited so long to see a doctor.
Another important reminder is to always follow the advice, treatment plans and therapy if it is recommended by your doctor. Again, if you do not follow-up with your doctors or miss appointments, you will not have the medical records to support your claim, and the insurance company can argue that if you were really injured, you would have gone to the doctor as recommended.
Who Pays for All My Medical Bills?
All New Jersey automobile insurance policies (except dollar-a-day policies) are required to provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. You must notify your insurance company and apply for PIP benefits if you are injured in an accident – even if you were a passenger in another car. If you do not own a car, but reside with a relative who owns a car, you must apply for PIP benefits under their policy in order for your medical bills to be paid. If you do not own a car, and do not live with anyone who owns a car, you must apply for PIP benefits under the car that you were a passenger in. Many people are too nervous to ask a relative or the owner of the car for insurance information when they are injured in an accident. Because NJ law requires PIP coverage, this should not affect their rates.
Finally, if there is no available insurance to you and you meet certain statutory requirements, you can apply for PIP coverage through the State of New Jersey. An application and notice of claim must be filed within 180 days of the accident or you will not be considered for PIP coverage from NJ. PIP laws and coverage can be very complex, and you should consult with a knowledgeable NJ Injury Lawyer regarding your medical bills and PIP coverage.
The Other Car that Hit Me had No Insurance, Now What Happens?
Auto insurance in New Jersey is mandatory and all motor vehicle owners are required to maintain auto insurance. Despite the fact that New Jersey law requires that all motor vehicles on the road must carry insurance, some 11 percent of drivers in the state are estimated to be uninsured. Many drivers in NJ either try to get away with not having insurance, or fail to make payments or renew their auto insurance. In response to this, NJ requires insurance companies to provide Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage in case the car that hit you is uninsured. NJ state law mandates that drivers purchase Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage.
If you would be able to collect damages from the other driver but they don’t have insurance, your own UM coverage applies instead. Remember, however, that you can only collect damages under UM/UIM coverage up to the policy limit that you have purchased. While buying only the minimum mandated UM coverage may seem like a cost-saving measure when you’re paying insurance premiums, it may turn out to be a case of penny-wise, pound-foolish should you need to use that coverage after an accident. It’s recommended that your UM/UIM coverage at least equal your liability coverage. And despite what the insurance broker may try to sell you, it does not cost much more to increase your coverage limits.
NJ insurance companies also provide Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage, in case the car that hit you only carries a minimal amount of coverage that is too low to compensate you for your personal injuries. Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage is universally available but not mandatory in New Jersey; this type of coverage applies when the other driver’s policy limits are less than the amount you are entitled to in compensation. If you are involved in a NJ motor vehicle accident with a car that has no insurance or is under insured, you can still recover compensation for your persona injuries by filing a UM or UIM claim with your insurance company. In this case, the amount of compensation you can recover depends on the limits of UM/UIM coverage you selected under your insurance policy.
Many NJ drivers attempt to save money on their insurance by purchasing a basic or limited coverage, including UM/UIM coverage. This is a bad idea because it caps the amount of your claim at the limit of insurance that you purchased under your policy. The difference in cost between basic coverage and full liability and UM/UIM coverage is not much. You should always purchase full coverage in order to protect you and your family in case you are involved in a motor vehicle accident.
How Much Is My Case Worth?
That is determined by many factors. Every case is different, and it depends on the nature and extent of the permanent injuries that you suffered in the car accident. It also depends on whether you have been involved in prior accidents or have similar injuries or conditions from before the accident. Additional factors considered are the nature, duration and extent of your treatment, hospitalizations and rehabilitation, surgical procedures, diagnostic examinations such as MRIs, x-rays, and EKGs, and the loss of function and limitation you suffered as a result of the accident. There are also economic damages such as non-covered medical expenses, property damage and lost wages if you cannot work as a result of the accident. The facts of how the accident occurred are also crucial to determine who is responsible for the cause of the accident. If you are more than 50% responsible for the accident, then you may not be able to recover any compensation for your personal injury claim.
How Long Will My Motor Vehicle Claim Take?
How long your claim will take is also dependent on a number of factors. It depends on how long you receive medical treatment for your injuries. An attorney may not be able to settle a claim until you are discharged from you doctors. This allows your lawyer to obtain all your medical records to present to the insurance company in order to fully evaluate your claim and review all your injury treatment. An attorney has 2 years to attempt to settle your NJ car accident claim. If the claim cannot be settled by then, a lawsuit must be filed by the 2-year statute of limitation period to litigate your claim in court. Just because a lawsuit was filed does not mean your case will go to trial. A skillful NJ personal injury lawyer knows how to present your claim to attempt to settle prior to filing a lawsuit.
However, you can never force an unreasonable insurance adjuster to settle. An experienced NJ injury lawyer also will aggressively prepare your case during the pretrial period. A properly prepared case during the pretrial period insures two things:
- Your case will be presented in the most professional light and allows for leverage when trying to settle before trial; and
- If your case has to go to trial, it will be fully prepared and ready to be presented in court and to a jury if necessary.
Q: If another driver rear-ends me but there is no apparent damage to either vehicle and no one seems hurt, is it really necessary to go through the whole process of exchanging insurance information, reporting the accident, and whatnot – or can we just agree to drive away?
A: You should always exchange insurance information with the other driver and report the accident, for several important reasons. First, in terms of both physical injury to vehicle occupants and damage to the vehicles themselves, you can’t always be sure from an initial visual inspection that no harm was done. A car can suffer structural damage even in the absence of superficial scratches and dings, and the human body can sustain injuries to the back, neck, and spine that do not present symptoms right away. (This sort of delayed onset of symptoms is common in whiplash and similar injuries.) As such, the conclusion of “no harm done” may not be accurate, making it necessary to have the other driver’s insurance details. Worse still, the other driver could be trying to trick you out of reporting the accident, only to report it themselves and claim that you illegally left the scene. Failing to report an accident and leaving the scene are both legal offenses and can damage your credibility when you later need to clarify how the accident really happened. Moreover, if you do end up having suffered injury or vehicle damage, your insurance company may deny your claim if you failed to take appropriate steps to identify the other driver. It’s always better to play it safe and get that insurance info and report the accident.
Q: My accident wasn’t that serious, and I have a little bit of pain, but it’s no big deal. Do I really need to bother with seeing a doctor?
A: Yes, absolutely. Many of the most common injuries inflicted by automotive accidents don’t show the full extent of their symptoms until days or even weeks after the accident. You can’t know for certain whether those “little” pains will go away on their own or get worse. And if it does turn out that you have serious injuries, getting prompt medical attention is not only important for your medical prognosis, but also for the success of your legal claim. Insurance companies will latch onto the fact that you didn’t seek medical treatment right away as proof that you weren’t actually injured in the accident. If you see a doctor promptly and have a treatment plan in place from the beginning, it’s much harder for the insurance company to discredit your injuries and deny your claim.
Q: Is it true that if I’m partly at fault for the accident, I can’t pursue compensation from the other driver, and am stuck using only my own insurance policy to cover my damages?
A: No. Some states, such as Virginia, have laws like this – in which if you bear any percentage of fault whatsoever for the accident, even 1 percent, you can’t recover any damages from the other party involved. Fortunately, New Jersey law doesn’t work this way; we are a “Comparative Negligence” state, which means that the amount of fault the court determines you bear for the accident is subtracted from the total damages you can collect. For instance, if you are determined to bear 20 percent of the fault for the accident, you can recover 80 percent of your damages. This is true as long as you are less than 50 percent responsible for the accident.
Q: How much is my case worth?
A: Every case is different, and the value depends on a number of factors, up to and including the amount of insurance coverage available. If you have suffered a permanent injury of any kind, have undergone lengthy or invasive medical treatments, are expected to need further treatment in the future, or suffered a substantial loss of income due to the accident, your compensation may be greater. Other factors including the circumstances of the accident and your perceived credibility in court may also play a role.
Q: Should I keep a journal, log, or diary?
A: This is an excellent idea. The claim process can stretch on for months, even years if your case goes to court. The more details you have about your medical treatment, incidental expenses, levels of pain experienced, lifestyle restrictions, and the emotional and psychological impact of your injuries, the stronger your case will be, and the less you will have to rely on increasingly-distant memories.
Q: The insurance company is making an impressive settlement offer; should I accept it?
A: Consider this: an insurance company is a business, and it makes money by paying you as little as it can get away with. This means trying to convince you to accept a settlement quickly, for far less than it knows you are entitled to, so that you stop being their problem. Once you accept a settlement, you can’t go back and ask for more money once it turns out your injury costs are far greater than you initially believed. At the very least, consult with an attorney before making your decision. If your injuries are minor or your case is weak, you may be better off settling, but that’s a determination best made with experienced legal advice. Once your case is settled, it is settled forever and can never be reopened again, even if your injuries get worse. So if you settle your case quickly and then need surgery after the settlement, your case is already over and you can never receive additional compensation for your injuries.
Q: Do I really need a lawyer?
A: It’s easy to say that the answer to this question is Yes, Obviously… but the real answer here depends on a couple of other questions – What’s the worst thing that could happen with this case? Can I afford to make a mistake? If the stakes are high enough that what happens here matters to your financial comfort or security, or to your medical well-being, then yes, you need a lawyer. My office offers complimentary 30-minute strategy sessions for ALL cases.
How Much Does a NJ Injury Lawyer Cost?
I offer a free strategy session to anyone who contacts my office. There is no fee for my representation unless there is a recovery for your claim. My fee is based upon a percentage of your recovery as listed in the NJ court rules. There are also no expenses charged to you unless your case settles.
If you or your family member have been a victim of an accident, you should contact NJ Injury Lawyer Howard Lesnik immediately. I handle NJ personal injury cases on a regular basis. Please contact me now by email, by phoning 908.264.7701, or by completing the form to the right to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session.