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.
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: What happens if the other driver doesn’t have insurance?
A: 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. For this reason, state law also mandates that drivers purchase Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage. (In addition, 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 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.
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.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury in an accident in NJ, you should contact an attorney familiar with handling these claims. An experienced NJ Injury Lawyer will know how to obtain medical records, videos, photographs, experts, locate witnesses and contact the insurance company so you can make a claim for your injuries.
My NJ Injury Lawyer Howard P. Lesnik, Esq. offers complimentary strategy sessions to address any issue or questions you may have for your injury claim in NJ.
Please contact NJ Injury Lawyer Howard Lesnik, Esq., immediately if you were involved in an accident. I personally 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.