Motor Vehicle Accidents
Car and other motor vehicle accidents (whether buses, motorcycles, scooters, carts, tractor trailers or any other kind of automobile) are a special breed of negligence. Although it is just one of many kinds of torts (civil wrongs), there are so many rules governing the operation of motor vehicles and the rules of insurance are so complicated that it takes many years of practice and a number of trials before a lawyer can master this area. There is the Vehicle and Traffic Code, the Rules of the Road (part of the Vehicle and Traffic Code), provisions of the Insurance Law, various Federal laws, State Rules and Regulations, local laws, and guidelines handed down by volumes of prior court decisions. Motor vehicle liability is further complicated by the New York No Fault Law.
There are a lot of misunderstandings about what No Fault is. In a nutshell, No Fault is a tradeoff. On the one hand, persons injured in automobile accidents get their medical expenses, lost wages and other reasonable and necessary expenses paid even if they were at fault in causing the accident. But, on the other hand, they give up the right to sue for conscious pain and suffering (the big money) unless their injuries satisfy the definition of a "serious injury". The term "piercing the No Fault threshold" is used by lawyers to describe those injuries that rise to a sufficient level to satisfy that definition.
The term "serious injury" is defined, in simple terms, as death, dismemberment, significant disfigurement, a fracture, loss of a fetus, permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system, permanent meaningful limitation of use of a body function or system or a medical injury or impairment that renders one essentially disabled for at least ninety of the first one hundred and eighty days following the accident. That is the hurdle one must clear before a lawsuit for conscious pain and suffering can be brought.
Some injuries obviously pierce the threshold. For example, death, dismemberment or any broken bone. Where the practice of motor vehicle accident litigation really gets interesting is when there are no broken bones but the injured party suffered a whiplash type injury involving the "soft tissue" of the spine. The term "soft tissue" means that the injury does not involve a broken bone. Examples of soft tissue injuries are bulging and herniated intervertebral discs, that is, damage to the fatty pads located in between each of the spinal vertebrate (bones) of the cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back) or lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine. These injuries can sometimes impair the function of the nervous system where nerves exit the spine and can result in very serious conditions such as radiating pain to the buttock and down the leg sometimes to the ankle and foot (sciatica) or radiating pain to the shoulder, arms or fingers, impaired bladder and bowel function, and numbness, tingling or weakness in the arms or legs. Another example of a soft tissue injury often seen in motor vehicle accidents is torn cartilage to the knee.
Each case involving soft tissue injuries needs to be evaluated on its own merits and sometimes the full extent of the injuries cannot be known until months after the accident. The typical course of a serious soft tissue case is emergency room treatment soon after the accident, consultation with an orthopedist, physical therapy or chiropractic without relief of symptoms, referral to a neurologist, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the affected areas and sometimes surgery. These kinds of cases can have substantial monetary value even though they involve "only" soft tissue.
No matter what kind of injury you may have sustained in a motor vehicle accident, it is vital that timely notifications be made to protect your rights. If you are a pedestrian struck by a hit and run vehicle, you should report the accident to the police within twenty-four hours. To ensure the collection of no fault benefits for your medical bills and lost wages you should report the accident in writing to your No Fault insurance carrier within thirty days of the accident. If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured or poorly insured vehicle and you want to take advantage of special provisions of your automobile insurance that let you recover money for pain and suffering from your own policy, then you must notify your insurance company as soon as "practicable", which basically means a soon as you become aware or should have become aware that a claim against your own policy may exist.
For all of these reasons you must consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after a motor vehicle accident, even if you just suspect that you may have a serious injury. In many cases you will not learn that for sure until weeks, if not months, after the accident. You should therefore have an experienced personal injury lawyer assist with the preparation of your No Fault Application for Benefits. You do not want to inadvertently put things there that can come back to haunt you later in a lawsuit for conscious pain and suffering.
I am extensively experienced in motor vehicle accident cases. Please call right away for a free consultation. Remember, there is no attorney fee unless and until a recovery is made in all accident case.
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