1. I just got into a car accident. What should I do?
There are a few things that you should do immediately after being involved in an accident. First, call the police and have a police report completed. This preserves information about the accident and the people involved. Second, take photos of the damage to your vehicle and of the damage to each vehicle involved while still at the scene of the accident. Third, exchange personal contact and insurance information with the operator of each vehicle involved in the accident and write down the license plate number for each vehicle involved. Fourth, call your insurance company and report the accident. If you do not, there is a chance that your insurance company will not provide coverage for damage to the vehicles involved or for lawsuits that may be filed against you relating to injuries sustained by others in the accident. Fifth, complete a no-fault application with your insurance company.
2. What is a "No-Fault" application?
A no-fault application is a form that is provided to you by your own insurance company and relates to its obligation to pay for the costs of medical treatment and lost wages for you and the people in your vehicle as a result of the accident. Your own insurance company provides those benefits no matter who is at fault for the accident—hence the name "no-fault." This form must be filed with your insurance company within thirty (30) days after your accident.
3. How much time do I have to bring a lawsuit if I am injured in an accident?
Typically you have three years to begin a lawsuit for injuries you sustain in a vehicle accident. That time is shorter if you will be suing a governmental agency or government-related entity. If you are suing a governmental agency or government-related entity, you must serve a notice of your claim on such agency or entity within ninety (90) days after your accident in order to preserve your right to file a lawsuit, which must then typically be filed within one (1) year after the ninety day period expires.
4. Do I need a lawyer?
You should contact an attorney immediately after being involved in a vehicle accident. The attorney can help you complete the necessary paperwork for your no-fault benefits and can help you determine whether or not to file a lawsuit. In New York, you need to have a "serious injury" in order to maintain a lawsuit for your vehicle accident related injuries, and an attorney can explain to you what that means and determine whether you meet that threshold. Most attorneys will not charge you for that consultation. If you retain an attorney to commence a lawsuit, the attorney is typically paid on a contingency. A contingency means that the attorney receives a percentage of the money that is paid for your damages once your case is settled or decided after a trial. If the case does not settle, or if you are not successful at trial, then the attorney does not receive any compensation for pursuing your claim.