McCabe and Mack LLP has been providing legal services for over 125 years, and for countless clients we’ve served, an automobile accident was what prompted their first call. Because many personal injury lawsuits are the direct result of vehicular accidents, we asked Partner Kimberly Hunt Lee to share some answers to our most frequently asked questions on the topic.
Here’s more from our interview:
A. Suffering a serious injury as a result of an automobile accident is a requirement if you want to sue in New York State. Death, dismemberment, and loss of a fetus are examples of those situations which are considered “serious injuries” as defined by the State. Soft tissue injuries, on the other hand, do not automatically qualify. It’s not that you cannot sue for a soft tissue injury, but a defense attorney may get your case dismissed if there is no or insufficient medical proof that it qualifies. There are numerous categories of serious injury and it is important to talk to an attorney about your injuries following an accident.
A. You need to consult with an attorney to be sure that your injury meets the criteria, and it’s really a team effort. In addition to your lawyer, it’s imperative that you get your medical professionals involved. Some injuries may develop or intensify over time; even if they didn’t initially appear to be “serious”, they could evolve into something that warrants a lawsuit. For example, if you get into a car accident and break your arm – you clearly meet the threshold and you can sue. If you are in an accident and you hurt your neck, a soft tissue injury, may worsen over time and become a qualifying serious injury. You may be going through physical therapy in hopes of recovering and you may not need immediate surgery, but perhaps the physical therapy doesn’t bring you to full recovery and you realize you’ll need surgery later on. In New York State, you’ll have up to 3 years to commence a lawsuit after the date of the accident. It’s important to note that circumstances can change and your team of doctors and your attorney can continue to reassess the situation and the case.
A. Medical records are key! You want to be sure you have full documentation on any treatment that you need as a result of an accident. To a large degree, no-fault insurance from your own automobile policy typically covers your medical expenses resulting from a car accident, and doesn’t impact your private health insurance. The most important action step you can take of course is to treat and follow your doctor’s orders; don’t ignore them! I’ve seen some people who don’t have health insurance and are afraid to seek care from a hospital or orthopedist because it’s unaffordable, but you need to know that your care should be covered by no-fault, and you should go to the doctor and follow the recommended/prescribed course of treatment. It’s not that you’re just working to build a case, it’s that you want to do all you can to get better! But in doing so, be sure to keep accurate and detailed records in case you decide to pursue a lawsuit.
A. Personal injury cases are usually taken on a contingency fee basis, so you shouldn’t have to put out any money upfront for anything. In a case where your injury is still developing, and where it was someone else’s fault and you have some injuries but you aren’t certain they’ll meet the threshold, we’d evaluate the case over time, look to see if you have liability, and review your medical treatment periodically over the three-year period to see how it develops. Sometimes in a situation where you won’t qualify for a lawsuit, you can still negotiate with the insurance company. We do what we can to settle if it seems a lawsuit might not be quickly resolved.
A. The importance of having proper insurance in place cannot be overstated. There are so many levels of insurance, and as your assets increase it’s important to stay connected to a trusted insurance professional or broker who can help you be sure that your coverage is aligned with your unique situation.
No matter what your assets look like, though, it’s always important to have good limits on your automobile policy. The minimum in New York State is $25,000, which is actually not at all sufficient for most people. You can obviously increase those limits, and we also recommend an umbrella policy, which provides further asset protection in a relatively inexpensive way.
A. If you’re sued as the result of a car accident, your auto insurance (assuming there’s coverage) will afford you defense and indemnification up to the policy limits. For example, if you have a limit of $100,000, you’d be covered up to that amount. If you end up hurting someone in an accident and they have a horrible break of their leg which requires open reduction and internal fixation and multiple surgeries, it may exceed that $100,000 – but if you own a home with an umbrella policy, you’d have the necessary additional coverage. Think of it as an actual umbrella that goes over your house and your cars – an extra layer of protection from external forces, covering you when you most need it.
As soon as you’re served with notice that you’re being sued, you’d turn it over to your insurance company and they will hire legal counsel to represent you. You won’t have to pay anything out of pocket. There are situations where people hire their own attorneys; most would do so at an hourly rate. But for routine car accident cases you wouldn’t need your own private counsel.
Partner Kimberly Hunt Lee of McCabe and Mack LLP has many areas of expertise; among them litigation/insurance defense, personal injury – plaintiff, subrogation, appellate practice, and civil rights/police liability. If you think you have a personal injury case, call to set up a consultation with her: 845.486.6894.