If you were injured in a New York motor vehicle crash, it is natural to expect to hold someone responsible. After all, you were driving along minding your own business, and now you may be suffering from debilitating injuries that significantly affect your ability to perform activities of daily living.
To hold another motorist responsible for pain and suffering you may be experiencing, you’ll need to show that the person was “liable.” In New York the question of whether another person is liable for personal injuries can sometimes get complicated.
New York is a “no-fault” state, meaning that certain limited expenses may be paid by the insurance company, which might not necessarily be the insurance company for the at-fault motorist. At first glance, this may not make much sense: if another person caused my injuries, why isn’t their insurance company paying for all medical treatment and lost wages? While counterintuitive, that is the compromise of New York’s no-fault system: Motorists are afforded prompt reimbursement for certain limited medical expenses and lost wages in exchange for a limited right to sue “in tort” for pain and suffering.
For this reason, to recover for pain and suffering after a New York car crash, you must generally show a “serious injury.” While some courts differ on whether a showing of “serious injury” is technically an element of liability or damages, there is no question that, in most cases, you must demonstrate a “serious injury” to recover for pain and suffering. An experienced New York personal injury attorney can help explain the meaning of this term, which can sometimes be unclear when applied to the unique circumstances of a particular case.
Another component of liability is negligence. You must show that your injuries were caused when another motorist breached a duty of reasonable care, resulting in your injuries.
Just because a car wreck happened does not necessarily mean that another person can be liable for injuries that may result from that wreck. The crash itself is not enough. In oversimplified terms, you must show that the crash happened because someone was not careful.
In most cases, it is relatively easy to determine whether another motorist was negligent, resulting in liability. For example, New York courts have held that a failure to follow the rules of the road, as embodied in the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, is negligence per se. Because these rules of the road are “statutes”, they can be used to determine the standard of reasonable care in a particular circumstance and failure to adhere to that standard of care, when it causes injury, is negligence.
For example, if a motorist failed to stop at a stop sign in violation of the rules of the road, resulting in the injury of a motorist or pedestrian who had the right-of-way, that will likely be considered negligence per se. The concept of negligence per se is a powerful tool that can be used to help establish liability.
The law also recognizes “presumptions”. For example, New York courts have recognized a presumption of negligence when one vehicle rear ends another vehicle. A presumption can be “rebutted”, meaning that it can be overcome with certain persuasive evidence that a rear-end collision was not the result of negligence but instead something else. For example, while evidence that the rear-ended motorist was distracted by a text message will not overcome the presumption of negligence, if there is evidence that the rear-ended motorist experienced a sudden and unexpected medical emergency—such as a syncopal or fainting event—that could potentially be considered a defense to any claims of personal injury. In New York, this kind of claim of sudden medical emergency is considered an “affirmative defense.”
The person bringing a personal injury claim, known as the “plaintiff,” generally bears the burden of proof (and must establish the elements of their claim through evidence). When an affirmative defense is raised by the party opposing a personal injury claim, known as the “defendant,” that defendant must come forward with evidence to support the affirmative defense.
For example, if a defendant-motorist were to claim that the accident was the result of a sudden medical emergency and not negligence, they would have to establish, through competent or expert medical evidence, the emergency and its unforeseeable nature. If the rear-ended motorist were to come forward with such evidence, it might be possible for a jury to find that the rear-ended motorist was not negligent, and thus not liable. For the injured motorist, this is obviously a cause for concern.
The experienced personal injury attorneys at William Mattar, P.C. have extensive experience analyzing cases on behalf of injured motorists and helping them anticipate and defeat any claim that the person who caused the car crash and resulting injuries was not negligent because of an affirmative defense like the “sudden medical emergency.”
After a car crash causes injury on New York roads, time is of the essence. Evidence must be preserved. The sooner an investigation is undertaken, the better the chance that liability can be successfully established.
If you were injured in a New York car crash and are looking for an experienced personal injury attorney, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at William Mattar, P.C.