After a car accident, you may have several primary concerns. Obviously, the first concern is getting any medical care you need to deal with the injuries you have suffered. Once you are out of immediate medical danger, however, you may wonder what happens next. You may have permanent injuries, or a stack of medical bills, or a gap in your bank account since you weren't able to get a paycheck due to all the work you missed while recovering. So, what happens and what are your rights? This is an important question and not one with a simple answer.
Understanding Fault and No Fault Car Accident Rules
To understand what your rights are after a car accident, you first need to determine whether you live in a fault state or a no fault state. There are 12 no fault states in the US:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
The other states are referred to as "tort" or liability states.
What Are Your Rights in a Fault State?
If you live in a fault state, then your rights depend on who was at fault:
- If you were at fault, you can only recover damages from your own insurer. This means you recover money to pay for property damage only if you have collision coverage. You also recover damages for medical bills only if you have purchased medical injury protection.
- If you were not at fault, you recover damages from the party who caused the accident. You may be offered payment out-of-court from his insurance company and decide to settle. Settlement can happen either before you file any type of lawsuit or can happen after you file a lawsuit, at any point before the jury comes back with a verdict. You may also go to court, prove negligence and let the jury decide what damages you get. Damages can include money for lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
What Are Your Rights in a No Fault State?
In a no fault state, your rights depend on how serious your injuries are:
- If your injuries aren't "serious" as defined by the law, then you cannot sue, no matter who was actually at fault. You can only recover medical bills and lost wages from your own insurance company under personal injury protection (PIP)
- If your injuries are serious and you were at fault, you get medical bills and lost wages anyway- up to the limits of your PIP policy.
- If your injuries are serious and the other party was at fault, then you can sue him and recover your damages for pain and suffering. "Serious" injuries usually include injuries that are permanent and/or that interfere with your ability to lead a normal life. Disfigurement, becoming paralyzed or other related injuries of an equally grave nature all count.
Once you are out of medical danger, your first call after an accident should be to an experienced car accident attorney in your state. He can explain what the laws are that apply to you and can help you to gather evidence and information to make a claim and recover your damages.