New York Car Accident Laws

New York's deadlines for filing car accident lawsuits, the state's rules on shared fault for a crash, and NY drivers' legal duties to report a car accident.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

After a traffic accident in New York, it's a good idea to get familiar with the different state laws that might come into play, including:

  • how New York's no-fault car insurance system can determine your options after a car accident
  • the deadlines for filing a car accident lawsuit in New York's civil court system (if you're able to step outside the no-fault system), and
  • when you need to report a car accident in New York.

Is New York a No-Fault Car Insurance State?

New York is one of around a dozen states that follow some version of a no-fault car insurance system. That means, if you're injured in a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other out of pocket losses related to your injuries, regardless of who caused the crash.

Only if your injuries reach a certain threshold of seriousness can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. Get the details on the New York no-fault car insurance rules.

What Compensation Can I Get After a New York Car Accident?

After a car accident in New York, your options for getting injury compensation depend on whether:

  • you're required to make a PIP claim with your own car insurance company under the state's no-fault rules, or
  • the seriousness of your injuries lets you bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver (you're not limited to the no-fault system, in other words)

What Does PIP Car Insurance Cover In New York?

Under New York law, a PIP claim can include the following benefits:

  • medical bills for "reasonable and necessary" accident-related medical care
  • lost work income (80 percent, up to $2,000 per month, for up to three years)
  • "reasonable and necessary" expenses (like household help and transportation to medical appointments), up to $25 a day, for up to a year after the accident, and
  • $2,000 in death benefits to the estate, if the covered driver dies as a result of the accident.

What If I'm Able to Make a Liability Car Accident Claim In New York?

If you're able to sue the at-fault driver in New York court (or make a third party car insurance claim directly with the at-fault driver's insurance company, under their liability coverage) you can receive compensation for a wider variety of losses (called "damages" in the language of the law), including:

  • payment of your accident-related medical bills
  • compensation for your mental and physical pain and suffering (a category of damages that can come with significant compensation, and which isn't available in a no-fault/PIP claim), and
  • lost income and other economic losses related to the accident.

Important note: New York no-fault car insurance applies to car accident injuries and related out of pocket losses, but not to vehicle damage. You can usually make a claim for vehicle damage directly against the at-fault driver's liability coverage, assuming they have it.

The New York Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit. If you miss the time limit set by this law and you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the deadline has already passed, the New York court system is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

In most situations, you have three years, starting from the date of the crash, to get your car accident case started in the New York court system. For the details, learn more about the car accident statute of limitations in New York.

Comparative Negligence in New York Car Accident Cases

If you're able to file a claim outside of no-fault, and the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, that driver (through their insurance carrier) will be on the legal hook for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

New York follows a "pure comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence:

  • the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and
  • the percentage of fault that belongs to each party.

Under the pure comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault.

How Does NY's Pure Comparative Fault Rule Work?

Suppose that your car accident lawsuit goes all the way to trial, and the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under New York's comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.

The comparative fault rule in New York applies even if you are found to be more responsible for the accident than the other driver. For instance, if the jury decides you are 90 percent at fault, you are still technically entitled to 10 percent of your total damages, but of course the other side of the coin is that you'll be on the hook for 90 percent of the other driver's damages.

(Not all states treat comparative fault this way. Most follow a "modified" comparative fault rule that only allows the plaintiff to receive damages if his or her fault was 50 percent or less. Once the plaintiff's fault exceeds 50 percent, the damages award drops to zero in most of these states.)

Will the New York Comparative Fault Rule Affect My Car Insurance Claim?

The rule binds New York judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and a car insurance claims adjuster will have the rule in mind when handling your claim. After all, the adjuster makes decisions based on what's likely to happen in court. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

Reporting a Car Accident in New York

If you're in a car accident in New York, and any person incurred more than $1,000 in property damage as a result of the crash, all drivers must file a Report of Motor Vehicle Accident form with the DMV no more than 10 days after the accident. Failure to do so can result in suspension of your driver's license.

If anyone was injured or killed in the crash, you must immediately notify the police, and an accident report must be filed with the DMV. It's a crime to leave the scene of a car accident that causes personal injury or death without taking legally-required steps like this.

What Kind of Car Insurance Do I Need In New York?

As we've discussed, New York is a no-fault car insurance state, but that's not all vehicle owners need to know about insurance requirements, especially after a car accident. Get the details on New York car insurance rules and requirements.

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