New York Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

Learn about New York personal injury law, including how long you have to file suit, where your case will be filed, what happens if you're partly to blame for your injuries, and more.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 5/22/2024

If you've been hurt in an accident caused by someone else's carelessness, it's crucial to understand how state law applies to you. New York state's civil code covers the personal injury lawsuit process from beginning to end--everything from the deadline for filing a case, to the rules a jury must follow when calculating a plaintiff's damages. Make sure you know the basics so you can preserve your legal rights as you seek fair compensation.

New York's Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits

All states place limits on the amount of time you have to start a lawsuit in civil court. These laws are called statutes of limitations, and there are different deadlines depending on the type of case you want to file.

In New York, the statute of limitations for most personal injury cases is three years. That means you must begin any lawsuit within three years of the date you were hurt.

(N.Y. C.P.L.R Law § 214 (2024).)

The Consequences of Missing New York's Personal Injury Lawsuit Filing Deadline

if you fail to get to the courthouse before the three-year window closes, you'll almost certainly lose the right to seek compensation from the person who caused your injuries.

A court will look at whether you've missed the filing deadline before they consider the specifics of your case. This means you can't get more time by pointing out that you were badly injured, that you've suffered serious financial hardship, or that the defendant is obviously responsible.

You should also keep in mind that the lawsuit filing deadline can be important even if you don't think you're going to sue anyone. One key reason individuals and insurance companies agree to negotiated settlements is their desire to avoid time-consuming and costly lawsuits. This concern gives you valuable leverage as you negotiate for compensation, You lose this leverage once the statute of limitations runs out. So you should always diligently pursue your claim with the statute of limitations deadline in mind.

Extensions of New York's Statute of Limitations Deadline

In rare cases, New York law allows an injured person additional time to file a lawsuit. For example, New York modifies its three-year filing deadline if, at the time of their injury, a person was either:

  • under the age of 18, or
  • suffering from a serious mental health condition.

In these situations, the three-year deadline is counted from the time the person gains (or regains) their ability to make legal decisions on their own behalf. Even in these cases, though, a person must usually file a lawsuit within ten years of their injury. So it's still possible for time to run out while a person is still a child or suffering from mental illness.

New York also allows additional time if the prospective defendant in a lawsuit:

  • is not in New York state when they harm the victim
  • leaves New York after the incident and does not return for at least four months, or
  • is using a fake name that the victim doesn't know.

In these situations, the time the person was out of state or using a fake name will generally be subtracted when calculating the statute of limitations deadline.

(N.Y. C.P.L.R Law § 207 (2024); N.Y. C.P.L.R Law § 208 (2024).)

How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit In New York

A civil lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files a complaint with the court. The complaint lays out the basics of the plaintiff's case, including:

  • the facts showing how the defendant injured the plaintiff
  • the legal claims the plaintiff is making against the defendant, and
  • the remedy (for example, the amount of monetary damages) the plaintiff is seeking.

The plaintiff must also ask the court to issue a summons. The plaintiff is responsible for notifying the defendant of the lawsuit by serving them with the summons and a copy of the complaint. The lawsuit can't begin until the defendant has received this notification.

The website for New York's state courts provides a sample civil complaint and a summons form.

Where to File Your Case

In general, personal injury lawsuits are filed in state court, and are heard in the municipality that is either:

  • where the defendant lives or does business, or
  • where the plaintiff was injured.

This isn't always the case--for example, if the plaintiff and the defendant live in different states, and there's more than $75,000 at stake, the defendant can ask to have the case moved to federal court.

Which Court Will Hear Your Case

Once you know the city and county where you'll be filing your lawsuit, you'll need to choose the right court to hear your case. New York state has several different courts that hear personal injury cases, depending on where you live and how much money is at stake.

  • Justice courts, also called town and village courts, are for civil cases where the plaintiff is seeking up to $3,000 in damages.
  • City court is for civil cases where the plaintiff is seeking up to $15,000 in damages. (In parts of Long Island, these kinds of cases are handled by District Courts)
  • County court is for civil cases where the plaintiff is seeking up to $25,000 in damages.
  • Supreme court is for civil cases where the amount of money at stake exceeds the limits of the state's other trial courts. (It's called "supreme court" because it's the highest-level trial court in the state—it's not an appeals court like the United States Supreme Court.)

The civil courts in New York City operate a little differently:

  • The Civil Court of the City of New York hears cases where the plaintiff is seeking $50,000 or less in total damages.
  • If the amount of money at stake exceeds the limit for New York City Civil Court, the case will be heard in New York City's Supreme Court.

Throughout the state, you have the option of suing in Small Claims Court. These courts use simplified rules that make it easier and more efficient for people to handle their own cases without hiring an attorney.

As the name suggests, small claims courts are only for cases that involve relatively small amounts of money. So, for example, if you bring your case in one of New York's city courts, you can use the small claims system if you're suing for $5,000 or less.

If you're unsure where to file your case, or have other questions about the civil lawsuit process, you will almost certainly benefit from consulting with a local personal injury attorney. Advice from an attorney will be particularly important if you've been seriously injured or your case presents complicated legal issues.

When the Plaintiff Is Partially Responsible for Their Injuries

Determining fault in a personal injury case involves more than just asking if the defendant is legally responsible or not. A judge or jury must also decide how to divide responsibility between the plaintiff and the defendant.

In New York, a plaintiff's compensation is reduced in proportion to their responsibility for their own injuries. This is called the "pure comparative negligence" rule.

(N.Y. C.P.L.R Law § 1411 (2024).)

Personal Injury Compensation Under New York's Pure Comparative Negligence Rule

Let's say you're in a car accident where the other driver made an illegal left turn in front of you, but you were driving a few miles an hour over the posted speed limit. A jury decides that your vehicle repairs, medical bills, and other damages add up to $10,000.

The jury also decides that the defendant's bad driving makes them 90% responsible for the accident, and that your failure to obey the speed limit makes you 10% responsible.

Under New York's pure comparative negligence rule, your compensation will be reduced to $9,000--the original $10,000, minus the $1,000 that represents your share of fault for the accident.

Unlike many states, New York allows plaintiffs to recover damages even if they are more at fault than the defendant. So, for example, imagine that the jury decides you were going so fast that you are 75% responsible for the accident. You could still recover $2,5000, representing the 25% of your damages that the jury attributes to the other driver. (Of course, if you were primarily responsible for the accident, you could also be facing a lawsuit brought by the other driver, or a counterclaim in your own case.)

Pure Comparative Negligence and Insurance Settlements

While courts in New York are obligated to follow the pure comparative negligence rule, there is no law requiring its use by insurance companies when they calculate settlement offers. But, as we discussed above, settlement negotiations before a lawsuit are heavily influenced by how much compensation an injured person might receive if they do decide to sue. So, because of New York's comparative negligence rules, insurance settlements will generally be lower in accidents where the injured person is partially at fault.

That said, keep in mind that many factors influence the amount of an insurance settlement (or a lawsuit settlement reached after a case has already been filed). And insurance companies expect to negotiate after making an initial settlement offer. So you aren't obligated to accept an offer you think is unfairly low, even if you share some blame for the accident. If you think you need help negotiating a fair settlement, you may want to work with a lawyer even if you don't plan to file a lawsuit.

New York's No-Fault Insurance Rules for Car Accident Cases

If you're injured in a car accident in New York, your options to recover compensation could be limited. Under the state's no-fault car insurance rule, injured drivers must turn first to their own insurance coverage to cover their medical bills and other economic losses. This rule applies regardless of who caused the crash.

To step outside the confines of no-fault and file a liability claim (or personal injury lawsuit), you must be able to show that you've suffered significant injuries or incurred significant economic losses.

Under New York's "serious injury" threshold, you can bring a lawsuit if you've suffered, for example:

  • significant disfigurement
  • loss of a limb, or
  • permanent damage to an organ.

There are other injuries that entitle someone to file a lawsuit, but all of them involve severe injuries. For example, you can sue over a short-term injury only if it leaves you virtually incapacitated for at least 90 days in the 180 days after the accident. A person's estate can also sue on behalf of someone who has been fatally injured.

In addition to this medical threshold, New York also allows someone to sue an at-fault driver if they've suffered more than $50,000 in economic losses.

One important consequence of the no-fault system is that it limits people's ability to recover non-economic damages from at-fault drivers. If your accident is handled through insurance, you can only recover your direct economic losses--for example, the cost of your medical bills and repairs to your vehicle. To recover damages beyond your economic losses--for example, compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the accident--you must meet the state's requirements for filing a lawsuit.

(N.Y. Ins. Law § 5102 (2024); N.Y. Ins. Law § 5104 (2024).)

Personal Injury Lawsuits Against New York Dog Owners

New York's dog-bite laws create a different set of rules from the ones that apply to other kinds of personal injury cases. In particular, New York has special liability rules if a victim wants to sue a dog owner for injuries inflicted by their pet.

In general, New York dog owners can be held strictly liable for victims' medical costs (but not their other damages). Under strict liability, a victim doesn't have to show that the owner was negligent. They just have to show that the owner's dog inflicted their injuries in an unprovoked attack.

It's also possible for an owner to be held strictly liable for all of a victim's damages, not just their medical bills. But this broader liability only applies if the owner knew, in advance of the attack, that their dog had dangerous tendencies.

Suing the Government in New York State

If you want to file a personal injury lawsuit against a government employee or agency in New York (whether at the state or local level), you'll need to play by a different set of rules. For example, lawsuits against the state of New York, as well as certain state-related entities, must be filed in a special court--the Court of Claims.

In addition, you'll have to meet tighter deadlines if you're considering a lawsuit against the state of New York, a municipal government, or a government agency:

  • Within 90 days of the incident, you must file a document called a notice of claim with the state or local government agency that you may want to sue.
  • Within one year and 90 days, you must file any lawsuit related to the incident.

Because injury claims against government entities or employees can be so challenging, you'll probably benefit from consulting with an attorney early in the process.

(N.Y. C.P.L.R Law § 217-A (2024).)

New York Does Not Cap Damages In Personal Injury Cases

Many states have laws that put a limit (or "cap") on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive from a lawsuit. Some states have an overall cap, and others limit compensation for particular kinds of damages (like pain and suffering) or particular kinds of cases (like medical malpractice).

New York does not cap damages in personal injury lawsuits. A defendant can file an appeal if they think they are being required to pay an excessive amount. But they would be arguing that the damages are excessive given the facts of the case.

Next Steps In Your New York Personal Injury Case

Whether you've been injured in New York, or you're facing a lawsuit in the state, it's important to understand your rights and obligations under state law. As we've seen, the rules for personal injury cases can be complicated. If you have questions about your particular situation, and how the law applies to you, you may benefit from consulting with an attorney.

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