When I talk to clients who have just been in a motor vehicle accident, they are often confused and overwhelmed. They are dealing with the physical and emotional toll of the accident and don’t have the time or energy to sift through filing no-fault claims, contacting the other driver’s insurance company etc. Even clients who come to our office from other law firms are sometimes uncertain whether they have a no-fault claim, who the other driver’s insurance carrier is, and what the status of their no fault and liability claims are. They see ads on TV promising six-figure settlements and feel anxious that they are missing out on what they are owed. So when I talk to a new client that’s been in a motor vehicle accident, I like to take a moment and explain the lay of the land.
Step One: File A No Fault Claim
First and foremost, almost everyone who has been in a car accident should file a no-fault claim as quickly as possible. These claims are typically filed with your own insurance carrier, but that will not always be the case. No-Fault benefits will cover up to $50,000 in medical care, lost wages, and other economic expenses regardless of whether you were at fault in the accident or not. You don’t need to go to Court or file a lawsuit, you just need to make a claim, follow up on it, and at times submit necessary documentation to demonstrate your need for various benefits.
When we sign up a new client the first thing we do is confirm that they have a no-fault claim going, and if not, we file one on their behalf immediately. It really helps to have trained legal professionals take care of this sort of thing for you so you can focus on getting better.
Step Two: Pursue A Liability Claim
When people think about pursuing a “case” after an automobile accident, it is the liability claim that they typically have in mind. And while there are many commercials on TV from attorneys who handle liability claims, most clients who come to our office do not understand the basics of these claims. So here too, I like to explain some basic concepts to new clients.
The Serious Injury Threshold
The first thing you need to understand about liability claims is that not everyone is entitled to pursue one. Because No-Fault provides medical care, lost wages, and other economic benefits up to $50,000 regardless of fault, New York has erected a barrier for liability claims. This barrier is referred to as the “serious injury threshold.”
While the “serious injury threshold” is a complicated legal definition, the long and short of it is that if you have only minor injuries that do not affect your day-to-day life, you will not be able to pursue a claim for liability in court. Even when pursuing out-of-court settlements, insurance adjusters are keenly aware of the serious injury threshold and will not offer much compensation if it does not appear to be met.
In some cases, it will be obvious that the threshold is met. However, in many cases it will be less clear—particularly in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Part of my job in these cases is to help you show that you clear this threshold by obtaining your medical records and other evidence and presenting this evidence in a persuasive manner.
Insurance Policy Limits
The second thing to understand about pursuing liability claims is that you will be limited by the amount of liability insurance that the other driver carries. In New York, drivers are only required to carry a “25/50” policy which will limit the most any one person can collect on the policy to $25,000.
What does this mean? No matter how serious your injuries are—the most the insurance company will pay you is $25,000.
At the Law Office of Kenneth Hiller, we deal with policy limits in two ways.
First, we will conduct an investigation to determine if the other driver has the ability to pay additional money on top of the insurance policy limit. We have a variety of tools we can use to investigate whether an individual has assets, but the investigation will typically start by determining whether they own any land or property by pulling public records.
Second, we can help you determine if you qualify for SUM/UIM benefits. These benefits are paid by your own insurance policy and exist to help compensate you when an underinsured driver seriously injures you. Not everyone qualifies for these benefits. However, if you do qualify for these benefits, they can be a lifesaver. It’s important to note that there are time limits to pursuing SUM/UIM benefits so do not delay in contacting our office.
The Timeline of a Liability Claim
The last basic component of a liability claim that people are typically confused about is how long they usually take. Unfortunately, there is no consistent answer to this question. Each case is different. Some settle much more quickly than others for a variety of reasons.
However, in general, it will take anywhere from 2-4 months to conduct an initial investigation. If your medical condition is straightforward, settlement negotiations may begin at that point. If not, we may need to monitor your medical condition for a period of time to make sure that we can appropriately value your claim. Most cases will need some medical monitoring to avoid a situation where we find out after the case has settled that your injuries are much more serious than we initially thought. You only get one chance to settle a claim.
Of course not all cases settle. If you are not offered an adequate offer from the insurance company, the only way to get you compensated fully will be through litigation. This can obviously significantly lengthen the amount of time it takes to get you compensated.
In sum, it’s rather impossible to tell new clients how long it will take to settle or resolve their claim. However, what the Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller can promise is to move quickly with the initial investigation, to maintain open and honest lines of communication throughout the process, and to help you make fully informed decisions about how to proceed with your case.