There are two separate issues when dealing with a car accident. One is personal injury and the other is vehicle damage. Let’s start with personal injury. If you are the injured passenger in a car accident, you have an easier case than the driver, or any other type of personal injury plaintiff, because the passenger usually does not have to worry about proving liability; in most cases, one of the drivers will be liable.
You will collect the drivers’ information, document the accident and turn the information over to your insurance company. Most states require basic car insurance and the insurance company will try to figure out who is at fault in the accident. There are about a dozen states, including New Jersey and New York that have a no-fault car insurance system. With a no-fault system or PIP (Personal Injury Protection), each insurance company compensates its own policyholders for the cost of minor injuries, lost income and damages regardless of who was at fault in the accident. In many cases, where there are minor injuries, that’s enough.
New Jersey drivers have the option of choosing between the Limitation on Lawsuit (LOL) (formerly known as the verbal threshold) or no Limitation on Lawsuit option when they purchase their policy. The No Limitation on Lawsuit coverage option allows one driver or passenger (if the passenger does not have their own automobile insurance) to file a liability claim against (or sue) another driver for the full range of damages after an accident. If you chose the LOL option, a lawsuit is only possible if the accident resulted in a loss of a body part; significant disfigurement or significant scarring; displaced fractures; loss of a fetus; permanent injury (injury to a body part that has not and will not heal to function normally), or death.
Vehicle damage, on the other hand, is not covered under PIP. You can file a claim with your own insurance company if you have Collision or Comprehensive coverage or you can file a claim against the other driver for cost of damage to your vehicle. In this instance, you will have to prove the other driver is at fault.
These same insurance regulations apply to taxis and now to ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Uber recently updated its insurance coverage after several lawsuits. In addition to requiring all of drivers to have their own insurance, Uber provides supplemental insurance coverage, but only while the app is on. When the Uber app is off, the driver is covered by their own personal car insurance. When the Uber app is turned on, a low level of liability insurance becomes active. When a trip is accepted and you, the passenger, enter the vehicle, a higher level of coverage kicks in and remains active until you exit the vehicle.
On another note, New Jersey has a comparative negligence law. This means that, if you are suing or making a claim against any driver in the accident for personal injuries or property damage, the finder of fact (jury, judge or arbitrator) must find that the driver you are suing is at least 51% at fault, or your claim will be dismissed. It also means that, even if someone you are suing is mostly at fault, if you are a driver involved in the accident, the finder of fact (jury, judge or arbitrator) may determine that you are partially at fault for causing the accident. In that case, a percentage of the value of your damages will be deducted from the final award.
If you’re involved in an accident:
Get the names and contact info for all witnesses and involved parties
Take pictures of the accident scene immediately – lots of pictures from lot of angles
Call the police and file an official report – New Jersey require that you report any accident that causes more than $500 in damage
If you have any questions about how to handle the claims, I am happy to discuss your case in detail via email or phone. Please don’t hesitate to call me at 973-509-8500 x213 or email me at: LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.