After a car crash, nearly everyone experiences shock, panic, and overwhelm, especially after a major accident that results in serious injuries. In this state of mind, minor tasks like remembering the details of what happened during the crash can be difficult. But determining who was at fault–and getting it right–is incredibly important after an accident. Unfortunately, the police that arrive at the scene or the insurance adjuster who handles your claim may not always get it right. Below I’ll discuss how fault is legally determined and when it’s a good idea to connect with a Northern New Jersey car accident lawyer. And remember, if you have questions about your case, Buttafuoco & Associates is always happy to provide free consultations.
How Fault is Determined in New Jersey
As you likely know, after a car accident, the police conduct a thorough investigation at the scene–but is this always enough to determine fault? During the investigation process, police examine the damage to vehicles and take statements from drivers, passengers, and other witnesses to help them determine what happened. They may also test for alcohol or drugs if a driver is suspected of being intoxicated. Finally, they create a police report which includes a diagram of what they believe happened during the accident. It also provides statements and contact and insurance details for the drivers involved. In some, but not all cases, a police report will contain the officer’s written views on how the accident happened.
As you can imagine, it is possible for police reports to be incorrect. Taking your own photos and getting contact information from witnesses is a good idea, as this additional documentation can be extremely helpful if you decide you need legal help.
It’s also a good idea to get your hands on the police report as soon as possible in case it contains errors, flaws, or misinformation. Police reports are also helpful to lawyers, in case you happen to need a Northern New Jersey car accident attorney. Something important to keep in mind, however, is that you will not automatically receive a copy of the police report. To receive one promptly, you will have to pay a fee; otherwise you’ll need to wait for the insurance adjustor to obtain one, which can cause issues if any of the details are incorrect.
What About New Jersey No Fault Laws?
If you’re familiar with New Jersey no-fault laws, you may be wondering whether you even need to bother with assigning fault. Under New Jersey law, you must first use your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance, regardless of who is at fault for the accident. Your own insurer will then cover your medical expenses.
Some people opt to have additional PIP insurance for other losses including wage loss, death benefits, funeral expenses, and the expense of hiring someone to do household chores that you can no longer do after your accident.
The need to establish fault comes into play in several scenarios:
Basic Insurance Policies
First, if you want to recover compensation beyond what your PIP allows, an accurate determination of fault is essential. For example, damages like pain and suffering may or may not be included in your auto insurance policy. If you have a Basic policy (the lowest amount of insurance you can legally carry in New Jersey), you have a limited right to sue, so even if the other driver was at fault for your accident, you cannot sue them for pain and suffering (non-economic damages).
The one exception to this is if you have sustained an injury that qualifies as serious under New Jersey law. Serious injuries include loss of a body part, loss of a fetus, or the death of a loved one. A displaced fracture, a permanent injury that does not heal well enough to properly function, and severe scarring and disfigurement are other examples of injuries that are considered serious under the law.
In the case of a serious injury, a car accident lawyer in Northern New Jersey can be incredibly important to recovering the compensation you need to make a complete recovery. If you have sustained a serious injury, Buttafuoco & Associates would be happy to consult with you about how to deal with insurance companies and be properly compensated free of charge.
Standard Insurance Policies
If you have a Standard insurance policy, which costs significantly more than a basic policy, you can choose from limited or unlimited right to sue. However, unlimited right to sue is often too expensive for most drivers to comfortably afford, especially when a Standard policy already carries a hefty price tag. The benefit of having unlimited right to sue, of course, comes into play in a serious accident situation, and allows you to sue for pain and suffering regardless of the severity of your injuries.
Additionally, New Jersey operates on what is known as a “comparative negligence” model for all personal injury cases, where your compensation is dependent on the degree to which you were at fault for your accident. If you are determined to be over 50 percent at fault for your crash, you can’t recover any damages. If you are determined to be 20 percent at fault, your compensation will subtract the percent to which you are at fault, in this case equalling 80 percent of your total damages.
Keep in mind that insurance companies are legally permitted to determine your percentage of fault and reduce your payment accordingly. And since insurance companies are businesses, they will try their best to avoid paying a victim, even if you require significant compensation in order to fully recover.
If you disagree with an insurer’s determination, you can appeal the decision on your own, but if you are struggling to work with your insurance company or feel that they are unfairly refusing to pay what you are owed, it could be in your best interest to get in touch with a Northern New Jersey car accident attorney.
Working with a Lawyer to Determine Fault
If you are concerned that the at-fault party has been incorrectly identified on a police report, that your percentage of fault is incorrect, or if your claim is being denied outright, working with a lawyer can give you access to further expertise that can help your case.
For one, lawyers often work with accident reconstruction experts, who conduct their own (significantly more thorough) investigation. They will review the police report, speak with witnesses, and carefully examine photos of the accident scene. They can also gain access to red light and surveillance camera footage that may offer clues to who was at fault. Additionally, they can check cell phone records to determine whether anyone was talking on their phone or texting during the accident. After their investigation, they will prepare a thorough report and present it to your lawyer, who can use it to gain leverage over insurance companies. If the case cannot be settled with the insurer and goes to court, the accident reconstruction expert may testify.
A Lawyer Can Help
As you can see, determining who is at fault in an accident is often incredibly complicated, not to mention stressful. Working with a car accident lawyer serving Northern New Jersey can be a good decision if you need additional expertise and someone to advocate for you against insurance companies or fight for your rights in court.
At Buttafuoco & Associates, we aspire to treat each and every client we work with like a member of our own family. We will work hard to help you get the compensation you need to recover from your injuries.
Have questions? For a free consultation, get in touch with us today at 1-800-NOW-HURT.