Most, if not all, of you reading this article have been driving down some street at some time or another and saw the aftermath of a car accident, or maybe we even saw the accident happen. Perhaps you drove by slowly with the rest of the traffic stealing a glance, recognizing that somebody was just involved with an accident. You pass the scene of the accident and accelerate away with the rest of the traffic and head home, or to work or to wherever you are going and you get on with your life. Maybe you even forget about the accident as soon as you change the radio station.
Well, the reality is that the people who were in that accident you drove by often are not able to forget about the accident with the changing of a radio station. Rather, sometimes the people who were in that accident are left with reminders of that accident for the rest of their lives, or at best inconvenienced with a maze of insurance claims and medical treatment.
Unfortunately, automobile accidents are common on our increasingly crowded New Jersey roadways. An automobile accident can cause serious personal injury resulting in the loss of considerable, financial income and more significantly, permanent and disabling physical conditions. Regardless of the type of car you were driving or the nature of the physical injury or the facts and circumstances of how the accident occurred, there are common issues all individuals involved in automobile accidents should know and consider in order to protect their rights and interests.
First, many of your rights to consider after an automobile accident are set forth in the policy of insurance related to your vehicle. Some may find the terms of insurance policies complicated and consultation with an attorney may be beneficial. A close examination must be given to any and all insurance policies that may be available to you so that you are aware of your available coverage. In a simple two car accident, lawyers may consider the insurance policy of the car at fault (called the “tortfeasor”), the insurance policy of the other car which was hit, and any insurance policy which may cover the person who was hurt in the accident. People unfamiliar with insurance law normally assume that the car which was at fault should pay all costs; but that is not necessarily how insurance policies operate. For example in certain cases, you may have higher limits and more coverage available to you from your own policy than that being offered from the tortfeasor. In such a case, you may be able to seek monies and recovery from both insurance policies. Alternately, you may have no insurance coverage at all and then are left with recovery from the tortfeasor’s policy only. It is very important to remember that insurance policies are complex contracts between the “insured” and the “insurance company” which may require close examination and scrutiny by a skilled attorney or professional.
Second, you generally have the right to receive prompt medical treatment for your injuries and prompt payment for related medical services, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. You may also be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering under certain circumstances. Your status as a driver, passenger or pedestrian normally affects the limits and types of coverage available to you following an accident. A brief discussion of these three categories is useful at this point;
1. Driver – If you are a driver of the automobile, you must be a licensed, automobile driver. You may be the owner of the car involved in the accident. In New Jersey, if you own a car then you must maintain automobile insurance coverage. If you are a driver with your own automobile policy, then your personal policy is a potential source of benefits to you. If you are a licensed driver with no automobile insurance policy of your own (because you do not own a car), the insurance policy of the car you are driving is a potential source of benefits If you are a driver with no automobile insurance policy (because you chose not to buy insurance for your car), you will very likely be penalized and prohibited from recovering for pain and suffering and/or medical expense benefits.
2. Passenger – If you are a passenger of the automobile, you generally look to the insurance policy which covers that vehicle for medical benefits if you do not maintain your own automobile insurance policy. If, however, you happen to maintain your own automobile insurance policy, then that personal policy will likely provide you with medical benefits and may provide you with greater and additional protection for recovery for personal injury losses.
3. Pedestrian – If you are a pedestrian, you were neither driving nor a passenger in the car when the accident occurred. Perhaps you were walking along a sidewalk or crossing a street at an intersection. As a pedestrian injured by an automobile you may be entitled to medical benefits under your own automobile insurance policy. However, if you do not maintain your own automobile insurance policy you may be able to secure medical benefits through the Unsatisfied Claim and Judgment Fund administered by the New Jersey Guaranty Association. The larger point is that despite the fact that you may not have your own insurance, you still have the ability to secure medical benefits and receive prompt medical treatment.
It is very important to note that in all of these 3 categories, lawyers will look to and consider the insurance policy of the “tortfeasor” who caused the accident. In the unlikely event, that the vehicle had no insurance policy, then you need to look to your personal automobile insurance policy for coverage. In the more unlikely event, that you do not have any personal auto insurance and the other car was uninsured, you may be completely uninsured. In such a scenario, the state has a fund called NJPLIGA (New Jersey Property-Liability Insurance Guaranty Association), which provides some coverage, but only if you satisfy the deadlines and requirements. The purpose of this fund is to provide medical treatment to uninsured persons involved in automobile accidents. You may also be able to recover pain and suffering damages form the Fund if you do not maintain insurance and the vehicle that caused your injuries is also uninsured.
Third, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Your health is far more precious and valuable than any sum of money, lawsuit or financial settlement. If you are injured in an automobile accident, the laws of the state of New Jersey and insurance law provide for prompt and reasonable medical treatment. Therefore, medical treatment is available to you regardless of your relationship to the car or any other such criteria such as age, gender, religion, national origin, citizenship or any of the numerous classifications our society uses. Often times, many people may not seek medical treatment and try to live with the pain because they fear they will not be able to pay for medical services. Please go to the hospital or your doctor if you feel any pain or discomfort after an automobile accident. If you happen to make a complete medical recovery, then you are one of the lucky ones.
Fourth, you may need to consult with an attorney to, at least, learn about what rights and benefits may be available to you after the automobile accident. You should not hesitate to meet with a lawyer out of misguided fears or a general predisposition against lawsuits. A simple meeting may not lead to litigation. If you are receiving your coverage and benefits, then you may not need the help of a lawyer; but if you are hurt and not getting the necessary medical treatment and benefits you need, you may need some help. Whether or not a lawsuit will be filed against the “tortfeasor” is a question dependent upon various variables including terms of your insurance policy, the nature and extent of your injuries, the facts and circumstances of the accident and other nuanced considerations. At a minimum, a brief meeting with a lawyer will educate you on your rights and your potential options. The decision on whether to pursue the rights is yours to make. Nevertheless, it is important that you be informed of your rights so that you can protect the health and well being of you and your family.
If you or someone you know has been involved in an automobile accident, please make sure to seek immediate medical attention and then contact an experienced automobile accident attorney. Please feel free to contact Keefe Law Firm to speak further at 1-877-ATTY-247.