Motor Vehicle Accidents Information Center
NJ Motor Vehicle Accidents Frequently Asked Questions
A motor vehicle accident, even if just a minor "fender-bender" is almost always traumatic. From the shock of the impact and those initial thoughts of "what happened?", "am I okay?" and "who the heck hit me?" to more complicated and long-lasting concerns such as the severity of your injury (or that of your family member), determining who was at fault, who will pay medical bills, who will pay for the damage to your car, and what this all means for you and your family, there are multiple questions that come up in the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident (MVA).
Before we address the following Frequently Asked Questions about NJ motor vehicle accidents, however, please remember that each accident has its own set of facts that may change the answer. This information is not intended to be legal advice and shouldn't be relied upon when making important decisions regarding your MVA without the advice of personal injury attorney experienced in the area of motor vehicle accident law.
Q: If I am rear-ended but there's really no damage to either car and it doesn't seem like I'm hurt, do I even need to bother going through the hassle of exchanging information with the other driver or can I just drive away?
A: You should always exchange complete information with the other driver for a number of reasons. First, you or someone else -- in either vehicle -- may have suffered an injury that has a delayed onset (something common to whiplash-type injuries). The same may be true for the other driver. And, just because there does not appear to have been damage to either vehicle, it may turn out that your car suffered structural rather than cosmetic damage such as a snapped engine or transmission mount, or bumper strut damage. Finally, just because the other driver may say that everything's okay, it doesn't mean that person can be trusted to simply let the matter lie. Should you trust a stranger not to call the police and claim that you left the scene of an accident? (This is a serious offense in New Jersey and, and demolishes your credibility later when trying to record how the accident happened - after all who will the police and insurance company believe - the person who left the scene of an accident or the person reporting it? Failing to report an accident can be a separately charged traffic offense.). As the saying goes, better safe than sorry. And believe me, if you don't get the other driver's information, you could be very, very sorry. Insurance companies can now deny coverage based on your failure to take reasonable steps to identify the driver of the car that hit you. So now that you see where failing to gather information, call the police, or both, can get you, what do you think the safest course is?
Q: What if the other driver has no insurance?
A: Motor vehicles operated on New Jersey roads must be insured by law. It's estimated, however, that 11 percent of drivers in our state are uninsured, so that law was clearly irrelevant to the uninsured driver who hit you. New Jersey also requires that you carry Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage (and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is universally offered, though not required, in New Jersey) as part of your auto insurance policy. Together, we refer to these coverages as "UM/UIM" coverage. You can recover for damages if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured but only to the limits of your UM/UIM coverage. Reducing your insurance costs by purchasing only the minimum UM/UIM coverage amounts the law requires may seem like a good idea when you're writing that check for your premiums but will probably cause you indigestion if the losses you incur from the MVA exceed those policy limits. Review your policy and find out how much (little!) it may cost to bump up your coverage. Believe me, it's not much. ALWAYS have at least as much UM/UIM coverage as liability coverage - This is the coverage that helps you and your loved ones!
Q: The accident wasn't very serious. A few aches and pains but I think I'm alright. Should I still see a doctor?
A: I would counsel a family member of mine: Yes. Yes. Yes. And as soon as convenient, if not sooner. Again, you may not know for days (sometimes even weeks) whether you've suffered physical injury or whether the injury is serious (meaning: will those little aches and pains go away, or will they just keep getting worse?). Another reason for seeing a doctor is that if you ultimately pursue legal action against the at-fault driver or a third party, documentation regarding medical reporting, treatment plans and the like will be essential to proving a case for damages. Here's what you should take to heart here: we all may be looking at your case in 2 years to try to settle it - or even to determine if you have a case. Remember this: the insurance companies looking at this will ALWAYS hold against you that you did not seek treatment or at least diagnosis right away. They will argue that you knew you had treatment available to you (through the PIP portion of your policy) but you did not seek treatment or diagnosis - so therefore you were not injured. At all. Trying to convince anyone that you were doctoring at home and babying it along to see if it would all go away is a tremendous uphill battle - a lot of attorneys do not want to fight that battle with you.
Q: Someone told me that if I'm partially at fault I'm basically out of luck and can only recover against my own insurance policy
A: Clearly a lawyer did not tell you this (if so, find another one and quick!). New Jersey is a Comparative Negligence state - under our law your recovery may be reduced by the percentage you are found to be at fault for the accident. So if you are 10% responsible for the accident, you still recover 90% of your damages. In some states, like Virginia, if you are partially responsible for the accident - even only 1% - you cannot recover anything. A common scenario is the "rear end hit" - I win these motions for summary judgment pretty regularly, and the driver hitting the other car from the rear is usually found 100% responsible for the accident. (Caveat: There are some circumstances, like a sudden stop for no good reason, or a fast lane change and deceleration, where the driver in front is actually more responsible for the accident.
Q: What's my case worth?
A: Short answer: It depends. On lots of things. What is referred to as the "value" of your case is measured by such things as severity/permanence of the injuries you suffered, whether a chronic condition results, any surgical procedures undergone, the length of any hospitalization, the extent of doctors' care, any ongoing and future treatment, and your net loss of income, to name just several factors. The way the accident occurred, obviously, enters into consideration, as well as whether you are a credible person. All kinds of factors go into a lawyer's evaluating a case.
Q: Should I be keeping a journal or diary?
A: Absolutely. In the event the insurance claim is not quickly settled and it appears legal action may become necessary, the more detailed information about your expenses, pain levels, restrictions on daily activities and state of mind you can provide, the more compelling and persuasive a case your lawyer can make on your behalf. You should also take notes detailing conversations you have with anyone regarding the accident, whether it be your insurance carrier, the other driver's carrier, any investigator that may have been assigned to the claim or anyone else. (Note here: you should NEVER give a statement or any kind of authorization to the other vehicle's insurance carrier, no matter how willing they seem to settle the case.)
Q: The insurance company is making me a pretty good offer and it's only been a short time since the accident. Shouldn't I take it?
A: They may not be so generous if I play hardball, right? Usually, no. And no. Remember, an insurance company is in the business of making money. And it can't do that unless it pays out as tiny a sum as possible as soon as possible on each claim. No matter how "nice" or "helpful" a claims adjustor may seem, his/her job is to get you to agree to settle now, and for as little as possible. Every rule has exceptions, though. You may have a terrible case, or you may be completely over your injuries. After a talk with a lawyer specializing in this area of the law, you may be counseled to go ahead and take the offer, forego the services of an attorney, and move on in your life.
Q: Do I need a lawyer?
A: That's up to you. Ask yourself this: "Can I afford to be wrong here?" If the answer is yes, then you probably don't need a lawyer. But if you were really injured in the accident, you really can't afford to be wrong, can you? After all, it's your future.
If you're a MVA victim, talk to me for the answers you need in order to know what to do next. The consultation is free and without obligation and if I take you on as a client, there is never a fee unless I recover damages for you. Call me at 888-233-1272, or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com .
NJ Motor Vehicle Accident Information Center
- 10 of the Most Common Causes of NJ Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Compensation for NJ Car Accident Personal Injury Claims
- How to Avoid Wrecking your NJ car Insurance Claims
- NJ Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists
- New Jersey No-Fault Insurance Explained
- Car Accident Checklist - What to do After a NJ Car Accident
- Motor Vehicle Accident Frequently Asked Questions