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Summary of how New York Car Accident Insurance Works

Car AccidentThe car accident lawyers of Michaels & Smolak know how confusing New York car accident insurance can be. The New York Statute regarding auto insurance, Insurance Law section 5102, is not very easy to understand. That’s why we created this quick summary of how it all works for our Syracuse area clients:

Single Vehicle Accident
  • Collision insurance: If the owner of the car has “collision” insurance (which is optional) then his own insurance must pay to repair the car or pay the replacement cost if the car is totaled. Usually there will be a “deductible” (usually no more than $500). If there is no “collision” insurance on the vehicle, there is no coverage for car damage.
  • No-fault insurance: No-fault insurance must pay for medical treatment and lost income due to all injuries suffered in the collision. This is true for both the driver and the passengers, regardless of whether the driver was at fault. The “limit” of coverage for each person is $50,000, which includes both lost income and medical care. The lost income claim is limited in time – to the first three years after the accident – but the medical care claim has no time limit.

    (The two types of coverage above (collision and no-fault) are easy to apply for and you generally don’t need a lawyer to get them. But you usually do need a car accident attorney, whether you were injured in Syracuse or elsewhere in New York, to fight for your “bodily injury” insurance coverage, discussed below.)

  • Bodily injury insurance: This coverage includes “pain and suffering” compensation as well as compensation for any medical expenses and lost income not covered by “no-fault” insurance. To tap into the coverage for pain and suffering compensation, a passenger in a single vehicle accident must be able to prove that the driver was at-fault for the collision and that he or she has suffered a “serious injury”. “Serious injury” has a specific meaning under Insurance Law section 5102. Read about it here. The amount of insurance available to the passengers depends on the amount of insurance purchased for the vehicle. The minimal amount in New York State is $25,000 per person but only $50,000 per accident.
  • Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Insurance: If you suffered serious injuries, and they are “worth” more than the policy limit provided by the car you were a passenger in, then you must look to your own auto insurance for additional coverage. This is called Supplemental Underinsured Motorist (SUM) coverage. It works like this: Say the car you were in had only $25,000 in bodily injury insurance, but your injuries are “worth” $50,000. And assume your own auto policy has $50,000 of “SUM” coverage. You then get to take the $25,000 from the insurance for the car you were a passenger as well as an additional $25,000 from your own “SUM” policy, for a total of $50,000.
Multi-Vehicle Accidents

When more than one vehicle is involved in an accident, the insurance issues get more complicated. To keep things simple, let’s assume just two vehicles were involved.

  • Property Damage Insurance: If either vehicle has collision insurance (see above) then the owner can claim repair costs or replacement costs for that vehicle from his or her own collision insurance. But if the other vehicle was at fault, the owner of the vehicle that was not at fault can, instead of making the claim against his or her own insurer for the collision insurance, make a claim against the at-fault vehicle’s “property damage” insurance directly. The advantage of making a property damage claim against the at-fault vehicle’s insurance is that no “deductible” is withheld. If you apply under your own policy’s collision insurance, they withhold a deductible (up to $500), but your insurer must return this deductible to you if and when your insurer recovers the full cost of the damage from the at-fault vehicle’s insurance in what is known as a “subrogation claim” . In the opinion of our Syracuse car accident lawyers, it advisable to make the property damage claim directly against the at-fault car’s insurance rather than against your own insurer, but if the other insurer give you any trouble, you can fall back on your collision insurance. If you have no collision insurance, your only option is to make the claim against the at-fault car insurance.
  • No-fault Insurance: This works the same as with a single-vehicle accident. The driver and passengers in each vehicle get no-fault coverage, regardless of which vehicle was at fault, of up to $50,000 each for combined medical expenses and lost income.
  • Bodily Injury Insurance: Everyone injured in the accident except the at-fault driver, including his own passengers, can bring a claim against the insurance for the car the at-fault driver was driving (and also against any auto insurance for cars he personally owns) for the injuries they suffered, but in New York they can do so only if they have a “serious injury” (see above) or if their medical expenses or lost income goes beyond what no-fault insurance paid. A “serious injury” is defined by Insurance Law section 5102. Read about it here.
  • Supplemental Underinsured Motorist Insurance: If you are seriously injured, you may have something in your own auto insurance policy that gives you additional bodily injury protection. See the discussion above (regarding single-vehicle accidents) to see how your SUM coverage can help you.

This is a very basic summary of how auto insurance works in New York State. To find out more, if you are hurt in a car accident, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Syracuse car accident attorneys at Michaels & Smolak for a free consultation.

More FAQ's About Car Accident Cases

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