There are approximately six million car accidents every year in the United States, with nearly 2 million people injured in those accidents. As such, automobile injuries are among the most common injuries that personal injury attorney deal with.
If you are unfortunate enough to be injured in a car accident, it is important that you speak with an attorney as soon as possible to determine your rights and potential recovery. The statute of limitations for car accidents is two years from the date of the accident, meaning that after that time you cannot file a lawsuit to recover any damages.
Additionally, it is important to assess both the extent of the insurance of the party at fault (known as liability coverage), and the extent of the injured party’s insurance coverage above and beyond the other party’s liability coverage. This is known as Underinsured / Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM), and allows an injured party to recover monetary damages that are in excess of the policy limits of the negligent party. By way of example, if a party is injured by a driver who only has $25,000 in liability coverage, then only $25,000 can be recovered from that policy. But if the injured party also has $100,000 in UIM coverage, the injured party can recover an additional $75,000 from his or her own insurance policy.
Assuming the other driver is at fault (or, if you are a passenger, either the driver of another vehicle is at fault, or the driver of the vehicle in which you are a passenger is at fault), one of the first steps an attorney must take in evaluating such a case is to determine whether the “Limitation on Lawsuit Threshold” applies. This is also commonly known as the “verbal threshold.” This is a cost-saving insurance option that most people insured under New Jersey policies choose which reduces their monthly premiums, but as a tradeoff also reduces their ability to recover from injuries in the event of an accident. Those insured who have chosen the “Limitation on Lawsuit” option cannot recover for injuries unless it can be proven that the injury suffered satisfies one of the following criteria:
- Dismemberment (loss of a body part)
- Loss of a fetus
- Significant disfigurement or significant scarring. Note: Significant refers to the subjective view of an observer, and not the opinion of the injured person
- Displaced fracture (simple fractures do not satisfy the threshold unless they cause a permanent injury after healing)
- Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability
The vast majority of cases which seek recovery under this threshold do so pursuant to the last category: “Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability.” Back injuries, in particular herniations, are among the most common of these injuries in automobile injury cases, though they are by no means exclusive.
To proceed with any litigation under the verbal threshold, the injured party seeking recovery must have a physician certify under oath that the injury suffered must be permanent in nature. The party will also likely be required to submit to an Independent Medical Examination performed at the behest of the defendant insurance company.
After a considerable amount of discovery — consisting of, amongst other things, interrogatories answered by the injured party, depositions given by the injured party at which he or she is questioned about the accident and injuries by the defendant’s attorney, and exchanges of medical reports and other documents important to the case — the case will proceed to arbitration. At this relatively brief process, an independent attorney appointed by the court will review the case, discuss its merits with the attorneys and (usually) with the injured party, and make a determination as to which party was at fault, and the monetary award (if any) to which the plaintiff is entitled. This award is non-binding, meaning that if either party is dissatisfied with the award or lack thereof it can object and demand a trial. As a practical matter, however, arbitration is a critical step in the litigation process, and helps to facilitate many settlements.
By the time a case finally arrives at trial, it is not uncommon for more than two years to have passed from the date that the lawsuit was filed.
Because of the various complexities involved with personal injury litigation, it is imperative that you hire an experienced attorney. Automobile injury cases tend to make up the bulk of the work handled by The Law Office of Jordan B. Rickards, Esq., and we advance all fees and client costs out of our own pocket. Please contact us at your convenience for a free consultation.