When you have been injured in an automobile accident in New Jersey, certain rules must be followed. You have rights and obligations. There is the issue of liability (who caused the accident?), the extent of injuries and who pays for what?
When you have an accident
Report it to the police, provide the police investigator with the appropriate documents: driver's license, insurance card, and registration. You should also exchange these papers with the other driver. Provide a brief explanation of how the accident happened. You car may be so damaged that it has to be towed. You may be so hurt that you need to go to a hospital. As soon as you can, report the accident to your own insurance company so they can set up a claim number and appoint an adjuster. They have the right to inspect the car and ask you to use an authorized repair dealer.
The Police Report
This is normally done by the local police; in some cases it might be done by county or state police. The report is needed for insurance purposes. Also, one of more of the drivers may be issued a traffic violation ticket which is heard in municipal court. You have the right to add an amendment to the report if you do not believe it recites the facts correctly. Normally you can get a copy of the report within a few days. A finding of liability in municipal court does not control what is decided in civil court, Also, your attorney can ask for a reservation on the findings of the municipal court, which means that information cannot be used in the course of a civil trial.
You have an insurance policy. The full contract is sent to you when you purchase and/or renew your policy. It will tell you what amount you are insured for, if you have collision coverage, and to what extent the carrier will pay medical bills associated with the accident. One very important piece of information: do you have zero threshold or verbal threshold ?--(also known as lawsuit option). Zero threshold permits you to sue no matter how minor your injuries are. Verbal threshold, or lawsuit option, means that you must first prove that you have a permanent injury before you can sue for pain and suffering. Your insurance may have an income option which means if you lose salary due to the injury a portion is paid for you by your insurance, Your insurance might also cover towing and rental car replacement.
No Fault or Personal Injury Protection (PIP)
In New Jersey, your own insurance provides no fault medical coverage. Most people purchase the standard coverage, which will pay up to $250,000 in medical expenses associated with the treatment of injuries caused by the accident. During the course of treatment the insurance company has the right to send you to certain doctors who evaluate your recovery and determine if the treatment should continue. If the insurance doctor denies continuation, then the injured person may continue treatment and have it paid by other insurance or file an arbitration to continue the coverage.
In the usual course of treatment, there will be an ambulance, hospitalization even if only the ER, x rays, and then follow-up treatment with a chiropractor, or orthopedist, and physical therapy. X-rays can determine if a fracture is present. Fractures usually meet the threshold requirement. X-rays are not precise enough to determine disc displacements. Usually a radiologist does MRI studies. The most frequent injuries in an automobile accident are back and neck (whiplash). Disc displacements can be bulges and/or herniations. In NJ an injured person with verbal threshold must demonstrate there is an objective basis for their claim of an injury and normally the courts accept MRI readings. Even if there is a good deal of pain, if the MRI does not provide objective proof, the injured person has failed to meet the verbal threshold and their case cannot go to suit.
Automobile injuries are handled by personal injury lawyers. The plaintiff lawyer normally does not charge a fee, but takes a percentage of what award he wins for the injured party. Most people find that having a lawyer on their side makes sure that the matter goes well. The lawyer can negotiate with the insurance company (get an early settlement from the defendant's carrier) and/or negotiate with the client's insurer to assist with property damage claim and getting medical expenses paid. The attorney can also get a medical doctor to write an evaluation report on behalf of the injured person stating the nature and permanency of the injuries and that they were caused by or aggravated by the accident.
Defense Lawyers and Doctors
If the person is responsible for the accident, their own insurance will provide a defense attorney and also pay the injured person a compensation up to the coverage level of the policy. Defense attorneys also hire defense doctors to do evaluations of the injured party. These doctors write reports basically contradicting the findings of the plaintiff doctors, stating the injuries are not permanent and were not caused by the accident.
Litigation and Arbitration
In the course of litigation both sides exchange interrogatories and answers as well as documents and photos. When all of the pre-trial discovery is complete NJ requires a mandatory court-sponsored arbitration. The plaintiff and his lawyer and the defense lawyer (sometimes the defendant too) meet with an experienced court-appointed lawyer who gives an aribtration award (an educated guess at what a jury would do). Both sides can accept it and the matter is over. Either side has the legal right within 30 days to file for a new trial and not accept the arbitration.
Settlement or Trial
After the medical treatment is done and the medical reports are in, the insurance company for the defendant and the lawyer for the injured party negotiate, and if they reach an agreement then an amount is then paid to the plaintiff. After an arbitration the lawyers might resolve the issue for a different amount than what was awarded. The lawyer deducts expenses and any outstanding medical bills and the rest is paid to the plaintiff, The lawyer normally takes one third of the award for his fee. If the parties cannot settle, the matter goes to trial and the jury decides who was responsible for the accident, whether or not the injuries are permanent and how much money the plaintiff should get.
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