When New York coronavirus lockdowns began in 2020, most observers expected the number of fatal crashes to fall even further since lockdowns greatly reduced vehicle traffic. However, seat belt compliance rates went down, while risky behavior, like speeding and drunk driving, went up. Bad driver habits caused the number of fatal wrecks to increase in 2020. The number increased even more in 2021. That result suggests these bad driver habits could be permanent. United States Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the increase “a crisis” that “we cannot and should not accept.”
Since coronavirus hit the Empire State harder than some other states, the COVID-19 lockdown was long and strictly enforced. As a result, these bad driver habits are more entrenched in New York than in some other places. If you or a loved one was hurt or killed in a car wreck, it’s important to have a New York accident attorney in your corner. The insurance company has a team of lawyers working on its behalf. Further, the Empire State has some unique personal injury legal rules and procedures. Keep reading to learn more about these things.
New York Overview
Traffic deaths began climbing in New York in March 2020. Overall, traffic fatalities increased 19% in 2020 and another 13% in 2021. Further, the number of serious injury crashes increased as well. Motor vehicle deaths are not just a health and safety issue. They’re also a social justice issue. A disproportionate number of victims are non-white.
The average injury-related hospital bill in New York is over $55,000. That’s just the beginning of the financial pain these victims feel. Most car crash survivors cannot work for weeks or months following their accidents. These victims need money to pay these bills and otherwise move on with their lives.
When a New York accident attorney files a legal claim, the case doesn’t blame anyone for the accident. Instead, a negligence claim simply helps victims get the payment they need and deserve. This concept is the same in all states. However, as mentioned above, the Empire State has some special rules that only an experienced New York accident attorney is fully aware of.
Even if they have never been inside a courtroom before, most people have some experience with negligence cases. For example, if James accidentally hits his neighbor’s mailbox as he backs out of his driveway, he should pay damages (pay to replace the mailbox).
An ordinary negligence claim is much the same, at least in theory. If James accidentally collides with another driver, he must pay damages. These damages usually include payment for medical bills, property damage, and other economic losses. Payment for pain and suffering, emotional distress and other non-economic losses is usually available as well. In New York, a negligence claim has four basic parts:
- Duty. All drivers, whether they are commercial or noncommercial drivers, have a duty of reasonable care in the Empire State. Essentially the duty of reasonable care is to New York accident attorneys what the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) is to the rest of us. This legal duty requires drivers to be at their best, physically, mentally and otherwise, when they get behind the wheel. Also, as they drive, they must obey the rules of the road and avoid crashes when possible.
- Breach. The two parts of the duty of care suggest the two major breaches, or violations, of the duty of care. Many drivers are impaired when they get behind the wheel. The source of impairment is usually alcohol, drugs or fatigue. Note that alcohol and drugs are usually legal to consume. It’s illegal and dangerous to drive under the influence of these substances, though. Driving errors such as speeding, changing lanes unsafely or ignoring a traffic sign could also be breaches of duty.
- Cause. This third component also has two parts. A New York accident attorney must show factual and legal cause. Factual cause means the breach of duty likely caused the damages. The connection must be relatively correct. If James uses his cell phone while driving and the cell phone blows up, causing him to lose control of his car, that probably doesn't make him at fault in court. Legal cause means it was possible to see the injury coming. If James hits Ashley’s car and her doctor makes a medical mistake, James couldn't see that injury coming.
- Damages. The final part of an ordinary negligence case is pretty simple. The victim must suffer some injury that money can pay for, at least in part.
Damages, as a concept, might be easy to understand, but New York has some unusual legal rules in this area. These rules could affect the amount of damages in a car crash case.
Monetary damage caps are one example. Many states limit the amount of payment a victim can receive. Insurance company lobbyists have often convinced lawmakers to pass these damage caps. However, in New York, there are no damage limits. Jurors, and jurors alone, decide how much payment a victim should receive.
Another rule, the collateral source rule, is much more complex. Often, a health insurance company, or maybe the government, pays part of the medical bills in a personal injury case. In New York, insurance companies may use these collateral source payments to reduce the amount of payment a victim receives.
This rule is the subject of a lot of debate. Essentially, it punishes victims who are responsible enough to buy insurance. It also gives negligent drivers extra money they don’t deserve.
There’s more. Negligent drivers are legally responsible for damages in car crash cases. Often, however, a third party is financially responsible for damages. Dram shop alcohol provider and negligent entrustment owner liability are two good examples.
Dram shop laws hold businesses, like clubs and restaurants, indirectly responsible for alcohol-related crash damages. New York’s version of this law applies if a provider sells alcohol to someone who is “actually or apparently” underage or to anyone who is “visibly intoxicated.”
Underage sales usually trigger the dram shop law even if the customer used a fake ID. The tried-and-true “I thought he or she looked older than 21” defense normally doesn't hold water either. Evidence that a person is under the influence usually includes physical signs like bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance and slurred speech.
If owners allow incompetent drivers to use their motor vehicles, and that incompetent driver causes a crash, New York’s vicarious liability law applies. In Legalese, “every owner of a vehicle used or operated in New York is jointly and severally liable for injuries or damage to person or property resulting from the negligent use or operation of the vehicle by any person with permission — express or implied.” In English, owners are every bit as responsible for wrecks as drivers in these cases. A New York accident attorney may pursue legal action against either party.
Commercial negligent entrustment cases, like wrecks involving U-Haul trucks, are different because of the federal Graves Amendment.
One more point: New York has a no-fault insurance law. If the victim didn’t suffer a personal injury, the victim’s own insurance company is responsible for property damage under the policy’s PIP (personal injury protection) clause. The victim can't get further payment.
Crash victims may work with a New York accident attorney if they have suffered a serious injury (any injury that limits function for 90 of the 180 days after a crash). They can also do so if their economic losses, mostly medical bills and lost work, exceed $50,000.
Negligence Per Se
Essentially, negligence per se means the act of breaking any safety law that injures another person. We mentioned some safety law violations, such as speeding, above. Others include DUI and using a cell phone while driving. These last two kinds of laws vary in different states.
New York’s DUI-drug law is narrow. Prosecutors must prove the driver was under the influence of a drug, and that drug must be on a list of prohibited substances. In other states, driving under the influence of any substance, including caffeine, could lead to a DUI-drug charge.
In contrast, New York has one of the broadest cell phone bans in the United States. It’s illegal for any driver to hold and use a cell phone while driving. Also, this law is a primary enforcement law, which means it’s easier for emergency responders to give tickets in these cases. As a result, if a driver was using a phone while driving, a New York accident attorney can almost always use the negligence per se shortcut.
If not, a New York accident attorney can still use the ordinary negligence doctrine. Driving under the influence of drugs is dangerous even if it’s not illegal. Distracted driving, even something like using a hands-free phone while driving, is always dangerous as well, even if the conduct isn’t illegal.
So far, we’ve talked about how a New York accident attorney builds a claim for damages in a vehicle collision or other personal injury case. Still, that’s only part of the struggle, so let’s talk about some common insurance company defenses.
Contributory negligence, or comparative fault, might be the most common New York insurance company defense in personal injury cases. In short, this defense shifts legal responsibility for an accident from the person at fault to the victim.
Remember James and Ashley and their unfortunate car crash? Let’s assume James smoked marijuana just before he left the house, so he is still under the influence. Before the wreck, Ashley was speeding, but the evidence shows she was only traveling 5 mph over the limit.
How does a New York accident attorney figure out something like the precise speed of a vehicle? All cars have Event Data Recorders (EDRs). These gadgets are like the black box in most airplanes. EDRs measure and record things like vehicle speed, steering angle and braking. This data is usually crucial in a car crash claim, not only when building a case, but also when arguing against insurance company defenses.
Back to James and Ashley. Under those facts, both drivers were partly responsible for the wreck. Clearly, however, James is mostly responsible. That outcome could be different if James smoked an hour before he left the house or if Ashley was speeding 25 mph over the limit.
How does a court divide legal responsibility in these cases? We’re glad you asked. Jurors must listen to the evidence and split fault 50-50, or into other percentages, between the drivers.
New York is one of the only states that follows the pure comparative fault rule. If a person at fault is only 1% responsible for the crash, the victim is entitled to payment. In most other states, unless the person at fault is at least 50% responsible for the crash, the victim is entitled to nothing.
The seat belt defense is another common insurance company tactic. Like most states, New York law requires wearing a seat belt. Unlike most states, insurance company lawyers could use the victim’s failure to wear a seat belt against them. This failure could reduce the amount of payment they win in a case, or even mean they get nothing.
This defense only applies if the insurance company proves the failure to wear a seat belt, and not the negligence of the person at fault, caused the victim’s injuries. This point is hard to make in court.
This same basic concept applies in motorcycle or bicycle wreck cases if the injured victim wasn’t wearing a helmet.
Crash Statistics for New York Cities
New York City
In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio unveiled a Vision Zero plan for the city. This plan, which included some tougher law enforcement and some infrastructure changes, like lower speed limits, was supposed to end traffic deaths by 2025.
At first, the number of fatal traffic accidents declined, and steeply. Now, it’s clear that this bold plan has failed. Traffic accident deaths are much higher now than they were when the Vision Zero effort began. As mentioned earlier, this upward trend is showing no signs of tapering off.
The increased number of fatal car crashes has increased the number of court cases that New York accident attorneys must file to get payment for victims. As a result, the famously clogged New York City court system is even more clogged.
To move cases through the system, New York City judges strongly encourage out-of-court settlements. This approach is common everywhere, but especially in the Big Apple. This means your New York accident attorney needs to be able to do more than make good arguments. Your lawyer must also be good at working out deals. An attorney must know when to stand firm and when to give in a little.
This Nassau County community is the largest city on Long Island and the largest city in New York, other than NYC. The serious injury and fatal car crash rate in Hempstead is extremely high.
Driver impairment, mostly by alcohol, is one of the leading factors in the increased number of crashes, according to most observers. Evidence is critical for New York accident attorneys in this area.
Alcohol impairment begins with the first sip. Therefore, many drivers are impaired, but not legally drunk. As a result, a New York accident attorney must use circumstantial evidence to make an alcohol-related crash claim. Besides the physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes, mentioned above, the evidence can include the driver’s statements about alcohol use and the driver’s previous schedule. If the person at fault was recently at a place that sold alcohol, they likely had at least one drink there.
This Long Island community is almost as large as Hempstead. In 2020, Suffolk County (Brookhaven and surrounding areas) had more fatal crashes than any other county in New York. That includes counties in the NYC metro area. There were also more nonfatal crashes in Suffolk County than anywhere else in the state.
Observers believe speeding is the main culprit. “On the LIE (Long Island Expressway), people drive 80 miles per hour every single day,” one man said. “I think it’s very unfortunate because the speed limit isn’t enforced and the courts are too lenient,” he added. In response, officials promised to send out more officers, including officers in unmarked cars, to enforce speed limit laws.
Speed is dangerous because it increases the risk of a crash and the force in a crash. Even if the person at fault wasn’t legally speeding, a New York accident attorney can still win these cases in court.
Many of the same problems plague Islip, another large Suffolk County community. Most of the fatal car wrecks in Islip occur on the Sunrise Highway or the Southern State Parkway. Both of these run almost exactly through the center of town.
Speed-related wrecks often cause permanent injuries, such as broken arms and legs. Typically, these fractures are so severe that they never entirely heal. Most of these victims suffer some permanent loss of use, such as limited range of motion in a shoulder or knee.
Even though this Long Island town is smaller than the others on this list, more fatal car crashes happen here than in any other Long Island city. That’s probably because Oyster Bay is not only a large city. It’s also a popular tourist site, especially in the summer.
Out-of-town drivers are often dangerously distracted. It’s impossible to safely drive a car with one eye on the road and the other on a GPS screen. Since it’s technically legal to use a hands-free GPS device while driving, a New York accident attorney must often use the ordinary negligence doctrine to get payment in these cases.
When you or someone you love is hurt or killed in a car crash, a New York accident attorney is available to help.