“No-fault laws” have been in effect throughout most of the United States since the 1970’s, so most people are aware of these laws, but there are many misconceptions about how they operate. The purpose of “no-fault” legislation was to reduce the number of lawsuits for personal injuries arising from traffic accidents, but it has actually resulted in an increase in litigation. It’s ironic that personal injury attorneys are now sometimes called no-fault lawyers and people injured in traffic accidents ask, “Do I have a no-fault case?”
Let me set the record straight! Prior to no-fault laws, personal injury cases for traffic accidents were like all other types of personal injury cases. If a person was injured due to the negligence of another person, there could be an action to recover damages. The person would seek medical attention for their injuries, and the medical records and testimony of the doctors would be the evidence for the damages. This was true whether it was a car accident, slip and fall, product liability or other types of personal injury claim.
In the 1970’s, in an effort to discourage claims for personal injuries, legislation was passed requiring all car owners to carry insurance that paid for medical bills, lost earnings and other benefits for persons injured in their car, regardless of fault. For example, if you drove your car into a wall, you could collect these benefits, even though the accident was obviously your own fault. That’s why the law became known as the “no-fault” law. But then when the law gave these benefits, it limited the right to sue the person at fault.
The law restricts claims for personal injuries from traffic accidents to cases where a “threshold” for serious injury is met. Lawsuits for basic “whiplash” and “sprained ankles” are legally barred. When an action for “minor injuries” is filed in court, the defendant will usually respond with a “Motion for Summary Judgment,” requesting that the case is dismissed, and they usually win! Over the years, the court has refined through case law what types of injuries will meet this threshold, and you might not be too surprised to find out that personal injury attorneys have been successful in expanding the definition of serious injury quite a bit!
So, back to the question, “Do I have a no-fault case?” Well, if you went to one single doctor and submitted the bill to your insurance company for payment, the answer would be yes. But that’s probably not the reason you were asking the question. You probably want to know if you have a case worth pursuing as a lawsuit against the person responsible for your injuries. This is actually the opposite of a “no-fault case,” it’s a “fault case” with the no-fault insurance picking up the tab for the medical bills and lost earnings. What you are looking for is a personal injury attorney that handles car accidents, and they never want a case where there is no fault!
I hope this has cleared some things up for you, and hasn’t just confused you more. If you have any questions, you can always give us a call at Wittenstein & Wittenstein, 718-261-8114. We’ve been handling car accident cases for generations – we value our reputation and the service we give to the community.