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Can You Sue for a Car Accident if There Was Limited Property Damage to the Vehicle?

March 26, 2019 in

If a driver experiences an accident, he or she may still have grounds for legal recovery through an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault driver. However, the plaintiff must have sustained some type of injury or measurable economic loss to have grounds for a lawsuit. The presence or absence of physical damage to the vehicle does not determine whether a driver has grounds for a lawsuit, though it may provide evidence of the seriousness of the impact.

Navigating New York’s Serious Injury Threshold Law

New York upholds a no-fault rule for car accidents, meaning a driver who experiences a car accident must file an insurance claim with his or her own auto insurance policy rather than against that of an at-fault driver. However, the state allows a driver to take legal action against the at fault owner and operator if he/she has suffered a serious injury. New York defines many possible serious injuries that may qualify as grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.

  • Wrongful death
  • Bone fractures
  • Any injury requiring amputation
  • Loss of bodily function
  • Limitation of use

Injuries affect individuals differently. For example, whiplash is a type of soft tissue injury affecting the neck and upper back. This condition occurs when a person’s head violently snaps back and forth due to the force of a collision. While some only experience minor discomfort for a few days and appear to recover completely, others may struggle with serious symptoms for many months or even years.  Depending on the circumstances and facts involved, herniations related to whiplash could satisfy the threshold law.

New York’s No Impact Rule

Many states uphold that a car accident must result in some type of measurable contact or impact between the vehicle and another vehicle or an object. The plaintiff would need to prove some type of impact occurred that indicates the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries. This could be difficult if a plaintiff suffered injuries from a near miss, such as swerving to avoid a dangerous driver and sustaining whiplash. If the state follows an impact rule, the driver would have a very difficult time proving the at-fault driver’s liability for the whiplash injury.

New York repealed the state’s no-impact rule in 1961, so drivers who suffer injuries from accidents that do not involve direct collisions may still recover compensation for their losses. The no-impact rule also allows individuals to take legal action for emotional distress and other non-economic damages.

Potential Recovery Where there is Limited Vehicle Damage Accident Claim

The fact that a car sustained limited damage from an event on the road does not mean the driver does not have grounds for a lawsuit. It is very possible to suffer injuries from the force of necessary evasive maneuvers or from impacts that do not yield significant vehicle damage. While these accidents generally do not involve property damages for vehicle repair or replacement costs, they may easily involve medical expenses for the treatment of whiplash or other bodily injuries, ongoing therapy and counseling for emotional trauma, and lost income resulting from an accident.

A driver who experiences any type of injury from an accident that did not result in physical damage to his or her vehicle should not assume that the lack of impact disqualifies him or her from taking legal action. New York functions on a no-fault car accident law, so an injured driver would need to refer to his or her own auto insurance policy for coverage. If his or her damages exceed the scope of available coverage and qualify as a serious injury under New York law, the driver could then pursue a personal injury claim against a negligent driver for additional compensation.