What is a Serious Injury in a New York Car Accident?

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A car accident and its aftermath can be a terrifying experience.  If you have been in a car accident, your injuries can range from sprains and strains to broken bones, brain and spinal injuries, and even death.  Depending on your injuries, you may require extensive medical treatment. You might also suffer from physical limitations that prevent you from conducting your usual daily activities.  Regardless of the type of injuries you are suffering, New York’s “No-Fault” Law contains specific criteria for plaintiffs who wish to bring an action to recover their damages.   

New York’s No-Fault Law

Under New York Insurance Law § 5102(d), a plaintiff in a car accident case must demonstrate that they have either incurred basic economic loss of more than $50,000 or suffered from a “serious injury.”  The statute defines a “serious injury” as one that results in:

  • Death
  • Dismemberment
  • Significant disfigurement
  • Fracture
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system
  • Permanent consequential limitation of a body organ or member
  • Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
  • A medically determined injury or impairment which prevents the injured person from participating in their usual and customary daily activities for more than 90 of the 180 days immediately following the accident

Although many of these qualifying categories of injury are straightforward, the last three are frequently litigated in courts.  Proving such injuries may hinge upon what is documented in the plaintiff’s medical records.

Medical documentation is crucial in determining whether a car accident injury is “serious.”  Medical treatment and documentation for each case may vary widely.  However, testing can include MRIs, X-rays, EMG/NCVs, range of motion testing, and any other tests a doctor may think are necessary.  A doctor may also assign a course of treatment which can include physical therapy, medication and, in some cases, alternative treatment such as acupuncture.

Permanent Consequential Limitations & Significant Limitations

Unfortunately, car accident victims may experience lasting injuries as a result of the crash. These types of injuries can affect a plaintiff for the rest of their lives.  However, for a plaintiff to demonstrate that they have suffered a permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member to satisfy New York’s “serious injury” threshold, the medical documentation must contain evidence that is both objective and quantifiable.  This means that a doctor’s conclusory statements about a patient’s condition are not enough — injuries must be quantitively measured by diagnostic imaging and testing results.

Although it can be more difficult to demonstrate, soft tissue injuries may qualify as “serious injuries” under this category depending upon the plaintiff’s specific circumstances and the medical documentation. 

Limitations that a plaintiff may experience as a result of a car accident can include inability to perform their usual household chores or care for children, difficulty getting dressed, as well as lack of ability to cook, exercise, and participate in hobbies.

The 90/180 Day Rule

Sometimes, injuries resulting from a car accident may not be permanent.  However, the limitations caused by injuries can still interfere with a plaintiff’s daily life for a few months after the accident.  If this is the case, a plaintiff may be still able to meet the “serious injury” threshold if their doctor determined that they could not work or placed restrictions on their usual activities for three months following the 180 days after the accident.       

Compensation for Car Accident Injuries

By satisfying the criteria of New York’s “serious injury” threshold, a plaintiff may recover damages beyond basic economic loss of lost wages and medical expenses.  They may be entitled to compensation for general damages for physical disfigurement, pain and suffering, loss of consortium and loss of enjoyment of life if incurred as a direct result of the accident. 

Special damages may also be recoverable.  These types of damages include repair or replacement of any damaged property, loss of future earning capacity and future medical expenses.    

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been in a car accident, it is best to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible following the accident as there are strict statutes of limitation in place.  An experienced car accident attorney can advise you of your legal rights and remedies.  Scott Baron & Associates, P.C. has been helping car accident victims obtain the compensation they deserve for their injuries for nearly three decades.  Call today to schedule a consultation. 

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