Suing a Friend or Family Member for a Car Accident in New York
two men friends car crash agreement NY

Suing a loved one or close friend after an accident doesn’t have to be about blame or anger. It is a means by which to collect compensation for your injuries, and that person’s insurance company is likely the only way you will be able to be made whole financially.

Fortunately, New York’s No-Fault Law means every vehicle owner is covered by their own insurance, to a certain extent. Often, however, that minimum coverage ($50,000) is not enough to cover medical bills and compensate for lost wages. Under such circumstances, it might be necessary to file a lawsuit. Most cases don’t go to trial and, in the hands of an experienced attorney, don’t need to cause any stress to friends or family members involved in the accident.

Is it Wrong to Sue my Friend or Family Member?

When people think ‘lawsuit,’ they might imagine a highly-charged courtroom, with emotional testimony and hostile cross examinations. That may be the process depicted by television and movies, but the reality is that most cases are resolved with a calm, pre-trial settlement, providing relief to both parties that medical expenses are covered.

When it comes to personal injury, think of ‘suing’ as a synonym for ‘getting insurance companies to pay your expenses.’ Loved ones and friends will never question your right to medical compensation. It’s their insurance who will fight to pay you the bare minimum. Your family and friends want you to do everything you can to secure the amount needed to cover medical bills and lost income. 

It is possible that your friend/family member’s policy will cover everything. Unfortunately, that is not always likely. Trying to avoid a suit by negotiating with the insurance company yourself doesn’t make things any easier on your family member or friend. Only an expert attorney can negotiate with insurance adjusters who want to pay out as little money as possible. 

A great lawyer will also make this process painless for you and your friend or loved one. In their hands, this process will not damage your relationship. The two of you will never have to negotiate with each other directly, or even discuss the case at all. The lawyers will do the talking on your behalf so you can focus on recovery.

What if My Loved One or Friend Wasn’t at Fault? 

From your perspective as the passenger, it may initially appear that your friend was not at fault for the accident. Keep in mind that New York uses a ‘comparative fault’ model to determine who pays what. If it is found later that your friend was partially at fault and you did not pursue a claim, you will not recover as much compensation as you could have. 

It is a common mistake to rely solely on the other driver’s insurance to cover all costs. But that driver might not have insurance, or might not be found at-fault for the accident. If a victim relies too heavily on the other driver’s insurance and later receives nothing, they might have missed the deadline to file a claim against other parties. That is why it’s important to pursue compensation immediately after an accident in order to ensure your medical bills are paid in a timely manner.

What if My Friend Crashed My Car? 

Usually, the vehicle owner’s coverage will extend to anyone they allowed to drive their car. This is addressed within the policy’s ‘omnibus clause.’

If the vehicle owner was not present during the accident, they are rarely found to be at fault. However, there are some situations in which the vehicle owner could be liable for an accident — even if they weren’t in the car.

Negligent Entrustment

Someone could be accused of negligent entrustment if he/she loaned their vehicle to someone they knew was unable to drive responsibly.  In one such case, a 17-year-old, T. Persico, invited three friends to go ride ATVs owned by his father, who was not home at the time. He drove one ATV and his friend F. Smith drove the other, with D. Rios riding on F. Smith’s back. Smith crashed into a tree, leaving his friend gravely injured. The friend, D. Rios, had to sue her friend F. Smith and the Persico family to recover damages for her serious injuries. The father was found to be partially at fault for negligently entrusting the ATVs to his son, who then allowed his friend to drive them recklessly. Rios was awarded $6,800,000 for her pain and suffering, and $2,250,000 for future pain and suffering.

This accusation can arise when a person lends their vehicle to:

  • An intoxicated driver
  • An unlicensed driver 
  • A driver with a history of recklessness
  • An inexperienced driver
  • Someone who had decreased visibility or reaction times due to medical conditions

Negligent Maintenance

If someone allows a friend to drive their poorly maintained vehicle, they are sometimes liable for injuries that result from its poor condition. Such safety hazards can include:

  • Malfunctioning exterior lights
  • Worn out brake pads
  • Hard, balding, or brittle tires

If the owner was aware of the vehicle’s dangerous condition, failed to mention that to a friend, and still allowed his or her friend to drive it, the owner will likely be liable for the resulting damages.

What if I Was a Passenger in My Friend’s Car During an Accident?

Injured passengers can claim coverage through their own automobile insurance policy, even if their vehicle wasn’t involved in the accident. But if the passenger doesn’t own a vehicle and therefore doesn’t have automobile insurance, they will have to turn elsewhere for compensation.

The victim can seek coverage from a resident relative who carries Personal Injury Protection, but they can only do so if they have no insurance of their own.  If the passenger has no insured resident relative, they will have to turn to the driver’s policy. If the accident involved multiple vehicles, there is a chance a different driver was at fault, and could cover the injured passenger under their bodily liability insurance. 

If it was a single-vehicle accident in which the friend crashed into a stationary object (like a tree or telephone pole), the driver is almost always at-fault. Hopefully the driver would have a bodily injury liability plan sufficient to pay for their friend’s injuries. If not, or if the driver’s insurance company refuses to pay, a lawsuit might be necessary to get compensated for things like medical bills and lost wages. 

It’s important to keep in mind that while the friend’s name will be on the suit, the action is really being taken against the insurance company. An experienced personal injury attorney can make this process as smooth as possible for the injured passenger and his/her friend who was driving. 

What if I Was a Passenger in My Family Member’s Car During an Accident?

The same general rules apply for accidents involving friends and family members. The key difference is that a family member’s Personal Injury Protection will cover the passenger if they live in the same household. This is also known as a “resident relative” relationship. Defining the term “resident relative” can actually be very tricky in cases where children stay frequently with grandparents or people own multiple homes. Victims seeking to claim coverage under a family member’s policy will want an expert attorney to navigate the complexities of Personal Injury Protection coverage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I still sue if I have insurance? 

In New York, you have the right to sue if you suffered a “serious injury”. The following injuries meet the threshold:

-Loss of use of a body part
-Limitation of use of a body part
-Significant disfigurement 
-Bone fracture
-Loss of a fetus
-Permanent injury 
-Non-permanent injury which impedes the victim’s ability to carry out daily functions.

How do I sue? 

If a passenger has exhausted all other options to receive compensation, they can take certain steps to file a lawsuit. They will most likely be filing a bodily injury claim. The New York statute of limitations (time limit to file) on personal injury claims is three years. 

The first step is to find a personal injury attorney. They will work with the friend or family member’s insurance adjusters to recover compensation for their client. Sometimes the process stops here. Other times, the lawyer and the insurance company will negotiate a settlement amount. This is the most common scenario, as insurance companies rarely want to pursue the long and expensive process of a trial. 

If the case does move to trial, the court will use New York’s comparative negligence (also known as comparative fault) model to determine who pays what. The simplest explanation is that the sum each driver pays corresponds to the degree to which they were at fault. New York uses a ‘pure comparative negligence’ model, which means that even if the plaintiff was found to be more-to-blame (say, 80% at fault) than the defendant (found to be 20% at fault), the plaintiff would still receive money for damages caused by the defendant, with the amount lowered by 80%.

Will my friend or family member have to pay for a lawyer?

No, their automobile insurance has to pay their legal fees.

Who Do I Contact?

If you or someone you and a loved one have been involved in an accident, contact the attorneys at Rosenblum Law. Our experienced and skilled attorneys have won many cases with positive results. To speak directly to one of our attorneys call 888-235-9021 or email us today.

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