Getting Legal Assistance
No public agency currently takes responsibility for what happens to crash victims. And there is virtually no official guidance published for bicyclists and pedestrians who are hit by cars.
Thus it’s up to you to inform yourself of your rights and aggressively assert them. Familiarize yourself with insurance industry procedures. This site offers information as well as links to other sources. (See also Insurance for Pedestrians & Cyclists.)
It is also advisable to ask a famly member or close friend to act as your advocate, to help you obtain medical, legal and other assistance while you recuperate.
If you are seriously injured, consider engaging a personal injury attorney who specializes in traffic injuries—and do it quickly. (Read more at the bottom of this page.)
Don’t publicly post any detailed information about your crash, on Facebook, message boards, or anywhere else. You never know when and where this information will resurface, or how it may be used against you.
“Do I have to hire a lawyer?”
Attorney not required for No-Fault claim
It is not necessary to hire an attorney to get your medical bills paid through No-Fault or to get property damage claims resolved with the insurance carrier. If you do hire an attorney—or if you don’t—you should inform yourself about the claims process.
Some attorneys occasionally give advice on filing No-Fault medical claims without charging, as a public service. But keep in mind that it is a time-consuming process, and costly for them to do so. Also, some lawyers may offer guidance in filing your No-Fault medical claim for a flat fee or hourly rate.
If you believe that you suffered an injury beyond just bumps and bruises, it’s recommended that you at least consult with an attorney BEFORE speaking with an insurance carrier. Insurance companies will say that you don’t need a lawyer to settle your claim; their motivation in offering this helpful advice is perhaps obvious enough.
Some insurance companies are easier to deal with than others, and certain crashes are easier to resolve than others. Generally, property damage claims are the easiest to resolve. A crumpled fender can be estimated by a mechanic, priced against comparable repairs, and fixed in a few days.
Attorney may be desirable for a personal injury claim
In contrast to the No-Fault medical claim, which has a relatively low payment maximum, the personal injury claim can be a highly complicated and expensive matter for both crash victim and insurer. If you are physically injured by a car, your full recuperation could take months or longer. You may need continued medical or other care. You may lose income and have to deal with bill collectors.
For these reasons, personal injury claims are among the most potentially expensive for the insurer—increasing their incentive to settle claims early and cheaply. For all insurers, the uncertainty of these claims (and lawsuits) messes with their accounting predictions, which are basic to their business. In addition, some less scrupulous insurers try to profit from extensively delaying and denying claims. In a better world, all insurers might focus on reducing the volume and intensity of car crashes as the surest way to cut claims expenses. But the industry often portrays No-Fault claims as rife with fraud.
Don’t let such tough talk intimidate you. State insurance law intends for crash victims to be reimbursed for their medical costs under No-Fault, up to the mandatory coverage limits (NYS VTL Article 6, Section 310(2)). It also intends for No-Fault claims to be resolved quickly. Medical claims submitted with proof are to be paid within 30 days (NYSIL 5106(a)).
If you do seek counsel
If you are considering hiring an attorney, it’s best to do so immediately after the crash.
Most personal injury lawyers will advise on a claim’s prospects as a liability suit free of charge. If they think a case has a good chance of succeeding, they’ll take it on “contingency,” meaning they get a portion of any settlement. You will probably have to pay for certain expenses regardless. (Note: An attorney hired on contingency for a liability suit should not charge you separately for assisting with the No-Fault medical claim.)
Choosing the right attorney is critical. You will be signing a binding business contract, and should understand what you’re agreeing to and what you have a right to expect. You should feel comfortable with the attorney, and negotiate any issues before signing on. A helpful step-by-step guide is available from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
The New York City Bar Association Legal Referral Service can help you find an attorney with experience in your type of case, free of charge. Your first half-hour visit will cost $35 and there is no obligation to hire that attorney. The city’s 311 line also sends callers to this service.
Advocacy group Transportation Alternatives provides other links here.
Don’t hire an attorney who contacts you. Lawyers are prohibited from soliciting personal injury clients. And it’s a misdemeanor for another person (known as a “runner”) to refer you to an attorney or doctor with whom they’re affiliated.
Be skeptical of overly optimistic promises. The attorney should warn you of the downsides of legal action—including the toll on your time, wallet, and emotions, and the prospect that you may not win—and explain your options in the worst-case scenario. If they’re unwilling to do so, they may also be unwilling to stick by you should things become difficult.
Asking your friends to recommend a lawyer they have worked with can sometimes be effective. But don’t just take their word for it. Check out the attorney’s credentials, ask questions, and make sure you are comfortable entering into a business relationship with them. You want an attorney with experience in your type of crash, who will be forthright with you and give your case the attention it needs.
Keep a trusted name on your cell phone. Like carrying an umbrella, if you always have this number with you, you probably won’t ever need it.