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Law Offices of John Morelli
A Personal Injury Firm Serving All Of South Jersey

Car Accident And Liability Basics

General PhotoMotor vehicle accidents cause the loss of time, property, health and even life. Such accidents occur because of elements including driver error, negligence, manufacturing defects and dangerous weather. No matter what the specific cause or result, a crash can turn a normal day into a prolonged struggle. Speaking with a lawyer can help you sort out your rights, your options and your future.

When you have been in an auto accident, you may have a sense of who caused it. Issues of fault, however, can be complicated by who acted when and which laws governed the situation. If the other driver was negligent, you may have to prove that the driver breached a duty of care to you and that the breach caused your damages. The assistance of an attorney can be immensely valuable at this time, whether you are battling an insurance company, seeking compensation for your injuries or defending yourself in court.

Automobiles Getting Safer But Still Dangerous

Over the past 15 years there has been a clear trend in the decrease of the overall number of automobile accidents, with nearly 50,000 less accidents annually in the State of New Jersey than in the late 1990's. Auto manufacturers have added safety features such as rearview cameras, motion sensing and self-parking cars which have lessened the burden placed on drivers while other technological advances, such as cell-phones and texting, have increased distractions.

But, still according to the most recent statistics, in 2011 nearly 65,000 people in New Jersey were reported as being injured as a result of an automobile accident. Car accidents remain the fifth most leading cause of death nationally despite many of these positive trends, and will likely remain so for some time.

Putting any person in control of a 4-ton object rolling along at high-speeds can obviously lead to potential issues. The delicacy of human consciousness merely does it's best to cope with the overwhelming array of stimulus presented to it while driving, and a mere moment's lapse can have devastating consequences. Until self-driving cars become a part of our everyday life, this is a reality that we will have to face in dealing with the untold pain and suffering in which these machines inflict upon our society.

The Number One Cause of Most Auto Accidents

According to the National Highway Institute, every ten seconds, someone gets into yet another car accident. The most frequent causes of automobile accidents are from what the State of New Jersey defines as "negligent" drivers. So long as a person operated their automobile reasonably, following all relevant traffic laws, they are considered acting in a "non-negligent" manner. But, should a driver ever fail to stop, yield or be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they are considered to be acting as a "negligent" driver. If a jury determines that their negligent actions directly lead to the injury of another individual, they are defined as the "actual" cause of events and thus liable for the result of those injuries. Even in seemingly clear cut cases, determining liability and fault can still be an arduous task for even the most well-equipped law firm thanks to strict standards regarding proof of causation.

Dealing with Auto-Insurance after an Accident

For the most part, when you are injured in a car accident caused by the fault of another individual, New Jersey has it set up so that their auto-insurance will then be responsible for covering the costs of your medical care. But, this is not an open-ended commitment, as each person purchases a certain level of coverage to cover these costs before they then can be made responsible to pay.

Auto Insurance companies then have less incentive to approve medical care and procedures as from their perspective; it can be cheaper to simply ignore your bills or refuse to pay them. That is where an experienced an attorney can come in, making sure that if a doctor recommends a certain medical procedure - it is not simply denied outright and the patient has the option to undergo the procedure it if they wish. It happens much more often than it should, as insurance companies know they can throw their weight around more easily against individual citizens.

When a driver refuses or is unable to carry proper motor vehicle insurance, that driver puts more than just him- or herself at risk. If the driver injures another person, the insurance will be inadequate to cover the damages. Injured parties, however, may be covered by their own insurance policies; uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects accident victims in these cases.

Accidents with Uninsured Motorists

Even if your state requires all drivers to carry auto insurance, the driver who injured you or your passenger may not have had insurance. Or you may have been hurt in a hit-and-run accident, making it impossible to identify the driver at all.

This is when uninsured motorist coverage will step in to protect your interests. Many states require auto insurance companies to offer uninsured motorist coverage. If your insurance company offers uninsured motorist coverage, and you chose to include it in your policy, then your insurance company will act as if it were the at-fault driver's insurance company in compensating you.

When you file an uninsured motorist claim, your insurance company's interests can be adverse to your interests. Consulting with an attorney before filing a claim is wise.

Accidents with Underinsured Motorists

When the at-fault driver is underinsured, this means that the driver has purchased an auto insurance policy that does not provide enough coverage for your damages. If you have underinsured motorist coverage, you may be able to collect, from your own insurance company, the amount of your damages that exceeds the at-fault driver's insurance coverage. If you have been involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, it is important to contact an attorney at the Law Offices of John Morelli to create a plan of action.

Collecting Insurance Benefits

To recover benefits under an uninsured or underinsured motorist policy, the victim typically will need to show that the other motorist was at fault. The victim will also need to prove that his or her bodily injuries were significant. To collect benefits under an underinsured motorist policy, the victim will need to collect as much as possible from the at-fault driver's insurance company first.

Stacking Insurance Coverage

In some states and under some insurance policies, an injured party may "stack" various policies to reach a satisfactory level of compensation. By stacking coverage from more than one auto insurance policy - or coverage for more than one car on a single policy - the injured party increases monetary recovery. Stackable coverage is not allowed in every state; in some cases, the insured must choose to have stackable coverage upon purchasing the policy.

How Insurance Companies Handle Injury Claims

The situation in New Jersey, though, has grown more dire thanks to new laws passed granting Auto Insurance companies ever more recourses to repress claims, resulting in one of the nation's worst personal injury systems. Blatant injuries from auto accidents are challenged, with less respected doctors being paid to declare them as "pre-existing" or "degenerative" injuries. There are doctors throughout the state who regularly perform these perfunctory exams on behalf of insurance companies and are jointly paid millions of dollars to "find" that the people were not in fact injured. As ridiculous as it may seem, in my own experience in dealing with these physicians, I have even heard several argue that they have never encountered a permanent spinal injury that was a result of a car accident.

Even if the treating physicians have declared that the person was injured as a result of the accident, the insurance-company-hired-doctors will still attempt to find some way to find that the injury was not caused by the accident to avoid paying the claim. While this may seem like an unrealistic situation and too outrageous to be true, this happens every day throughout the state.

How No-Fault Insurance Works

No-fault insurance is a system in which auto insurance pays benefits to the insured driver in case of an accident. The insurance compensates the insured driver for monetary losses, no matter who was at fault. This is contrary to systems in which the at-fault driver's insurance company must pay the bulk of the compensation after an investigation and determination of fault by the insurance companies or the courts.

The system is designed to streamline the process of payments to injured people and to lower the burden on the courts. Under the no-fault insurance system, it can be more difficult to sue an at-fault driver for damages; the insured typically must have been quite seriously injured in order to take such legal action. On the other hand, monetary recovery for the insured is more certain under no-fault insurance because the compensation is immediately available through the insurance policy of the injured party. No-fault insurance policies often have a cap on the compensation they will pay.

The no-fault insurance system prevents injured parties from receiving a windfall due to the accident, but it also ensures compensation no matter who caused the accident. In a no-fault state, the other driver will also receive compensation from his or her insurance company if that driver sustained certain economic losses. The specifics of no-fault insurance laws vary widely by state.

Personal Injury Protection (PIP)

If you have a no-fault insurance policy, it is probably called a personal injury protection (PIP) package. PIP insurance pays for the medical expenses of the insured driver and the passengers who were injured in an auto accident. PIP insurance typically covers things like medical bills, wage loss and funeral expenses, but not pain and suffering or vehicle damage. This varies by state and particular insurance policy. The PIP packages have limits on what they will pay.

With an attorney on your side, you will know exactly what your options are going forward. The rules which have been set up under "PiP" or Personal Injury Protection are designed to provide the cheapest possible medical care at the expense of the offending driver's auto insurance. Because of this system, those who are involved in car accidents are treated differently. The insurance companies rarely approve the required medical procedures if they are considered too expensive, and because of this there are legions of patients in limbo waiting to be cared for. Without an attorney representing them, they are more likely to get swept under the rug like countless others.

Mental Anguish

Any major injury can be a life-changing event, not just for the potential physical trauma but also the victim's resulting mental anguish. Post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) used to be diagnosed exclusively to combat veterans returning from battles and wartime carnage, but now has been associated with nearly any type of overwhelming trauma. It isn't uncommon for those who were going about their day one minute, and then the next minute are involved in a violent car accident that changes their life to experience some form of PTSD.

In my own experience as an attorney, I see the emotional toll it takes every day. Many people are reticent to admit they are experiencing these symptoms, attempting to deal with it on their own or not fully understanding their condition. But, emotional help is available to car accident victims just as physical help is available. The trauma you experience in that one fleeting moment can leave life-long impressions which should never be discounted and treated respectfully for what they are.

Auto Accidents Caused by Cell Phone Usage

A particular concern amongst drivers today is the growing use of cell phones. In the last few years mobile phones have become ubiquitous, to the point where most people have some sort of device on them at any given time. For safety reasons, a mobile phone can be a valuable tool should an emergency arise. Countless studies have shown that talking on the cell phone while driving distracts one's attention away from the road almost as much as those who have consumed too much alcohol. New Jersey is one of ten states which implemented a full ban on all cell phone usage unless one is using a hands free device while operating an automobile. Even still, according to most recent statistics, in 2010 there were 3,351 car accidents in New Jersey as a result of cell phone usage, including over 1,500 with hands free devices.

If you were in an accident where you believe the other driver was talking on the phone or texting, an attorney can file a motion to secure their billing records and find out whether they were using their device at the time. The records don't lie in showing exactly who someone was talking with and when.

Re-injuring a Pre-existing Condition

A car accident can not only cause new injuries, but exacerbate older or existing problems. Situations like this are common, where pre-existing injuries are re-injured and inflamed thanks to an accident. Things such as manageable back pain can become intolerable. What about someone who just went through surgery, but had their months of therapy and recovery set back thanks to a re-injury?

Just because you have a prior injury or condition to the same part of the body that was injured in a new accident, does not bar you from seeking to make a claim. New Jersey law explicitly allows for the recovery from aggravation or re-injury of a prior medical condition. But, if you do decide to pursue a claim, it is important that you let your attorney know about any previous injuries you may have had. Should you not disclose this information and seek to make a claim for an injury, it is inevitable that the insurance companies will discover it. And failure to disclose opens you up to potential accusations of seeking to hide that information, which will only hurt your chances at a successful recovery. If you have chosen the verbal threshold option, you must show that the aggravation itself created a permanent condition and you doctor must be able to quantify how the aggravation increased your disability.

Contact an Attorney

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects accident victims when they are most vulnerable. Not every policy has such coverage, however, and the victim's approach to the situation can change the level of compensation he or she receives. Indeed, some rules do not require the victim's insurance company to pay the victim if the victim settles prematurely with the at-fault motorist's insurance company. This is why it is so important to work with an experienced attorney from the Law Offices of John Morelli.

How you handle the situation after a motor vehicle accident can make a significant difference in your monetary recovery. Dealing with insurance companies can be especially tricky. In addition, the no-fault and fault insurance systems vary widely by state. Speaking with an attorney from the Law Offices of John Morelli will help to clear up the confusion these systems can cause.

John Morelli has been fighting for his clients since 1981, working within the system to ensure that they receive the best possible representation available.

If you have been involved in an auto accident and are looking to speak to an attorney, call 856-616-1300. Dealing with injuries as a result of a car accident can be a difficult process. Even if you just have a question or concern, call today to see if an attorney is right for you.

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