How do insurance companies determine fault in NJ?

November 3, 2020 | Chris Costello, Esq.

New Jersey is considered a “no-fault” state. This simply means more when someone is involved in a car accident their insurance company will plan for the lost wages and medical bills up to their policy limit regardless of who was at fault.

However, in some circumstances it does become necessary to determine who was at fault for a crash if the damages exceed the policy limits of available PIP coverage.  Before going any further it is necessary to understand New Jersey insurance policies typically fall under two categories, a basic policy and a standard policy. Each of these policies have Personal Injury Protection coverage or (PIP).

What Is Personal Injury Protection?

Also called no-fault insurance, PIP provides coverage to all occupants of a vehicle, driver and passengers. New Jersey is one of several states that require this insurance. As mentioned above, PIP ensures coverage no matter who is found at fault. These policies payout for damages if the policy terms cover the accident. Under New Jersey’s no-fault system, you make claims through your insurer. Expenses often covered by PIP includes:

  • Lost wages
  • Health insurance deductibles
  • Costs for services required as a result of disabilities due to injuries
  • Medical expenses beyond the health insurance policy limits
  • Funeral expenses in the event of a death

The no-fault system doesn’t always permit filing a claim against an at-fault driver for damages beyond what your insurance policy pays. However, specific circumstances, such as significant injuries or medical expenses, allow for a lawsuit. No-fault PIP doesn’t cover everything that other policies do, such as:

  • Damage to your car caused by the accident
  • Damage caused to another’s property as a result of the accident
    • Property damage liability coverage compensates a property owner for damage.

 Medical expenses above your no-fault insurance limits are also not covered by your personal PIP policy. If you have medical payments coverage, which is not a requirement in New Jersey, it can reimburse accident-related medical expenses. It covers up to the limits you’ve chosen for the policy.

Is Proving Fault After Your Car Crash Important?

If you are injured in a car wreck, you can file a PIP claim with your insurance provider (as discussed above). These benefits are available regardless of who is responsible for the crash.

However, if you want to recover damages beyond your policy coverage or from another driver’s policy, you must establish that another party is responsible for the crash.

It is important to note that most auto policies in New Jersey contain the limited right to sue, often referred to as the verbal threshold. If your policy has a limited right to sue it is likely you cannot file a claim for non-economic damages. New Jersey Basic Policies typically will contain the limited right to sue, unless the claim meets specific requirements. Typically you can sue the at-fault driver if your injuries are in one of the following categories:

  • Significant disfigurement or scarring
  • Loss of a body part
  • Displaced fractures
  • Loss of an unborn child  
  • Permanent injury with likely ongoing or future medical treatments
  • Death

If your insurance policy includes the unlimited right to sue, this can be selected when purchasing a standard policy in New Jersey, you can file a claim for bodily injuries and non-economic damages against a negligent driver.

How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?

If you lose a loved one to a car crash caused by another driver or sustain injuries that qualify under the verbal threshold, you can file a claim. However, for a successful outcome, you need to demonstrate that the accident was the other party’s fault. The following factors can help determine who is responsible for the crash.

Collision type

If another driver rear-ended you, he or she may be negligent. If a driver made a left turn across oncoming traffic and crashed into you, he or she may be at fault if you had the right of way. In accidents that occur at an intersection, the accident’s responsibility lies with the party who did not have the right of way.

Video and pictures

Video and photographs that document the accident, property damage, various perspectives of the crash and injuries can offer insight into what happened. Then can inform the opinion of forensic experts as to the accident mechanics. Video can include footage from traffic lights as well as surrounding surveillance cameras.

Black box data

 Most cars manufactured since 2014 have on-board event data recorders. Often called a “black box,” these devices record and store 15 data inputs that include:

  • Braking during the crash
  • Severity of the damage
  • Length of the accident
  • Engine rpm
  • Steering

Accessing the data is difficult and requires specialized equipment that is unavailable to the owner of the vehicle. As a result, only certain personnel can access these devices.

Witness statements

People who saw the crash can provide valuable details. Witnesses could include pedestrians walking nearby, individuals in other cars and the occupants of your vehicle. Statements could shed light on the behavior of those involved in the accident, whether there seemed to be mechanical issues, the force of the impact and observations of the road conditions.

Police report

The officers who respond to the accident scene list various details in their account. They may note the presence of skid marks, the speed limit and any suspicions of drunk or distracted driving. Blood alcohol tests may be administered at the scene. Cell phone records can confirm whether there was activity at the time of the crash.

Do You Need an Experienced Car Accident Attorney?

The insurance companies of each driver involved in the accident will conduct an investigation. They determine the degree of fault using a modified comparative fault scheme based on the Comparative Negligence Act. Insurance companies lose revenue when they pay claims, so they may try to demonstrate that you were the responsible party or deny that the drivers they insure were at fault.

Having your own lawyer ensures the protection of your rights. Your attorney can conduct an independent investigation with accident reconstructionist and other expert witnesses whose findings are presented during settlement talks. Don’t trust an insurance company to give you fair compensation. Working with an experienced car accident lawyer can help ensure your story gets told and that you get the compensation you deserve.

If you have a disputed liability claim or have questions about a car accident, contact us to schedule a car crash consultation! 

 

Chris Costello, ESQ.

Chris Costello, ESQ.

Chris handles matters in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is an active member of the New Jersey Association for Justice as well as the Burlington County Bar Association. As a Burlington County personal injury lawyer, Mr. Costello has served as chairman of the Burlington County Bar Association Personal Injury Committee and lectured on topics related to auto accidents and insurance law.

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