The Complete New Jersey Car Accident Guide

New Jersey car accidentToday’s cars are safer than ever. Yet, there were still millions of  car accidents on U.S. roadways last year. These accidents resulted in almost 2.3 million injuries. ¹

If you think car accidents only happen to the “other guy,” think again. In fact, the average driver will be involved in three or four car accidents during their lifetime.²

The State of New Jersey has its fair share of car accidents. In fact, New Jersey roadways average over 50,000 car crashes per year.³

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a New Jersey Car Accident

If you’ve been involved in a car accident on a New Jersey roadway, you’ll be faced with decisions involving insurance companies, law enforcement, accident reports, car repairs, medical treatment and more.

You’ll want to be fairly compensated for your losses. This guide can help.

We’ve listed 10 steps to help you build a strong insurance claim. We’ve answered  the most  frequently asked questions that come up after a car accident in New Jersey.

Step 1. Stop, Look for Injuries, Call 911

New Jersey stop help callIf you’ve been in a New Jersey car accident, the law requires you to stop immediately at the accident scene. Once stopped, see if anyone is injured and call 911.

What information will the 911 dispatcher need?

When you call 911 and report the accident, the dispatcher will have specific questions about the accident and those involved. Stay calm.

The dispatcher will need the following information:

Location: Street names, intersections, highway exits, mile markers, and landmarks are helpful.

Tell the dispatcher which side of the road you are on and what direction you were traveling. Detailed information will help emergency personnel arrive quickly.

Injuries: Tell the 911 dispatcher if people are injured, or if anyone is complaining of pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, or if anyone is unconscious.

Hazards: Let the 911 dispatcher know if there are overturned cars, downed power lines, traffic problems or any other hazards on the scene.

Will the police be dispatched?

Each law enforcement agency, including local police, county sheriff, and New Jersey State Patrol, has their own policy for responding to a reported car accident.

In most cases, police are dispatched when there are reports of impaired drivers, injuries, or traffic problems.

When do I have to exchange information with the other driver?

If the accident caused injuries, drivers must stop immediately, or as close to the accident as possible.

Once stopped, drivers must exchange their name and address, and show their driver’s license and vehicle registration.

If no one was injured and there was only vehicle damage, drivers must still exchange their name and address, and show their driver’s license and vehicle registration.

Besides damage to your vehicle, an at-fault driver can still be responsible to compensate you for personal property damaged in the accident, such as a computer, jewelry, cell phone, etc.

What if I hit a parked car and no one is in it?

Once stopped, try to locate the owner or driver of the car and tell them about the collision. Once you’ve found them, give your name and address.

If you’re unable to locate the owner, leave a note. Include your name and address, and a an explanation of what happened.

Leave the note on the car, and notify the police.

Can I be held liable if I help someone injured in the accident?

No. Under New Jersey’s “Good Samaritan” law, if you provide emergency care to an accident victim or transport victims to a hospital in good faith, you won’t be held liable.

Am I required to notify the police if I’m in a car accident?

If you’ve been involved in a car accident involving injuries, or if the property damage resulting from the accident is $500 or more, you’re required to immediately notify the nearest law enforcement agency.

If the police haven’t filed an accident report, you must also file a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Accident Report within ten days after the accident.

Where can I get a copy of the Police Crash Report?

Police crash reports are available through the New Jersey State Police website.

Step 2. Collect Evidence for Your Claim

New Jersey accident photo evidenceIt’s important to think clearly and act quickly after an accident. Evidence you gather at the scene can be vital to your property damage and personal injury claim.

Before long, cars will be driven or towed away, and the other drivers, passengers and witnesses will leave.

If you’ve suffered injuries or property damage, you’ll need evidence to support your claim against the at-fault driver and their insurance company.

What kind of injury damages are covered by insurance ?

Damages are unique to every car accident and every person involved.

Personal injury claims can involve damages such as:

  • Medical, dental and therapy bills
  • Diagnostic tests (X-Rays, CT Scans, MRIs)
  • Out-of-pocket expenses (travel and parking costs)
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • Slings, crutches or wheelchairs
  • Nursing costs
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Is there additional information which will help my claim?

Yes. The more information you obtain at the scene, the stronger your claim will become.

Try to get the following information:

Other People Involved

  • Full names
  • Home and business addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Dates of birth
  • Driver’s license numbers

Vehicles Involved

  • Make, Model and Year
  • License plate number
  • Registration expiration date
  • Vehicle Identification Number

The VIN can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left bottom corner. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the driver’s side door jamb.

Diagram of the Scene

  • Location of the cars immediately before and after the collision
  • Current weather conditions
  • Time of day the accident occurred
  • Approximate speed of each car
  • Direction they were headed

Are photographs and video important?

Yes! Photographs and videos will capture the following:

  • Position of the cars immediately after the collision
  • Weather conditions
  • Potholes and road obstructions
  • Traffic lights, street signs, bridge abutments, and more
  • Demeanor of the drivers, passengers, and witnesses
  • Signs of intoxication
  • Admissions of fault

How about witness statements?

While witnesses are under no legal obligation to speak with you, they can be a rich source of evidence in support of your claim.

If you find a witness who will speak with you, get their names, address, and contact information. Ask them to write down what they saw and heard.

Be sure to have them sign and date each page of their statement.

Step 3. Police and Accident Scenes

New Jersey police at accidentLaw enforcement officers dispatched to the scene of a car accident may be local police, county sheriff, or state troopers.

New Jersey officers are all highly trained in accident scene investigation.

What’s the role of law enforcement at accident scenes?

When law enforcement arrives at the accident scene they are authorized to:

  • Seek out the injured, render assistance and summon fire and rescue
  • Secure the scene by setting out flares, pylons, and taking other cautionary measures meant to protect others
  • Search for causes of the accident, including skid marks, road obstructions, weather conditions, and driver negligence, and drivers who may be intoxicated
  • Interview drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bystanders
  • Run background checks on those at the scene
  • Issue traffic citations
  • Make arrests for intoxication, outstanding warrants, and other offenses

Do I have to answer questions from the police?

It depends. When law enforcement arrives at the accident scene you’re required to identify yourself and give the officer your full name, address, registration of the car you were driving at the time of the crash, and proof of insurance.

However, if you are being questioned by the police about driving under the influence, possession of drugs, or for any other action which might result in criminal charges being filed against you, you have the right not to answer those questions and immediately ask for an attorney.

An accident scene is no place to be belligerent. If the officer tells you to wait or be patient, you must cooperate.

Making demands or arguing with the officer may work against you. In extreme cases, not cooperating can lead to your arrest.

Does the officer have to read me my rights if I’m being questioned? 

No. Miranda warnings do not apply to questions about traffic citations.

While a traffic stop is a form of restraint by law enforcement, since you don’t feel free to leave, it is not a form of “custody” or “custodial interrogation.”

What if the police give me a ticket?

If a law enforcement officer decides you violated New Jersey’s traffic laws, you may be issued a traffic citation. You can try to talk the officer out of writing the citation, but once issued, you must sign and accept it.

Signing a traffic citation is not an admission of guilt. It’s simply an agreement you will appear in court on a specified day and time to address the citation.

On your appearance date, you may enter a plea of not guilty and ask for a trial. You may also attempt to negotiate a “plea bargain” with the prosecutor.

This may include paying a fine and attending a driver education course. Once completed, the citation will be dismissed, and in most cases, not appear on your driving record.

Step 4. Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

New Jersey accident call insuranceYour insurance policy is a legally binding contract between you and your insurance company.

Most car insurance policies have a “Notice of Occurrence” or “Cooperation” clause. These clauses require you (the insured) to notify your insurance company (the insurer) when you’re involved in a car accident.

Here’s a sample Cooperation and Notice of Occurrence clause:

“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”

What does the “Notice of Occurrence” clause mean to me?

Your insurance company needs to hear from you as soon as possible after the collision. The information you give your insurance company assists them in pursuing an at-fault driver.

Your cooperation also helps the insurance company protect you from frivolous and unwarranted claims of property damage and personal injuries filed by others.

Do I have to I notify my insurance company if no one was injured?

Yes. If you’re involved in a minor fender-bender, you may be tempted not to report the accident to your insurance company, especially if the other driver was at-fault and you’re pursuing your property damage claim with their insurance company.

You may also be tempted not to report the crash to your insurance company because you and the driver agreed to work out the property damage between each other, and not to report the crash to your respective insurance companies.

Or maybe you don’t want to report the crash out of fear your insurance company will raise your premiums, fail to renew your policy, or worse, cancel your policy altogether.

Don’t fall into that trap! Your fender-bender may appear to have been injury-free, but if you take a closer look you’ll find not reporting the accident to your insurance company can be a very serious mistake.

Here’s why:

Delayed Symptoms: The other driver or passengers may believe they were uninjured.

But because symptoms for some injuries can take hours, and even days to appear, the injuries you thought were non-existent suddenly become very real.

No Insurance: The other driver may not have property damage or personal liability coverage. If so, that’s last thing they want you to know.

If the police were going to be called, that would be bad news for the other driver. They could be ticketed, or worse, arrested.

Fraud: At the scene, the driver and passengers may have said they weren’t injured, but hours, or even days later they decide to “cash-in” on the accident by filing multiple fraudulent claims.

They may have planned this from the beginning, even before the crash.

Are there apps I can use to report an accident? 

Yes. Today many insurance companies offer free apps to help their insured report accidents.

Check with your insurance company to see if they offer a downloadable app.

Depending on the app, you may be able to:

  • Take and store pictures and videos
  • Store and transmit personal information, driver’s license, vehicle and insurance information
  • Create and send state-required crash reports to authorities
  • Help you to draw a diagram of the accident scene
  • Access GPS locations of the accident scenes
  • Store witness statements and contact information

Here are some free accident reporting apps:

Allstate Mobile
State Farm
Progressive
GEICO
Nationwide

What happens if I don’t notify my insurance company?

Failing to report an accident to your insurance company may be a breach of your policy agreement that can lead the company to raise your rates, fail to renew your policy, or even cancel your insurance.

Will my premiums go up if I report the accident?

In most cases, insurance premiums won’t go up if you aren’t responsible for causing the accident.

A decision to raise your premiums depends on several factors, and each insurance company has their own rating system.

Your insurance company will look at  your history of prior accidents, severity of injuries, issuance of traffic citations, property damage, and other factors.

Should I admit the accident was my fault?

No. There is no reason to tell the other driver the accident was your fault.

There may be factors you’re unaware of that contributed to causing the accident. These factors may prove the other driver was also to blame for the crash.

If so, under New Jersey’s Contributory Negligence Rule, the amount of compensation awarded may be much less than the other driver was demanding.

Step 5. New Jersey No-Fault Insurance Law

New Jersey no fault insuranceNew Jersey is a “Choice No-Fault” car insurance state.

Under this law, people injured in an auto accident must turn to their own insurance company and file a “first-party” claim.

Are there any exceptions to the No-Fault requirement?

Yes. There are two:

1) New Jersey drivers are not required to file a first-party claim with their own insurance if they have suffered certain types of injuries:

  •  Dismemberment
  •  Significant scarring
  •  Displaced fractures
  •  Loss of a fetus
  •  Permanent injury (other than scarring or disfigurement)

2) While New Jersey is a no-fault insurance state, it offers its drivers a choice.

Drivers have the option of choosing a no-fault insurance plan or a third-party insurance plan.

If you decide not to have no-fault insurance, and instead chose a third-party liability plan, you have the right to pursue the at-fault driver directly, without having to file an injury claim with your own insurance company.

Under a third-party claim, if you sustain property damage or personal injuries because of  another driver’s negligence , you have three options:

  1. File an accident claim with your own insurance company
  2. File an accident claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  3. File a lawsuit against the negligent driver

Does the No-Fault Rule apply to property damage claims?

No. The no-fault insurance requirement doesn’t apply to property damage claims.

Property damage claims may be filed separately and directly against the at-fault driver.

Step 6. New Jersey Car Insurance Requirements

New Jersey auto insurance To protect everyone on New Jersey’s roadways, drivers must carry minimum amounts of property damage and personal injury insurance.

Of course, drivers can also purchase higher amounts of coverage.

What are New Jersey’s minimum car insurance requirements?

New Jersey drivers must carry the following types and amounts of insurance:

  • $15,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in one accident
  • $30,000 for bodily injury or death to two or more persons in one accident
  • $15,000 for personal injury protection (PIP)
  • $5,000 for property damage in one accident

Uninsured and Underinsured motorist coverage is not mandatory in New Jersey.

Uninsured and Underinsured motorist coverage pays for bodily injury or property damage if you are in an accident caused by an uninsured driver, or a driver who has insurance with limits less than your underinsured motorist coverage.

Check with your insurance agent. Most insurance companies offer policies with the option to purchase Uninsured and Underinsured motorist coverage in amounts equal to your liability coverage.

Step 7. New Jersey Contributory Negligence 

New Jersey contributory negligenceThe State of New Jersey follows what is commonly referred to as a “Modified Contributory Negligence Rule.”

Under this rule, drivers involved in car accidents may share liability for the accident and its resulting costs.

This means you can pursue damages against the other driver, even if the accident was partly your fault, as long as you are not the driver most to blame for the accident.

Is there a limit to the percentage of contributory negligence?

Yes. You can pursue compensation from the at-fault driver as long as your percentage of fault for the  accident isn’t more than 50%.

If your percentage of  blame for the accident was 51% or higher, you are not eligible for any compensation from the other driver or their insurance company.

What’s an example of contributory negligence?

Brittany and Bob were driving on the Garden State Parkway when they collided with each other.

When police arrived at the scene, Bob admitted to the officer he didn’t see Brittany’s car because he was texting.

Based on Bob’s admission, the police officer issued Bob a traffic citation for texting while driving.

However, after speaking with witnesses, the police officer determined Brittany contributed to the accident by driving carelessly.

Witnesses told the police they saw Brittany swerving from lane to lane, while she was looking over her shoulder laughing with passengers in the back seat.

Police then issued Brittany a traffic citation for Careless Driving.

Brittany was severely injured in the crash. She filed an injury claim with Bob’s insurance company, asking $100,000 for her injuries, pain and suffering. The claim didn’t settle.

Through her attorney, Brittany filed a lawsuit against Bob, demanding $100,000.

At trial, the jury saw evidence of Bob’s admission that he was texting at the time of the crash, and the fact that he received a traffic citation for texting.

The jury also saw evidence of Brittany’s traffic ticket for careless driving.

After hearing all the evidence, the jury reached the following verdict:

  • Bob’s negligence (texting) was 60% of the blame for the crash
  • Brittany’s contributory negligence (careless driving) was 40% of the blame for the crash

While the jury agreed that Brittany’s claim was worth $100,000, they awarded Brittany $60,000, representing the 40% reduction for her portion of blame for the accident.

If the jury had found Brittany’s contribution to the crash at 51% or more, Brittany would have received nothing.

Step 8. Retaining an Attorney

New Jersey hire attorney self representMost property damage claims can be handled without an attorney. If your only losses were damage to your car, or personal property within the car, you probably don’t need an attorney.

There are also some personal injury claims which can be handled without representation. Others however, always require an experienced personal injury attorney.

What’s the difference between soft tissue and hard injuries?

There are basically two types of personal injuries:

Soft tissue injuries include sprains and strains to tendons, muscles, ligaments, minor bruising, whiplash, abrasions, cuts not requiring stitches, first degree burns, and similar injuries.

Soft tissue injuries are normally straight-forward, and don’t often require complex or extensive medical treatment.

Soft tissue injuries typically include a short period of physical therapy, ranging from a few weeks to a few months.

Hard injuries are much more serious and include dismemberment, disfigurement, scarring, compound fractures, deep gashes, third degree burns, head trauma, and other similar serious injuries.

Hard injuries require expensive and lengthy medical treatment, diagnostic testing (such as X-Rays, MRIs, CT Scans), and more.

There’s just too much to lose by representing yourself in a serious injury claim.

On your own, you’re at an immediate disadvantage when dealing with the insurance company. You simply don’t have the legal tools or the skills required to negotiate as effectively as an attorney.

A claims adjuster won’t tell you the at-fault driver’s policy limits. You won’t know how much insurance money is avaialble, whether the at-fault driver carried the minimum insurance coverage, or a higher limit policy.

And worse, once the adjuster tells you that’s their final offer, your leverage is gone.

In a serious injury claim, an experienced personal injury attorney can file a lawsuit, which is the ultimate leverage for obtaining a substantially higher settlement. You’ll end up with more compensation, even after paying your attorney.

In pursuit of a higher settlement, an injury attorney can file subpoenas for witnesses; file discovery motions; serve requests for production of documents; and learn policy limits, prior traffic accidents, traffic citations, prior arrests, and so much more.

This is all information you’d have a difficult time finding on your own, and the insurance company knows it.

Insurance companies don’t like personal injury attorneys. Once an attorney becomes involved in the claim, the company costs of defending the claim skyrocket. Lawsuits cost insurance companies millions of dollars a year in legal fees and related costs.

The at-fault driver’s insurance company knows once a skilled personal injury attorney is involved, the settlement will likely be much higher than the victim might have negotiated on thier own.

How much will a personal injury attorney charge to review my case?

Most personal injury attorneys won’t charge for the initial office consultation. You can meet with several injury attorneys in your area.

Once you choose an attorney to represent you, the attorney will likely accept your case on a “contingency fee” basis. This means you will not have to pay any fees until the attorney settles your claim or wins it at trial.

Your attorney will be paid  a percentage of the total settlement or the court award. In the event the attorney is unable to settle your claim or loses at trial, you will owe the attorney nothing.

How much are contingency fees?

Most personal injury attorneys charge anywhere from 25% to 40% of the gross settlement or court award.

The fee normally depends on the complexity of the case, if it goes to trial, and what you negotiated at the time you retained the attorney.

When considering contingency fees, it’s important to realize the attorney representing you is obligated to pay all costs required to successfully resolve your claim.

Costs can include private investigator fees, court reporter fees, lawsuit filing fees, medical expert fees, and more. These costs can be substantial.  If your attorney fails to settle your claim, or loses the case in trial, you will owe nothing. The attorney has to absorb the costs.

Can I negotiate the attorney’s fees?

You can try. There is nothing wrong with asking the attorneys you consult with to reduce their fees.

Step 9. When to Consider Small Claims Court

New Jersey small claims courtNew Jersey Small Claims Court was created by the state  legislature to provide a way for people  who believe they’ve been wronged to bring their cases before a judge.

These courts are relatively informal, where strict rules of evidence do not apply.

When would I consider filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court?

Here are several reasons why you may consider filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company denies your claim
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement amount
  • The at-fault driver was uninsured or under-insured at the time of the crash
  • You choose not to file a claim with your own insurance company
  • You can’t find an attorney who will represent you on a contingency fee basis

How much can I sue for in New Jersey Small Claims Court?

The maximum amount you can sue for in New Jersey Small Claims Court is s $3,000.

Do I need an attorney?

No. Realistically, because of the $3,000 limit in Small Claims Courts, it is unlikely you would be able to find an attorney to represent you.

How do I find out more about New Jersey Small Claims Court?

For more information on Small Claims Court, visit the New Jersey Judiciary Self-Help Resource Center and the Small Claims FAQ.

Where Can I find the Small Claims Court nearest to me?

You can find the Small Claims Court nearest to you by visiting the New Jersey Court System website.

Step 10. New Jersey Statute of Limitations

New Jersey statute limitationsLike all other states, New Jersey has specific statutory time periods for various legal actions. These time periods are referred to as the Statute of Limitations.

What is the Statute of Limitations for car accident claims in New Jersey?

If you’ve been the victim of a New Jersey car accident, you must either settle your personal injury claim or file a lawsuit within two (2) years.

In most cases, the statute of limitations period begins on the date of the accident.

If you haven’t settled your claim or filed a lawsuit against the at-fault driver within two years, you lose your legal right to pursue the at-fault driver for compensation.

What do I do if the insurance company is stalling? 

The insurance company claims adjuster is not your friend. This is true no matter how important the adjuster makes you feel, or how sympathetic they sound. The claims adjuster’s job is to look out for the insurance company and no one else.

The claims adjuster is under no legal obligation to settle your claim before the deadline, or remind you of the two year statute of limitations time period.

To avoid forfeiting your right to compensation, you must either settle the claim or file a lawsuit before the two-year deadline.

Once a lawsuit is filed, the limitations period no longer applies, even if it takes a year or longer to resolve the claim.

Be sure you have entered the statute of limitations period in your calendar, into your computer, and into your cell phone calendar app. Give yourself plenty of reminders.

If the statute of limitations deadline for your claim is rapidly approaching, immediately contact an experienced personal injury attorney. It won’t cost you anything to find out what an attorney can do to protect your claim.

 

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