Uncontrolled Intersection

I was involved in a fender bender in a remote area upstate. Neither of the roads at the accident intersection had a traffic control. Do I have a claim against the other driver for my property damage?

The best answer is let your insurance company handle the problem. If you have a collision endorsement on your car insurance policy, you should report the claim to your insurance company. Your insurance carrier will pay your property damage claim. You will have to pay your deductible to the repair shop. (So if you have a $500 deductible, you are responsible for the first $500 in damage and your insurance company will pay for the rest of the repair bill.) Your insurance company then has a “right of subrogation.” This means that the insurance company has the right to stand in your shoes and bring a lawsuit for property damage against the other driver in this accident. Your insurance company has their own legal staff to make such claims. You do not need to hire your own lawyer to bring a lawsuit for property damage. Furthermore, if the case goes well against the other driver, you will get back your entire deductible.

But if you do not have a collision endorsement on your car insurance policy, then you will have to bring your own lawsuit. Most attorneys do not handle such claims. You can bring your claim in small claims court. Small Claims Court now has jurisdiction to handle claims up to $10,000. On Staten Island, Small Claims are handled through the Civil Court building located on Castleton Avenue. There is some assistance offered to help you fill out paperwork to start the lawsuit against the other driver.

The applicable law for this case is found in Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1140. When two vehicles enter a traffic with no traffic control, the vehicle on the left must yield the right of way to the vehicle on the right. Beyond that, it is up to both drivers to be aware that there are no traffic controls at the intersection. Furthermore, both drivers are charged with using “reasonable” care entering the intersection. Each of the drivers would tell their story to the judge or arbitrator in Small Claims Court. And then, the judge or arbitrator would make an award, based upon a finding of fault.

Impaired Drivers

I was injured in a car accident. The other driver looked like she was drunk or impaired in some way. Will my case be affected by the other driver’s condition?

There are two ways the other driver’s condition may affect your case. A person who drives a car in an impaired state is held to the same standard of care as a sober driver. Furthermore, if the driver took a breathalyzer test, the results of that test would be admissible at trial. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 lists categories of impairment based on the amount of alcohol in a person’s body and the jury would be aware of the test results and the categories of impairment. If the impaired driver refuses to take a breathalyzer test at the scene, that fact a driver refused to take a breathalyzer test at the scene of an accident would also be admissible at trial under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194. So a jury would be aware of all the circumstances of the accident and would be instructed to judge the standard of care of the impaired driver as if the driver were sober.

The second affect on your case may be less helpful. Most auto insurance policies have a clause which gives insurance companies the right to disclaim coverage for an impaired driver. If the insurance carrier for the other vehicle disclaims coverage, it may be in your interest to legally fight that disclaimer. If you lose that fight with the impaired driver’s insurance company, you would have the right to bring a claim against your own insurance policy for an uninsured motorist claim. Every auto insurance policy must provide benefits for a driver involved in an uninsured accident. This means if the carrier for the impaired driver successfully disclaims coverage, you could pursue a bodily injury against your own carrier for an uninsured motorist claim.

Emergency Doctrine

“Why was I sued by the car insurence of a parked car that I hit only after another car crossed over head on into my lane of traffic?”

The short and  answer is that you were operating the car the struck a parked car.  But you have have an excellent point and your defense of this case illustrates the Emergency Doctrine.  Under the Emergency Doctrine, a driver is not responsible for his actions if they arise out of an emergency situation not of his own creation.  It is not resonable that a car would cross over into oncoming traffic.  This emergency was not your fault. Therefore, any damages caused by your striking a parked car is attribuatble to the person who crossed over into oncoming traffice and created the emergency situation. Your car insurance will handle the defense of this case and you should notify the insurance company promptly. 

But the application of the Emergency Doctrine rule can be tricky.  Suppose you hit that same parked car because it was snowing and the roads were treacherous?  You did not create the snow.  However, in that case, the weather is easily discernable by anyone driving.  Hence, the driver created the emergency situation by driving in bad weather and at such a speed that he could not maintain control of his vehicle. Therefore, it is up to the person driving under wintry conditions to exercise extreme caution.