For more than 30 years, I’ve represented people injured in car crashes. I went to four years of college. I spent three years in law school. I read every article I can get my hands on about auto insurance in New York. New York auto insurance law is confusing! I don’t know if it’s confusing because it’s constantly changing. I don’t know if it’s confusing because the insurance companies are continually changing the rules by changing their insurance contracts. Regardless of the reason, there’s no doubt it isn’t obvious.

If you think I am exaggerating the confusion, the New York Insurance Department prints what is supposed to be a “consumer guide” to auto insurance in New York. This “guide” is 176 pages! Who has time to read 176 pages?

Let’s face it. We all pay a lot of money for our car insurance. Unfortunately, New York law requires us to carry insurance, so we don’t have a choice. The problem is that almost no one understands their auto insurance. I want you to know what you need to know to protect yourself and your family. I want you to know without spending days reading tons of confusing information.

I want you to know the secrets your insurance agent never told you!

Remember, your insurance agent works for the insurance company. He or she gets paid by the insurance company. Therefore, they take their marching orders from the company. Under New York law, insurance agents are not considered professionals. Therefore, unlike doctors or lawyers, whom you can sue if they fail to represent or treat you properly, an insurance agent generally cannot be sued if they fail to advise you properly.

Although there are many good insurance agents, some do not do what is best for you—they do what is best for their company! We all know that it’s tough to bite the hand that feeds you. If the agent ticks you off, he loses one customer. If the agent ticks off the company, he loses his job. Don’t get me wrong, there are good agents out there, but you need to make sure you have a good one and know what insurance you need.

I want you to know the one type of coverage everyone should have and that almost no one does. There’s a type of coverage in New York that can ensure you and your family are fully protected no matter the circumstances of the other driver. The other driver is a young kid who has only the minimum-required insurance? The other driver is a drunk driver who lost his insurance because of three DWIs? Do you think you have complete protection under your current insurance? You’d better think again. Why would your insurance company not encourage you to buy essential protection?

Sadly, it’s because of money. Profits. Millions and millions of dollars.

Insurance companies make profits by collecting more money in premiums than they pay out in claims—simple math. There is no incentive for insurance companies to sell you a type of coverage where the premiums are low, and the potential payouts are high. New York law requires insurance companies to tell you about this coverage, but most people have never heard of it!

In New York, we even have a law that requires insurance companies to offer this type of coverage to you. However, I have had personal experience with many clients who told me they had never heard of the coverage before. These are intelligent people, but they don’t know when I start asking them about their insurance coverages.

It’s become clear to me why these folks don’t know about this coverage and haven’t purchased it—it’s because their agent hasn’t pointed out the need for the coverage. 

And why is that? Because the coverage doesn’t cost much, but the potential payouts are huge.

The good news is that the insurance company’s loss can be your gain. Your job is to protect yourself and your family, not the insurance company’s profits.

So, how do you protect yourself and your family? It’s simple once you know how it all works. The key to protecting yourself is to know what insurance coverages you need!

Understanding Auto Insurance Coverages in New York

There are two general categories of insurance coverages:

  1. “Liability Coverage”– coverage that protects the “other guy” if you hurt someone else
  2. Coverage that protects you and your passengers. These are the ones most people do not understand and since these are the ones that protect you, it is critical that you understand each one of them. There are two main types of coverage under this category:
  3. No-fault coverage (NF)
  4. Supplementary Underinsured Motorists Coverage (SUM)

Protecting Others – Liability Insurance

New York law requires all licensed vehicles to be covered by liability insurance.

Liability insurance covers the other driver (and his passengers) if you are at fault for causing a crash. If you are at fault and cause an accident, your liability insurance coverage compensates the other driver for his injuries and damages. Likewise, if the other driver was at fault for causing the crash, his liability coverage would cover you (and your passengers)

Please note the important distinction – unlike no-fault coverage that will be discussed below – liability insurance only pays when one vehicle is found to have been at fault and it only pays to the folks in the vehicle that was not at fault.

But the big thing that almost no one understands is that you cannot automatically or easily get the money from the other guy’s insurance company even if he is 100% at fault!

You can only recover from his insurance company if they want to be nice (yeah, right!) Or by pursuing a lawsuit and proving that you have suffered a “serious injury”!

That’s right, even if the accident is totally his fault, you don’t recover one dime from his insurance carrier unless you can prove you suffered a “serious injury!”

What is considered a serious injury?

So, what is considered a “serious injury”? Here’s how the New York Insurance Law defines serious injury:

  • Fracture of a bone
  • Significant facial disfigurement with visible scarring
  • Loss of a limb
  • Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, or system
  • Permanent consequential limitation in the use of a body organ or member
  • Significant limitation in the use of a body function or system
  • A medically determined impairment that prevents the victim from conducting their normal daily activities for at least 90 days during the 180 days immediately following the accident.
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Death

These injuries must be medically proven. Your complaints about your injuries alone are not enough; rather, expert medical testimony and medical documentation are required to pursue a lawsuit.

The importance of speaking to a New York personal injury lawyer before speaking to the other driver’s insurance company

If you have a serious injury, you should definitely talk to an experienced injury attorney BEFORE you talk to the other insurance company!

Let me just say that you should never talk to the liability adjuster for the other driver’s insurance company until after you have at least consulted with an injury attorney who knows the ropes.

Most injury attorneys do not charge for the initial consultation (I do not), and most will be happy to help you understand the dangers of talking with the liability adjuster. Even if I am not retained to handle a person’s claim, I am happy to explain the pitfalls of trying to negotiate your claim on your own.

Remember, insurance companies spend millions of dollars each year training their adjusters to get you to settle your claim for as little as they can!

Adjusters will tell you almost anything to get you to sign on the dotted line and they will often misinform you about the law.

They will help you get your claim settled quickly. They will tell you that you don’t need a lawyer (ask them if the insurance company has any lawyers working for them and ask them why they need a lawyer if you don’t.

They will tell you that the lawyer will take 1/3rd of your money as his fee. True, but they don’t tell you that a national study proved that people represented by an attorney recovered 300% more than unrepresented persons – this means that even after that attorney’s 1/3rd fee is deducted, you still get twice as much with an attorney as the unrepresented person gets trying to handle the claim on his own.

Finally, just know that if you sign a Release (a Release is a legal document that the insurance company will insist on your signing before they give you any money), you are giving up any and all legal rights you may have to go after the other driver no matter how bad your injuries become in the future. Need additional surgery after you signed the Release? Tough luck, you are done.

Bottom Line: Do not sign anything, and talk to an injury attorney BEFORE you talk to the other person’s insurance company.

We offer free consultations for car crash and other injury cases

If you were seriously hurt in a car crash, the Ziff Law Firm is here to help. Contact our New York car crash injury lawyers now by calling (800) 943-3529 or email us at . The initial consultation and case evaluation with a member of our experienced legal team is free, so call us today to get started.