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Nearly 40 Years: New York No Fault Law Still Limiting Right to Recover

Nearly 40 Years: New York No Fault Law Still Limiting Right to Recover

Under New York’s No Fault Threshold Law, originally enacted in the 1970’s, victims of automobile accidents have limited rights to bring claims for injuries or sue the responsible parties.   The law requires a showing of “serious injury” before an injured party is permitted to recover money damages for injuries.   

According to the New York State Insurance Law, “serious injury” means: a personal injury which results in death; dismemberment; significant disfigurement; a fracture; loss of a fetus; permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function or system; permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member; significant limitation of use of a body function or system; or a medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing substantially all of the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.

 As one can imagine, this restrictive definition of serious injury has resulted in many people being left with no remedy or recovery for their injuries.   Furthermore, in recent years, our courts have become more strict in reading the requirements of serious injury laid out in the statute.  Yet in the decades since no fault was enacted, medical science has made extraordinary advances  in testing and diagnosing injuries.  Indeed, the routine use of MRI and CT tests today have helped doctors find and treat many an injury that previously may never have been discovered.   Some of them, such as torn ligaments and herniated discs, can be quite serious and disabling.   But under the no fault rules,  genuinely injured people are left without recourse because the law does not take into account many of these injuries — simply because they were not routinely found by the medical technology in use decades ago, and thus not made part of the “serious injury” criteria.   

However, there is hopeful news regarding “serious injury.”  The New York State Legislature has pending before it several measures that will expand the definitions spelled out in the law to better reflect present day medical knowledge concerning injuries, and better protect the victims of negligent drivers.  Of course, we will keep you updated as to any important developments in this area of the law.

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