Legislation can be vague and outdated, leaving many legal decisions up to the court to decide. Over time, rulings form a precedent for judges and juries to follow, although the formed criterion may not always be the best for all cases. Such a problem existed with New York State’s No-Fault statute. The law guarantees medical and lost wage benefits regardless of who was at fault for the automobile accident, but the vague language has left many victims without proper compensation or justice. Luckily, this past November the injustice was corrected through three appeal cases (Perl v. Meher, Adler v. Bayer and Travis v. Batchi) and now individuals hurt in a car can put their worries at rest and focus on recovery.
In all three cases individuals filed lawsuits for personal injuries resulting from automobile accidents. Under the no-fault law, insurance companies pay for the related medical expenses, lost earnings and incidental costs (prescriptions, travel, etc.) regardless of who was responsible for the accident. Without having to assign blame first, both compensation and physical recovery could be faster and less stressful. In order to be eligible for the no-fault statute, the victim had to demonstrate a “serious injury,” but the exact qualifications of a “serious injury” were left undefined and obscure. Due to the technology of the 1970’s when the law was established, “serious injuries” were usually reserved for an injury that could be seen on an x-ray machine. Injuries that were not as easily identifiable required extensive, objective and quantifiable evidence immediately following the accident.
At first glance this requirement seems reasonable to prevent excessive litigation, but it also provided an unseen challenge for victims who later requested compensation. If the victim went to a medical provider with the primary goal of getting better, he or she may not keep in mind that the doctor has to be specific in their records, including writing normal expectancies in comparison with their current physical state. In emergency situations, doctors may not keep as detailed records, make comparisons, or foresee long-term disabilities. As a result, compensation can be limited and the victim is put at a further disadvantage.
Fortunately, in November of 2011 the Court of Appeals ruled that demanding such evidence prevented health care providers from primarily caring and treating a patient. The court now allows doctors to ideally perform their job without putting the victim at a disadvantage for future litigation. This truly is a step forward for victim’s recovery and victim’s rights!