New York Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

The roads of New York State are some of the safest in the nation – only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia can boast fewer fatalities per capita. Given New York’s high population, however, that still leaves well over a thousand deaths a year, with several thousand more suffering serious injuries. New York personal injury and wrongful death laws are designed to compensate victims, and its safety laws are designed to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring in the first place.

Statute of Limitations: In New York, you have two years beginning with the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit or a property damage lawsuit (you can combine both claims in the same action). If the victim dies, the personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate has two years from the victim’s date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: New York is a pure comparative fault state. If the victim was partly to blame for the accident, the court will assign the victim a specific percentage of fault based on the evidence, and then subtract that exact percentage from the victim’s damages award. The same method applies even if the victim was mostly to blame for the accident.

Fault/No Fault Rule: New York is a “no fault” state – you must exhaust your own insurance resources before looking to the other driver’s insurance, no matter whose fault the accident was, and you can’t sue the other driver. The only exception is if your injury was “serious” as New York law defines that term.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: In New York, minimum liability coverage limits are $25,000 per injured victim, $50,000 personal injury per accident, and $10,000 property damage per accident.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: New York drivers must purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance with minimum coverage limits of $25,000 per injured victim and $50,000 personal injury coverage per accident.

Types of Damages Available: Full compensatory damages are available. There are no caps on non-economic or punitive damages unless medical malpractice was involved. Punitive damages require proof of malice.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: No-fault product liability is available; however, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant manufactured the product.

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): You can sue a state or county government (or a public corporation) for money damages; however, you will be subject to stringent procedural requirements, time limitations and jurisdictional restrictions.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All motorcycle riders must wear helmets on New York roads.

Seat Belt Laws: Occupants under 16 must wear seat belts in New York. Occupants 16 and older must wear seat belts while sitting in the front seat. The maximum fine for a first offense is $50.

Dram Shop Law: Licensed alcohol vendors and social hosts are civilly liable for selling alcohol to minors under 21 who injure a third party while intoxicated. Vendors face the same liability for serving obviously intoxicated adults, but social hosts do not.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): New York has some of the stiffest DUI penalties in the nation. A first offense can result in a jail term of up to a year, a fine of $500 to $1,000, and a minimum driver’s license suspension of six months.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): New York drivers may not text or use hand-held electronic devices while driving.