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If you are injured in an automobile accident, the State of New Hampshire does not require that you sustain any monetary or physical damage requirements in order to file a lawsuit against the operator of another vehicle. In some states, you need to prove that you have certain injuries in order to file a lawsuit. In New Hampshire, however, you do not. As in most automobile personal injury cases, there are only two main issues to be assessed before a court. Most attorneys and insurance companies refer to those two issues as "liability" and "damages". These are the two most important factors in assessing your case. You must show that the other party was negligent in the operation of their motor vehicle; negligence is generally defined as a "failure to use reasonable care". And you must show that you have sustained damages in order to recover a monetary sum from another motor vehicle operator.
Proving liability is the most difficult, yet most important part of your case. In New Hampshire, you must show a judge or jury that the operator of the other motor vehicle was more negligent than you. In other words, if you are found more than fifty percent (50%) negligent, you will not recover any losses in your action. See New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated 507:7. (NRSA 507:7). Negligence is a very tricky subject. More often than not, a case may be determined simply on the basis of your theory of the accident against that of the other driver. In this instance, you will need a capable and experienced attorney who understands how to prepare your case for trial. Although many automobile cases result in some pre-trial settlement, a competent attorney will prepare every case as though he or she expects the matter to end up before a judge or jury. This type of strategy will ultimately guarantee a successful recovery for the client whether or not the matter is ultimately resolved by a court.
In addition, you will need to prove that you have sustained damages. There are generally two types of losses recoverable in a court of law: personal injury and property damage. Regarding personal injuries, much of the analysis focuses around your medical diagnosis following the accident. An attorney will typically request an affidavit from a doctor or present your medical records in order to prove that you have sustained injuries. Most often, either your treating physician or an independent medical expert will likely be required to testify regarding your injuries before a court. In this instance, an experienced and competent attorney is once again paramount. Although many doctors seek to provide testimony at trial to the best of their ability, ninety percent of their effectiveness depends upon proper preparation. And in order to be properly prepared, every medical professional must be counseled by your attorney prior to entering the courtroom. This is where your attorney will "make or break" your case.
You may also seek recovery for property damages. While less complex than proving personal injuries, property damage can be more complicated than most expect. Insurance companies will always hire experts to testify regarding the value of particular types of property. They will use different methods to determine favorable values. You will hear terms such as "depreciation", "cost of replacement" and "current economic value" when an expert testifies regarding property damages. Each term will vary depending upon the evaluation most favorable to your opponent. Once again, a competent and experienced attorney will ensure that you are not taken advantage of when going to trial.
Legal Claims in New Hampshire
Generally, most civil actions in New Hampshire that involve an automobile accident are based on allegations of negligence. Put simply, negligence is the failure of another to use reasonable care in the operation of the motor vehicle with whom you had an accident. Typically, in cases where serious injury has resulted, a plaintiff will have claims for pain and suffering, negligent and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.
In order to successfully state a claim for negligent infliction of emotional, a plaintiff must show more than just the subjective experience of mental distress, grief, anger or humiliation; the plaintiff must prove through objective evidence that he or she has been harmed. In other words, the court will require the plaintiff to show that he or she sought treatment from a medical expert. Courts will not allow a plaintiff to simply appear in court and allege that he or she has experienced this type of damage. You must have received medical treatment or produce a medical expert that confirms that you have indeed suffered some type of mental anguish.
To prevail on a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant intended to inflict emotional distress, or knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of his conduct; that the defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous and beyond all possible bounds of decency; that the defendant's actions were the cause of plaintiff's distress; and that the emotional distress suffered by plaintiff was severe and of such a nature that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.
This is a very difficult allegation to prove. It typically requires a showing that the defendant's operation of the vehicle at the time of the accident was either intentional or in such a reckless manner, that he or she should have known that the accident would result.
A plaintiff may also have a claim for loss of consortium in instances where a family member or spouse is severely injured or dies as the result of an automobile accident. Loss of consortium may be proven in the spousal arena by showing that the relationship, both physically and emotionally, has been damaged as a result of the accident. In the familial arena, parents of a child or an adult child who is dependent on his parents for support may have a claim for loss of consortium where the child has been seriously injured against any person who is legally responsible for causing such injury.
Finally, a plaintiff may have a claim for wrongful death against the operator of a motor vehicle where said person has operated his or her vehicle negligently causing an accident that results in the death of another. This claim must be asserted on behalf of the executor of the decedent's estate. Typically, this claim is asserted in instances in which the defendant has been criminally convicted of Driving Under the Influence ("DUI") of alcohol. Once again, you will need an attorney to ensure that you have properly asserted all the claims upon which you are entitled to recovery. You should always seek advice and counsel of a competent attorney prior to initiating any type of legal proceedings against another.
Limitations on Claims
In New Hampshire, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a claim for your injuries. See New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated 508:4. (NRSA 508:4). Nevertheless, you should contact your attorney immediately in order to begin building your case.
Required Insurance Coverage
In New Hampshire, there are minimum insurance coverage requirements for automobile liability insurance. If you or someone driving your car with your permission are found to be at fault in an accident, that means that you are liable for any of the damages that result. Liability insurance typically covers any bodily injuries sustained including the cost of an ambulance, hospital bills, and any lost wages incurred as a result of the accident. It will also cover any property damages including the costs associated with car repairs, and damages to surrounding properties.
Personal Injury Coverage
New Hampshire law requires that you must purchase liability coverage at a minimum of $25,000 per person and/or $50,000 per accident for bodily injury. With regard to personal injury, this what is commonly referred to as a "25/50" policy. See New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated 264:20. (NRSA 264:20).
You must also obtain insurance coverage for property damage at a minimum of $25,000 per accident. The minimum requirement for an automobile insurance liability policy in New Hampshire is thus referred to as a "25/50/25" policy.
Although this may appear to be a significant amount of insurance coverage, an automobile owner must remember that once your insurance coverage is exhausted, you must pay for any damage in excess of the policy limits. As such, purchasing additional protection can protect you from a suit seeking your personal assets.
Uninsured/Underinsured Coverage Protection
This coverage applies when you, any household relatives, or your passengers are injured in an accident caused by an uninsured, underinsured, or hit-and-run driver. The limits for this coverage are the same as the limits for your bodily injury liability coverage. New Hampshire law requires that you obtain insurance coverage of at least $25,000 per person, $40,000 per accident or what is referred to as a "20/40" policy. (NRSA 259:61).
States require motor vehicle operators to purchase automobile insurance in order to protect innocent parties in car accidents. This is typically referred to as "compulsory" insurance coverage. If you want additional insurance coverage for damages where you have been found liable, you will have to purchase some additional optional coverage.
Basic Reparations or Medical Payments Coverage will cover the bodily injury expenses of the at-fault driver. This type of insurance coverage will cover your medical expenses if you do not have health insurance.
Collision Coverage will pay for damages incurred by your vehicle when you have had an accident involving a collision. It will also cover your expense if your car turns over.
Comprehensive Coverage pays for damage to your vehicle that is not caused by a collision. It will, for example, provide coverage where you sustain loss because of theft, vandalism, explosion, flood, windstorm, and glass breakage.
Insurance coverage is always an important part in determining whether you may recover from another for losses sustained in an accident. Many times, the at-fault party in an action is indigent or otherwise unable to pay for your damages. In these instances, your insurance coverage can really make a difference.
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