Car accidents happen every day. Sometimes people walk away unhurt, but many times, people suffer life-changing injuries. Damages can include lost wages from having to take time off work, significant medical treatment and/or rehabilitation costs, pain and suffering, and, in some cases, costs from a temporary or permanent disability.
Who pays for these costs? It depends on who caused the accident, whether you live in a fault or no-fault state, the comparative negligence laws in your state, and the insurance coverage available.
Car Accident Claims
The party that caused the accident is liable for any resultant damages.
If you believe another driver caused your accident, you need to prove four basic elements to hold that driver liable.
- Duty of care – All drivers have a responsibility to operate their vehicle in a safe and reasonable manner so they do not harm others who are using the roads.
- Negligence – This means the driver violated this duty of care by behaving recklessly or carelessly.
- Causation – Your claim must connect the driver’s negligence to your accident, i.e., the driver’s negligence or recklessness caused your accident.
- Damages – You must prove that you suffered physical, emotional, and/or financial damages. Otherwise, you cannot recover damages from the other party’s liability insurance.
If you can prove liability, the other driver’s insurance must cover your damages. Drivers in most states must carry bodily injury liability that covers damages related to injuries that the policyholder caused to others. And they must carry property damage liability that covers property damage that the policyholder caused to others. Liability insurance does not cover the policyholder’s own damages.
Even if fault seems straightforward, insurance claims can become complicated. Evidence like a police report, photos of the scene, video surveillance, eyewitness testimony, and more must establish fault and liability.
Car Accident Claims in No-fault States
In no-fault states, each driver must carry personal injury protection (PIP) or similar coverage that covers their own medical bills and lost wages regardless of who caused the accident.
That said, fault is still a factor in no-fault states because the at-fault party will be liable for any uncompensated medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
So even in no-fault states, drivers must establish fault as noted above and can utilize various types of evidence (also noted above) to do so.
Comparative Negligence in Car Accident Claims
Comparative negligence refers to the contribution that each party made to causing the wreck. Each driver’s comparative negligence may reduce the amount of compensation he or she may collect.
Some states allow claimants to recover damages only if they are less than 51 percent or 50 percent at-fault for the wreck. Their damages are simply reduced by their percentage of fault.
Other states allow claimants to recover damages even if they were 99 percent at fault. Their damages would also be reduced by their percentage of fault.
Still other states bar recovery of any damages if the claimant contributed to the accident at all. So in these states, claimants cannot recover damages even if they are one percent at fault.
Work with a Car Accident Lawyer in Your Area
Given that there are limited time periods for taking legal action that vary by state,, contact an attorney as soon as possible to preserve your rights. Use our Find a Lawyer feature to locate a car accident lawyer near you.