If you live in one of the handful of states that have no-fault insurance laws, you might be a little frustrated trying to figure out how the state laws affect your ability to file a car accident lawsuit. Unlike states with conventional car accident liability laws that assign fault, no-fault laws put you in the interesting position of pursuing your own auto insurance policy for compensation when you've been injured. As you can imagine, this is somewhat different from suing another driver or their insurance company. Take a look at what you need to know about seeking compensation for your car accident in a no-fault insurance state.
Why Have No-Fault Laws?
To understand how a no-fault law affects you, it helps to understand why they were put in place to begin with. If you know that the other driver was responsible for causing the accident, it may seem unfair not to be able to hold them accountable in some way. But no-fault laws actually have some advantages for injured car accident victims.
The logic behind no-fault laws is to streamline the compensation process. In an at-fault state, before you can collect any money, you will need to show that you were not the responsible party (or that you were the less responsible party) before you can begin collecting money for your losses and injuries. That can take time. In a no-fault state, you don't have to waste time proving that the accident wasn't your fault before you can begin collecting compensation. Your own insurance policy will pay for your care and for your losses regardless of who caused the accident, so you can begin collecting faster. What's more, since you get to choose your own policy, you have more control over the level of compensation you receive than you would if you were relying on someone else's policy. You can always add more coverage if you want to be certain that you're well-covered in the event of an accident.
It's important to remember that the party responsible for the accident will still be held legally liable and may receive fines or even jail time for dangerous or reckless driving. The no-fault laws don't absolve the responsible driver from any penalty, they just speed up the compensation process.
The downside to no-fault laws is that there are limits to what can be covered. Generally speaking, your insurance company is only required to reimburse you for economic damages. That means that your medical bills, your prescriptions, your lost wages and your car repairs will be covered.
Do you notice anything missing from that list? If you said "pain and suffering" or "loss of future earnings", you're correct. Pain and suffering damages and loss of potential future earnings are considered non-economic damages, and your insurance company usually isn't required to pay for them. In an at-fault state, you would hold the other driver and their insurance company responsible for those damages. The major drawback of no-fault laws is that they limit your ability to collect these non-economic damages.
Going Outside the No-Fault System
Don't panic. If you've suffered non-economic damages, you may still have legal resource. Most no-fault states have rules outlining when you're allowed to step outside of the no-fault system and go after a responsible driver and their insurance company for damages above or beyond what your insurance policy will pay.
For example, in Utah you can still sue the other driver if you sustained a bone fracture, a permanent disability, or a permanent injury. In Minnesota, if you will be on disability for at least sixty days, you can sue outside of the no-fault system. Pennsylvania allows you to sue outside of the no-fault system for anything deemed a serious injury.
In a no-fault state, you may end up negotiating with your own insurance company as well as suing the other driver's insurance company for non-economic losses. It's important to consult with an experienced local attorney who can help you negotiate and determine whether your injuries qualify you to step outside the no-fault system.