Auto accident law is tricky under even the best circumstances. Your claim could be affected by a state’s fault/no-fault law, comparative fault, the statute of limitations, and the details of filing and maintaining a lawsuit. Things can get even trickier if you are involved in an accident in another state, especially if you suffer an injury.
Step One: Take the Usual Actions after the Accident
Immediately after an out-of-state car accident, you need to perform the same actions that you would undertake if the accident had occurred in your home state – at least to the extent that your physical condition allows you to:
- Call 911;
- Seek medical attention immediately, even if you don’t think you are injured;
- Take photographs of the scene of the accident with your phone;
- Get names and contact details of the other driver and any witnesses;
- Get the name of the other driver’s insurance company and the make and model of his vehicle;
- Notify your insurance company of the accident, even if you expect the other driver’s insurance company to pay – but don’t give out too many details;
- Never admit fault for the accident. Even uttering “I’m sorry” out of sheer politeness can be used against you;
- Hire a car accident lawyer if your losses appear to be high so that you don’t commit errors that could damage the value of your claim.
Step Two: Determine Which State’s Law Applies to Your Claim
This step is usually quite simple. In almost all cases, the law of the state in which the accident occurred will govern the claim. Although under certain circumstances, another state’s law might apply (for example, New York law might apply to a car accident that took place in Connecticut), this rarely happens. If the accident occurred in Connecticut, then the Connecticut law probably applies. It matters which state’s law applies because auto accident laws differ significantly from state to state.
Step Three: Calculate the Consequences of Comparative Fault
One way in which state auto accident laws differ drastically from each other is in the area of comparative fault. The comparative fault principle applies when more than one party is at fault for the accident.
- In Kentucky, for example, you can be 99 percent at fault for the accident and still sue for one percent of your damages.
- In Alabama, which applies the principle of “pure contributory negligence,” if you are one percent at fault, you will receive no compensation at all, even if the other party was 99 percent at fault.
- In Connecticut, you can receive partial damages if you are up to 50 percent at fault, but you will be entitled to nothing if you are more than 50 percent at fault. If you receive damages, the amount you lose will be precisely proportionate to your percentage of fault, as long as it does not exceed 50 percent. If you were 30 percent at fault, for example, you would receive 30 percent of your damages.
Suppose you were one percent at fault for the accident. Under the rules stated above, it will make a considerable difference which state’s law applies. Drive very carefully when passing through any of the contributory negligence states – Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Step Four: Determine Which Party’s Insurance Company Will Pay the Claim
Twelve US states are considered “no-fault” states. If you are involved in a car accident in a no-fault state, and the accident doesn’t result in serious injury or damages, your insurance policy will pay for your losses regardless of whose fault the accident was. Connecticut, however, recently repealed its “no-fault” auto insurance law and is now considered a “fault state.”
What happens, however, if you live in a “no-fault state,” but you have an accident in Connecticut? Since Connecticut law almost certainly applies to an accident that occurred in Connecticut, you should seek compensation by filing a third-party claim against the other driver’s insurance company – at least to the extent that the accident was the other driver’s fault.
Step Five: Calculate Available Insurance Coverage
Almost every state requires its drivers to carry a certain amount of auto insurance. In Connecticut, the legal minimums are:
- $20,000 in personal injury liability injury coverage per person per accident;
- $40,000 in maximum personal injury liability coverage per accident (no matter how many people are injured);
- 10,000 in property damage liability; and
- $20,000 and $40,000, respectively, for uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
These minimums apply to any vehicle registered in Connecticut, but not to cars registered out of state. Naturally, it would be a good idea to carry more than these minimums to avoid the possibility of financial ruin after a major car accident. Even if you hold less insurance than these minimums, however, you are not breaking the law as long as your insurance coverage complies with the laws that apply in the state of your car’s registration.
Insurance Coverage Across State and National Borders
You probably don’t need to worry about whether your insurance coverage will apply in another state – most auto insurance policies apply throughout the US and Canada as well. You might have a problem, however, if you are involved in a car accident in Mexico.
Additionally, reporting an out-of-state accident to your insurance company shouldn’t present any particular difficulties if the accident occurred anywhere in the US or Canada. You should also be able to repair your vehicle at a shop close to where the accident took place, and have your car towed there by a local towing company.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance
Unlike Connecticut, most states do not require their motorists to carry uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance (UM/UIM coverage). If you decline to purchase UM/UIM coverage because you live in a state that does not require it, and if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured, underinsured, or hit-and-run motorist, you might have trouble obtaining compensation for your damages.
Step Six: Determine the Statute of Limitations Deadline for Filing a Lawsuit
The statute of limitations sets the deadline by which you must either file a lawsuit, finalize a private settlement, or forfeit your claim. Think of the statute of limitations as a stopwatch that you can turn on and off. In Connecticut, the stopwatch ticks for two years before time runs out. In most cases, it begins ticking on the date that the accident occurs. Several exceptions exist, however:
Exceptions to the Connecticut Statute of Limitations Deadline
It is almost always best to start preparing your case as soon after the accident as you can, regardless of the length of time you have to file a lawsuit. Nevertheless, it is essential to know the ultimate deadline for filing a lawsuit, which is determined by the personal injury statute of limitations in the state where the accident occurred.
Connecticut’s statute of limitations deadline is usually two years after the accident. Nevertheless, the following exceptions apply:
- Wrongful death: If the victim dies in the accident, the probate estate administrator has until two years after the date of death (rather than two years from the date of the accident) to file a lawsuit. If the victim doesn’t die until three months after the accident, for example, then the estate administrator has an extra three months to file a lawsuit.
- The discovery rule: You might not discover that you have a valid claim until some time after the accident. An injury might surface days or even weeks after the accident, for example, or new information may come to light that reveals the negligence of the other driver. As long as the delay in your discovery was reasonable under the circumstances, the statute of limitations clock doesn’t start ticking until you discover your claim.
- The absence rule: If the person who caused the accident leaves Connecticut after the accident but before you file a lawsuit, the statute of limitations stopwatch stops ticking until Connecticut serves that person with formal notification of the lawsuit. The absence rule can delay the statute of limitations deadline until up to seven years after the accident. This rule means that no party can “wait out” the statute of limitations deadline by leaving the state.
- Fraud: If the person who caused the car accident fraudulently conceals their involvement, the statute of limitations stopwatch will not begin ticking until the fraud is discovered by the party who is entitled to file a lawsuit over it.
Step Seven: Determine the Best Place to File a Lawsuit
Most car accident claims settle out of court. Nevertheless, if you are not willing and able to file a lawsuit, it is unlikely that the other side will take your compensation demand seriously. The question is where you will file a lawsuit if it comes to that.
- Usually, you must file your lawsuit in either the state where the accident occurred or in the state where the defendant resides.
- If you file a lawsuit against more than one defendant, you can sue in any state where any defendant resides.
- If you file a lawsuit against a business, you can sue in the state where the company is incorporated, the state of the company’s principal place of business, or in any state with which the company has “minimum contacts” (it does a significant amount of business there, for example).
Remember, the issue here is which state’s court will hear the lawsuit, not which state’s law will apply to the claim. It is possible, for example, for a Texas court to hear a case (because the defendant resides in Texas) using Connecticut law to decide the case (because the accident occurred in Connecticut).
Don’t Delay – Take Decisive Action Today
The auto accident lawyers at Berkowitz Hanna enjoy several decades of combined experience in handling car accident claims, all the while winning tens of millions of dollars for their clients. Call Berkowitz Hanna today, or contact us online for a free initial consultation, so that we can listen to your story and answer your questions.