The short answer is: get a lawyer and try to gather as much evidence as you can to prove that the accident was the other driver’s fault. Your ultimate liability, if any, depends on the circumstances – whether you were a passenger or a driver, whether you were injured, and whose fault the accident was. You may need to file a claim for damages, defend yourself in court or at the settlement table, or even defend yourself against a criminal prosecution.
Connecticut Is a “Fault” Insurance State
Some states are “no fault” auto insurance states, which means that, up to a point, each driver’s insurance pays for his own damages with no need (or legal right) to file a claim against the other driver. Connecticut, by contrast, is a “fault” auto insurance state, which means that the at-fault driver’s insurance must pay damages to any injured party other than the at-fault driver himself. If the at-fault driver is uninsured, he is personally liable for any damages he caused.
Required Insurance Coverage: The Legal Standard
All motor vehicles registered in Connecticut, including motorcycles, are legally required to carry motor vehicle accident liability insurance with no less than the following maximum coverage limits:
- $25,000 per person in injury compensation;
- $50,000 per accident in injury damages (if more than one person is injured in the accident, the total payout will not exceed $50,000 in any event);
- $50,000 per accident in property damage compensation; and
- $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (this covers your own injuries if the other driver was uninsured, not the other driver’s injuries if you were uninsured).
If the Accident Was the Other Driver’s Fault
If the accident was completely the other driver’s fault, you’re in luck. Although you can still be prosecuted for driving without insurance (see below for a description of the penalties), in terms of compensation, you will be on the receiving end of any compensation paid out and you will not need any insurance coverage. Your job will be to aggressively press your claim with skill and accuracy – which is a job we can help you with.
It is worth noting that if the accident was clearly the other driver’s fault, it is possible that it won’t even come to light that you were driving without insurance (this is unlikely, but still possible). Obviously, you should not volunteer this information to a police officer without prompting. Instead, cross your fingers, get insurance as soon as possible, and don’t drive again until you are properly insured.
If You Were a Passenger
If you were a passenger and you were injured in the accident, you are theoretically eligible to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for damages, if you suffered any, which means that you will not need any liability insurance. Even if you did carry liability insurance, it would probably be useless to you as a passenger.
If You Were Driving and the Accident Was Your Fault
If the accident was your fault, you could face a difficult situation. Since you don’t have an insurance policy to cover the other driver’s (and any passengers’) damages, anyone injured in the accident can sue you personally and the damages could come out of your own pocket. The average motor vehicle accident claim is nearly $20,000, and the amount tends to be more for motorcycle accident claims because motorcyclists tend to suffer more serious injuries.
Can you afford to pay the damages out of your pocket? If not, you are probably going to need to retain a lawyer to fight hard to minimize your claim; otherwise, you might be forced to sell your belongings, perhaps even your home, to pay for it. Under certain circumstances, you might get ”lucky” (if you were on duty at work at the time of the accident, the injured party might ignore your resources and sue your employer instead).
If the Injured Party Wasn’t Wearing a Helmet
Over 25 percent of Connecticut motorcycle accidents involve riders who fail to wear a helmet (either the driver, the passenger, or both). Connecticut law, unlike the law of many other states, does not require drivers over 18 years old to wear a helmet. Minors must wear a helmet, and failure to do so will result in a fine of at least $90.
Even if the injured party did not break the law by not wearing a helmet, however, compensation could still be reduced on the reasoning that if the injured party suffered, say, a head injury, the injury would not have occurred (or would have been less severe) if he had been wearing a helmet. If he suffered a hip injury, by contrast, damages might not be reduced at all due to failure to wear a helmet.
Criminal Liability: The Penalties for Driving without Insurance
Driving without insurance is a criminal offense – in fact, it is a Class C misdemeanor. The penalties are as follows:
- A fine of between $100 and $1,000
- If you merely own an uninsured motorcycle that is being driven on public roads (by you or by someone else with your permission), you can be fined up to $500 and imprisoned for up to three months.
- If you own the vehicle, your drivers’ license and vehicle can be suspended for up to six months.
- Your vehicle can be impounded and, in some cases, forfeited.
Some of these penalties are meted out on a spectrum of severity, and the more severe penalties are likely to be imposed on repeat offenders and people who cause accidents while driving without insurance. You could even be charged with a Class D felony if your vehicle has a commercial registration. Get a lawyer if you find yourself in this situation.
If the Accident Was Partly Your Fault
In many cases, fault for the accident is not clear cut. Suppose, for example, that you were driving 10 miles over the speed limit at the time of the accident while the other driver ran a red light. In this case, a court is likely to conclude that both you and the other driver were at fault. Whether you end up liable depends on how great your fault was and whether the other driver suffered any damages.
Comparative Fault in Connecticut
“Comparative fault” is a way of determining compensation when more than one party was at fault for the accident. A court, for example, will allocate the relative percentages of fault and order compensation accordingly. If you lack insurance and cannot pay compensation out of your own pocket, the assistance of a skilled personal injury lawyer is essential. Without one, the judge is more likely to find you liable for at least a portion of the other driver’s injuries.
Under comparative fault, you cannot recover from the other driver if your percentage of fault is greater than 50 percent. If a court finds you 60 percent at fault, for example, you will recover nothing for your injuries. Since, in that case, the other driver’s fault would be 40 percent (assuming a two-vehicle accident), he can then claim against you if he suffered any damages. A successful claim could leave you with a debt that you would have no insurance to cover.
Remember, even if your percentage of fault was less than 50 percent, you will still lose damages in exact proportion to your percentage of fault. If the accident was 30 percent your fault, for example, you will lose 30 percent of your damages. Since the other driver’s fault would be 70 percent, however, he would not be able to claim against you, and your lack of insurance would not carry any civil consequences (although it may still carry criminal consequences).
Driving without insurance is never the “cause” of an accident
One bright spot in this scenario is that the mere fact that you were driving without insurance is no evidence that the accident itself was your fault. In other words, the argument that “The defendant shouldn’t have been on the road in the first place, and if he hadn’t been on the road there would have been no accident; therefore the accident was his fault even though I ran a red light” will not float in court.
The 50/50 Scenario
If the court rules that the accident was exactly 50 percent the fault of each driver, both of you will be able to claim against the other for 50 percent of your own damages. Once these amounts are set off against each other, the driver who ends up owing the other driver money will be the driver who suffered the least severe damages. If you manage to come out ahead, you will not need any insurance because the other driver will owe you money, not the other way around.
Possible Damages: What You Could be Liable for
Connecticut recognizes the following types of damages in a personal injury claim (including a motorcycle accident):
- Economic Damages: Easily counted losses such as medical bills and lost wages.
- Non-Economic Damages: Intangible losses such as pain and suffering and mental anguish. These commonly add up to far more than economic damages.
- Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are added to economic and non-economic damages to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct (an intentional “road rage” accident, for example). They are awarded in fewer than five percent of all successful claims.
We Can Make It Happen for You
At Berkowitz Hanna, we are not “new kids on the block.” Our lawyers enjoy decades of combined experience in personal injury law, and we have won untold millions for our clients. Call Berkowitz Hanna today or contact us online for a free initial consultation. Remember: As a plaintiff, you only pay us if you win. We serve clients from throughout Connecticut from our offices in Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, and Shelton.