Guide To Car Accident Laws (2024)

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.

Editor

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In 2021, there were over 6 million car accidents on US roads. Given the odds that you will experience a car accident at some point, it’s important to understand car accident laws. This will help you protect your rights after a crash.

In this guide, we break down the key laws you need to know and look at how a court will view your case. We’ll also uncover the ways a car accident lawyer advocates for their clients and can help ensure you receive fair compensation.

Overview Of Laws on Car Accidents

Car accidents are subject to a wide range of laws. Let’s dive into some of the most impactful laws that cover how insurance plays a part and how courts decide whether you are owed compensation after an accident.

Insurance Laws

All states except New Hampshire require drivers to carry some form of car insurance. New Hampshire allows drivers to opt out of insurance coverage only if they can show they have the financial resources to pay out of pocket in the event they are at fault for an accident. Most states have set minimum insurance coverage amounts for potential damages from a car accident, such as bodily injury and property damage.

If you are at fault for an accident without insurance, you may be personally responsible for covering the cost of losses to yourself and the other driver.

Some states, such as New York and Utah, have adopted so-called “no-fault” laws. These states require drivers to carry personal injury protection insurance that covers the costs of bodily injuries in a car accident without regard to who caused the accident.

Liability - Who is at Fault?

Who was at fault for an accident is an important question in all states. Typically, drivers found to be at fault are liable for paying some damages after an accident. Even in no-fault states, the at-fault driver typically pays for property damage such as car repairs. If you are at fault for an accident, you may also see your insurance rates increase as a result.

Fault, or liability, can be assigned to one or more parties involved in the accident. The liable party could be a driver, car manufacturer, employer, or even government entities responsible for road maintenance. Factors such as traffic laws, witness statements, and evidence from the accident scene are considered when determining liability.

Unless a driver intentionally caused a car accident, fault is often determined by looking for negligence. Establishing negligence requires these four elements:

  • Someone owed you a duty
  • They breached that duty
  • You were injured or suffered a loss
  • The breach of duty was the cause of your injury or loss

All four elements must be proven before you are legally entitled to compensation.

Who Is Liable When More Than One Party is at Fault?

Sometimes the evidence suggests that more than one party was at fault. In that case you may share fault for the accident. How this impacts your ability to recover compensation for the accident will depend on which state laws apply.

  • Contributory negligence states. Under this rule, you can only recover damages if you have no fault for the accident. This very strict rule is in place in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington D.C.
  • Pure comparative negligence states. In the 12 states that follow this rule, being partially at fault will not prevent you from recovering damages, but it will reduce how much you can recover. For example, in a case where damages total $100,000 and you were 10% at fault, you can recover a maximum of $90,000.
  • Modified comparative negligence states. This is the most common rule followed in 33 states. Your ability to recover decreases by your percentage of fault just as it does in a pure comparative negligence state. However, you are barred from recovering anything if your fault is at or above 50% or 51% (state thresholds vary between these amounts).

Navigating negligence laws can be complicated and usually requires a lawyer’s help to be successful. Fill out the form on this page to connect with a local car accident lawyer today.

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Damages in Car Crash Law

After a car crash, you might be eligible to collect compensation for what you have suffered. The term for this in car accident laws is “damages”. Common types of damages recovered in car accident cases include:

  • Medical bills
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Lost wages
  • Vehicle repairs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral costs (in wrongful death cases)

The average car accident settlement in recent years was $35,500, but the unique circumstances of your case will dictate the value of your damages.

Limitations on Auto Accident Legal Cases

Automobile accident laws require that you file your claim in a timely manner and secure evidence to support your claim. Failing to do either of these things could cause your claim to fail.

The laws that require you to file a timely claim are called statutes of limitations. The time to file a lawsuit is set by each state. The most common statute of limitations length is two years, but it can be as short as one year or as long as six years.

Aside from filing in time, the most important hurdle between you and receiving compensation from your car accident will be proving your claims with evidence. Evidence can take many forms, and may include:

  • Police reports
  • Witness statements
  • Photos or video of the accident
  • Medical records
  • Vehicle damage assessments
  • Expert witnesses, such as reconstruction analysts

How A Car Accident Lawyer Can Help

It is very often worthwhile to get an attorney for a car accident. Qualified car accident lawyers will be familiar with your local statute of limitations and the types of evidence that could be most effective for your case. Working with a lawyer can alleviate the stress of navigating the legal system.

Even before a lawsuit is filed, a lawyer can help by negotiating on your behalf with insurance company representatives. According to the Insurance Research Council, 85% of personal injury case settlements involved a lawyer, and those who hired a lawyer received settlements valued 3.5 times greater than those who did not. Working with a lawyer improves your chances of settling for more without going to trial.

Fill out the form on this page to get a free case evaluation!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Follow these steps after a car accident not your fault:

    • Check for injuries and seek immediate medical attention for anyone who needs it
    • Report the accident to police
    • Gather contact information from all drivers and any witnesses to the accident
    • Notify your insurance company
    • Visit your doctor as soon as possible, even if you did not need emergency medical treatment
    • Contact a qualified car accident lawyer for help and next steps
  • It is possible to face jail time for a car accident if your actions caused serious injury or death. The most common criminal charges after a car accident are:

    • DUI/DWI
    • Vehicular manslaughter
    • Hit and run

    If you are arrested after a car accident, it is important to seek legal assistance quickly to protect your rights.

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