As you travel through other states for a vacation or business, you may be involved in an out-of-state traffic accident. Here, we will look at how the processes may differ because you are located in a different state. Remember regardless where a crash occurs, you should immediately contact emergency responders if anyone is injured. The procedural and financial implications are secondary to the health and well-being of everyone. As long as you maintain auto insurance, you should be covered anywhere in the U.S. Accident claims are handled according to the state laws in which the accident occurs, which may be confusing. If you are involved in an accident that results in severe injuries and damage, you may want to contact an attorney who handles cases of personal injury.
Minimum Coverage Variations
The major providers of automobile insurance in the country are now adept at managing claims across state lines. States have different levels of required liability insurance coverage. Insurance companies are required to provide coverage up to the minimum requirements of the state in which the accident occurred; therefore, if your policy based on your home state minimums is $15,000 for bodily injury and the accident occurs in a state with a requirement of $20,000, the insurer will comply. The problems really begin when the injuries and damages exceed the amount of coverage available. If civil actions are necessary to seek recovery, the process is done in accordance with the personal injury laws of that state.
Tort vs No-Fault Insurance
One of the state-to-state differences is the usage of a “no-fault” system of automobile insurance, which Colorado used until 2003 before transitioning to a tort system. When an accident occurs in a no-fault system, both parties receive coverage from their own insurance provider without consideration for who was the at-fault party that caused the accident. In the tort system, such as here in Colorado, the party who is deemed to be at-fault is responsible for any injuries, property damage, etc.
When an accident occurs in another state, a lawsuit would need to be filed according to that state's laws based on “personal jurisdiction.” These matters can often become time-consuming and expensive if you must travel to a court in that state to appear. In addition, you may need to retain an attorney who is licensed to practice there. Jurisdiction is a critical determinant in civil actions. Many states have implemented what are referred to as “long-arm statutes” that outline the requirements for allowing the state's courts to facilitate cases involving defendants who are not state residents.
For courts to rule on a case, they must have the required jurisdiction. Most civil litigation is conducted through the state courts. When accidents occur that involve motorists from different states, there may be an option for the case to proceed in a federal court known as diversity jurisdiction. This only applies if the claim involves damages in excess of $75,000. A state court can likely still prove jurisdiction based on events that occur inside of their borders, unless it specifically involves federal law. Sometimes a defendant may request to move an action to a federal court venue if their counsel deems it beneficial.
Uninsured & Underinsured Motorist Coverage
When analyzing many vehicle accident scenarios we are reminded of the importance of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage as part of your automobile insurance policy. Consider if you are involved in an accident out-of-state with a driver who has his state's minimum bodily injury liability coverage of $15,000, and your injuries result in $25,000 of medical expenses. The added coverage from underinsured motorist may provide you a necessary, extra level of protection.
Other Out-of-State Insurance Concerns
If you are someone who routinely travels to other states in your personal vehicle, you may want to review the terms of your auto insurance for the following:
- Does your policy provide any coverage for out-of-state towing if your vehicle is not drivable after an accident?
- Does your policy include rental car coverage if your car will be out of service?
- If you rent a car, what insurance protection does your policy cover in the event of an accident?
Being in a car accident out of state can cause additional worries, so it is always best to be prepared. If you know you will be traveling out of state, make sure you know what your coverage is.