We received this question from a reader: “I was in a wreck. No one was hurt, but I need money to cover my car damages. Can I file a claim?”
Like so many other questions about insurance, the answer to this one is yes, but. And that “but” is really important.
What Happens When I Have a Car Accident?
When you’re in an accident, what will likely happen is that police will issue reports. Parties will get medical attention (if they were hurt), and people will file claims with the appropriate insurance companies. The insurance companies (yours and the other driver or drivers involved) will investigate the claim(s).
The really tricky thing to remember is that which state you live in partly determines what happens next.
What Are At-Fault and No-Fault States?
If you live in a no-fault state, you must use your own insurance, regardless of which party caused the accident. So if another vehicle hits you, and the police report states you were not at fault, if you live in one of the 12 no-fault states, you still have to file for insurance with your own company. In other words, not the insurance company of the other driver. That’s true regardless of whether one or more people sustained injuries, or for car damages alone.
The no-fault states are:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
In Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, drivers can opt-out of no-fault coverage.
This means that if you have an accident that causes significant damage to your vehicle and you need cash from an insurance company to cover that, your only option is to file with your own insurance company.
However, if you live in an at-fault state, you can make a claim with the insurance company of the driver who caused the accident.
What Other Laws Determine Payment for Car Damages?
In addition to understanding whether or not you live in a no-fault or at-fault state, you should also learn what specific legislation applies to automobile accidents in your particular state.
For example, Michigan is one of the 12 no-fault states. Michigan law further stipulates additional conditions for filing your claim. In fact, another person cannot sue you in Michigan unless you cause an accident that:
- Seriously injures, or
- Permanently disfigures someone.
If you are in an accident with a non-Michigan resident who is an occupant of a vehicle not registered in Michigan, you could potentially face suit. If the accident happens in another state, then yes, the victim could sue you. Finally, if you are 50% or more at fault in an accident that causes property damage to another person’s car and insurance doesn’t cover those car damages, then the victim can sue you for up to $1,000.00.
How Do I Know What My State Requires?
It’s easy enough to find out the minimum insurance coverage requirements by state. It’s a bit more tedious to research the legislation that dictates the particular circumstances under which a person can or cannot file a claim from state to state.
One way is to visit your state’s website (every state has one). For example, here’s a place to start for Kansas. And Texas. West Virginia’s statute is available here. These links to publicly accessible statutes can tell you everything you need to know; but unless you’re an attorney who understands how the system works, it is a good idea to consult one who can help you navigate the system.
Is Hiring an Attorney Worth It for Car Damages Alone?
There are countless reasons why working with an auto accident attorney can be helpful. The best time to work with an attorney is immediately after your accident occurs. This will allow them the chance to evaluate your case and advise you of the next best steps. But there’s no wrong time to consult an attorney, especially if you have questions that don’t have a clear, absolute answer. We can match you with a local auto attorney for a free, no-obligation phone call about your accident today.
Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.