If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know the experience can be stressful not only when the accident happens, but long after. You might find yourself asking, “What does car insurance cover, and what do I have to pay for myself?”
Knowing how to deal with the aftermath of a car accident can be confusing and depends on myriad factors:
- Whether anyone’s hurt or you’re only concerned about property damage costs
- Who’s at fault for the accident
- What type of insurance you and the other driver carry (if any)
- Which state your accident occurred in
All of these separate issues can affect if, how, and when your insurance company will pay all or even just some of your claim.
What Does Car Insurance Cover If You’re Injured?
You might think that car insurance would cover your medical expenses for car accident injuries. But like anything else legal or related to money, the answer isn’t that simple.
Depending on the state where your accident occurs and each driver’s insured status, insurance may or may not cover any of your expenses.
This is because every state has a different minimum coverage requirement for auto insurance. All states require drivers to carry liability insurance. This is insurance that covers the victim’s expenses if you happen to cause an auto accident, but it won’t cover your own costs.
If you opt for coverage that includes damage to your own vehicle but not bodily harm (called comprehensive insurance), then insurance only pays for your property damage. In other words, it won’t cover medical expenses or pain and suffering that you incur due to the accident.
In 2018 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), approximately 1.1% of those with liability insurance had a bodily injury claim. When you ask “What does car insurance cover,” realize that the average bodily injury claim pays close to $22,000. If you have an attorney, they’ll almost certainly settle your claim out of court and usually for more money.
The specifics of what expenses your insurance will cover vary from policy to policy, which is why it’s important to understand the restrictions of the coverage you select. Generally speaking, the more protection you have in the event of an accident, the higher your insurance cost.
What Does Car Insurance Cover in Single-Vehicle Accidents?
Let’s imagine you are in a single-vehicle accident, meaning no other cars are present. Regardless, you have to repair your car and unfortunately, you’re also hurt. What does car insurance cover in situations like these?
Again, the type of insurance coverage you have depends on what you chose when you purchased your policy. Not every insurance policy automatically includes single-vehicle accidents.
Here are a few examples of a single-vehicle accident that you might talk with your insurance agent about:
- Accidents that involve your vehicle only. These types of accidents include running into a fence or a tree, or rolling your car.
- Acts of God. It might not seem logical, but auto insurance policies don’t automatically cover extreme weather events, like hail and flooding.
- Other elements of nature. Hitting a deer or other animal can cause considerable damage to your vehicle and, depending on the circumstances, injure you. Auto insurance policies also don’t automatically cover these types of accidents.
So what happens if you have a single-vehicle accident? If you opted for coverage specifically for single-vehicle accidents, your insurance company whatever’s listed under your policy. In fact, they might even propose a figure to you that’s lower, just so the case can settle.
But if you didn’t purchase these additional types of coverage and you have an accident of this nature, the insurance company will likely tell you to pay those costs yourself.
Why the State Where Your Accident Occurs Matters
Where an auto accident occurs can affect both how much the other driver pays (or yours will), depending on who’s at fault.
Why? Because each state has different laws about auto insurance.
All require liability insurance, which means that if you are at fault, the insurance company will pay for the other party’s expenses, but not for yours.
New Hampshire and Virginia don’t require any auto insurance. Every other state falls into two categories: at-fault state, or no-fault state.
What Does Car Insurance Cover in an At-Fault State?
An at fault state means the police or a claims agent decides who is legally responsible for an accident. That person (or their insurance provider) is liable for paying the financial costs associated with your car accident. So if the accident is your fault, then it’s your insurance agency that must pay for everything. That includes covering the other party’s costs, including their medical bills.
If you don’t see your state in the bullet list shown below, then you live in an at-fault state.
What Does Car Insurance Cover in a No-Fault State?
If you live in a no-fault state, then your insurance always pays for your car accident expenses.
This also means if another person caused your accident, you must still file a claim with your own insurance provider.
So if you don’t have car insurance at the time of your accident, you must pay those costs out of your own pocket.
At this time, the following 12 states are no-fault states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
Should I Get An Attorney?
The simple answer is yes: If you’re an auto accident and suffer any injuries, you should always speak with an attorney.
Why? Because insurance company settlement offers usually cover no more than 54% of your accident costs. They may tempt you to accept less money than your claim’s worth because it will pay out just a little bit sooner. Often, you’ll end up having more doctor’s bills or missing more work down the road and have to pay them yourself.
And if you accept an offer from an insurer without consulting an attorney, they’ll make you sign a document waiving your right to sue. Sometimes it’s impossible to know right after an accident what your true medical expenses will cost. And what about pain and suffering? That might include taking unpaid time off your job to recover, or extensive therapy to deal with anxiety or serious injuries. Without an attorney, you have virtually no hope of recovering those costs from an insurer.
An attorney can file all paperwork and claims before the statute of limitations expires in your state. Lawyers can also make sure the amount you get covers any future costs associated with your injuries. On average, accident attorneys typically get victims 3.5 times more cash than people who deal directly with insurance companies receive.
If you’ve been in a car accident and want to speak with an attorney, start here.
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.