If you are injured in an out-of-state auto accident, the first actions you will need to take are the same actions you would need to take if you suffered an accident in your hometown. After that, however, things begin to diverge quickly, because you are going to be dealing with an entirely different set of auto accident laws.
Unfortunately, state auto accident laws differ from each other in important ways. Some of the most significant ways in which state laws differ include:
- The minimum amount of insurance coverage required;
- Required types of insurance coverage;
- Whether the state is a “fault” or a “no-fault” state;
- What happens when more than one party is at fault for the accident; and
- The statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit.
Initial Steps to Take
Initially, you should take the following actions to the extent that your injuries allow you to:
- Call 911 to report the accident;
- Get contact details for the other driver and any witnesses;
- Get information about the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage;
- Photograph the scene of the accident;
- Get a copy of the police report;
- Seek immediate medical attention even if you don’t believe you were injured; and
- Contact an Iowa auto accident attorney if you anticipate that damages will be significant.
Estimate Your Damages
It is likely that your claim will be resolved by negotiations with the insurance company rather than by a court decision. Estimating your damages gives you a starting point for these negotiations. Your damages could include:
- Medical bills;
- Lost wages;
- Pain and suffering (often worth three to five times the amount of your medical bills);
- Other psychological damages such as mental anguish; and
- Incidental expenses such as child care while you were in the hospital or incapacitated.
Find Out How Much Insurance Coverage Is Available
How much insurance coverage is available could depend on a number of factors, including the minimum required insurance in your state and the state where the accident occurred; whether you or the other driver purchased more than the required minimum insurance; whether the state in which the accident occurred is a “fault” or a “no-fault” state; and perhaps other factors as well.
Minimum Auto Insurance Coverage in Iowa
Iowa law requires cars registered in Iowa to carry the following amounts of auto liability insurance:
- $20,000 for injury to or death of one person in one accident;
- $40,000 for injury to or death of two or more people in one accident; and
- $15,000 for property damage.
The foregoing can give you a rough guide to how much auto liability is likely that the other driver is carrying, assuming that the other driver’s car is registered in Iowa. Some Iowa drivers carry more insurance than this – commercial truckers are required to carry far, far more liability insurance than this, for example. Remember, if your car is not registered in Iowa, these minimums do not apply to you – your own state’s laws apply.
Close to 10 percent of Iowa drivers, however, are driving without auto insurance at any given moment. You will be lucky if you happen to be from a state that requires you to purchase uninsured motorist insurance, or if you bought some anyway. You needn’t worry that your insurance policy doesn’t apply to out-of-state accidents – it almost certainly does, and it probably applies in Canada as well.
Fault vs. No-Fault Coverage
12 US states are considered “no-fault” auto insurance states: Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Utah. All of the rest, including Iowa, are considered “fault” states.
The difference between a fault-based auto insurance system and a no-fault based auto insurance system is that, up to a certain threshold of damages, in a no-fault system, you look to your own insurance company to pay your damages. In a fault state, you look to the at-fault driver’s liability insurance coverage to pay your damages.
What if I have an accident in Iowa but I am from a no-fault state?
Since the accident occurred in Iowa, in all likelihood, Iowa law applies to your claim. This means that, even though you are from a no-fault state, if you are injured in Iowa, you will need to file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company, regardless of the size of your claim.
Factor In Comparative Fault If Necessary
Some accidents are caused by one careless driver, while other accidents are caused by two or more drivers. It gets even more complicated than that, however, since different drivers might bear differing degrees of fault. In Iowa, you can still recover a portion of your damages as long as you were no more than 50 percent at fault for the accident.
If your case goes to court, you will be awarded your damages, discounted by your percentage of fault – unless you were at least 51 percent at fault, in which case you will receive nothing. If there is any indication that you were even slightly at fault for the accident, you can be sure the insurance company will bring it up at the negotiating table.
If you are an Iowan, take special care not to get into an accident in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. In those states, you can be left with no damages at all if the accident was even one percent of your fault. This can put you at a huge disadvantage at the negotiating table.
Decide Where You Can File a Lawsuit
Generally, you can file an auto accident lawsuit in the state where the accident occurred or in the state where the defendant resides. This can matter a lot. Suppose, for example, that you are traveling from your home in New York all the way to Los Angeles for a vacation, and someone from California collides with your vehicle in Iowa.
In this case, you can sue the at-fault driver in California or Iowa, but not in New York. Iowa law will apply, however, even if you sue him in California. No matter where you sue him, it is likely to be inconvenient for you, and this will matter even at the bargaining table.
Don’t Delay – Call 303 Legal, P.C. Today
Auto accident claims, like cars themselves, tend to lose their value over time. The memories of witnesses fade or they move out of town; meanwhile, physical evidence deteriorates. All the while, the statute of limitations clock is ticking in the background. Contact 303 Legal, P.C., to help you fight for every penny you deserve. Feel free to contact us online, or call our office directly today.