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No-Fault vs. At-Fault Accidents

Aug 09, 2022

After being involved in an automobile accident, you may be wondering how you'll afford your personal injury expenses or property damages. The compensation you receive from insurance companies mainly depends on the circumstances surrounding your case and whether the accident happened in a no-fault vs. an at-fault state.


Motor insurance laws are often confusing. Drivers know that federal and state laws require them to have insurance coverage, but most may not know the intricacies of these laws or how to proceed following a crash. Many drivers just buy insurance policies their insurance agents recommend.

If you are involved in a car crash, there's a good chance that an auto insurance policy will come into play. In most states, the motorist who caused the automobile accident will be responsible for your damages. However, a handful of states apply the no-fault-based system after car accidents.

Understanding the Differences Between No-Fault vs. At-Fault Accidents

While the specifics of auto insurance laws vary from state to state, one law applies to all drivers in the U.S.: you must have automobile insurance. 

There are two main types of insurance models that may affect your accident claim: the no-fault vs. the at-fault approach. These two have notable differences. They set out who pays for personal injuries and property damage, depending on the location of the crash.

No-Fault Accident

In states that follow a no-fault accident system, all drivers involved in a crash — regardless of who is responsible — must turn to their insurance providers to cover their medical expenses. 

In such states, drivers can sue for severe injuries if their claim meets the tort liability threshold. For instance, auto accident victims may sue the other party if the accident results in wrongful death or if the personal injury damages exceed some monetary threshold.

In true-no-fault states, every driver must carry a personal injury protection policy (PIP). Coverage varies by state, but these policies mostly cover medical injury expenses, lost wages, and other out-of-the-pocket expenses.

Only Applies to No-Fault States

Currently, the no-fault policy for seeking damages applies to 12 states. States where PIP insurance is required, include:

  • Florida
  • Utah
  • Hawaii
  • New York
  • Kansas
  • New Jersey
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Massachusetts 
  • Pennsylvania
  • North Dakota

Puerto Rico also follows the no-fault insurance system.

At-Fault Driver Is Still Responsible for Motor Vehicle Damages

After an accident in a no-fault state, both drivers must turn to their PIP coverage to pay for their medical expenses. However, the at-fault driver is generally required to pay the other driver for their motor vehicle damages, using their property damage liability coverage.

At-Fault Accident

In a conventional at-fault accident-based insurance system, victims receive compensation for their severe or minor injuries from the other party or their insurance company. 

Drivers in at-fault states purchase liability insurance to protect themselves from having to pay for damages that result from auto crashes. This traditional fault model follows a tort liability system, implying that the liable driver's coverage will be responsible for all crash-related damages.

Plaintiffs in such states bear the burden of proof, meaning they must establish the elements of negligence:

  • Duty. Was the at-fault driver legally responsible for the well-being of other road users? State laws require all drivers on the road to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others.
  • Breach. Did they breach their care by failing to meet the required standard of care? For example, speeding or drunk driving may amount to a breach of their care.
  • Causation. Did the defendant's breach lead to your personal injuries? 
  • Damages. Did you suffer damages, like lost wages and property damage, as a result of their actions?

Keep in mind that each state is unique, but insurance companies will rely on the legal concept of negligence when determining who's at fault. 

Some of the states that follow the fault-based system include Wyoming, New Mexico, Georgia, California, and Colorado. 

At-Fault Party Must Pay for Medical Costs

In the at-fault states, the negligent driver who caused the motor vehicle crash is responsible for paying for the medical bills of other parties involved in the accident. Some of the medical costs that the at-fault driver's insurance company may cover include:

  • Surgeries
  • Hospitalization
  • Physical therapy
  • Medications
  • Psychological therapy
  • Continuing care

Remember, medical expenses after an accident may pile up. In an at-fault accident, insurance laws force the defendant's insurer to cover such expenses or reimburse any cash you may have used after your accident to treat your medical injury.

Multiple People Can Be at Fault in an Automotive Accident

Multiple parties can share fault in a car accident. In such situations, state laws determine how insurance companies assign liability. In some states, neither party in an auto accident qualifies to pursue compensation if they both share any blame for the crash. In legal terms, this system is referred to as contributory negligence.

In other states, both parties involved in the crash can pursue compensation for damages from the other motorist and their insurance company, commonly referred to as comparative negligence. Under modified comparative negligence, a partially at-fault driver may pursue compensation for damages if their fault doesn't exceed a certain level, typically 50 or 51%.

Receive the Compensation You Deserve In Your Auto Accident Lawsuit

Determining which fault-based system applies to your state and how to navigate the claims process can be a stressful experience, made even worse if you are dealing with the aftermath of a catastrophic or fatal car accident. State-specific provisions surrounding personal injury and insurance laws can complicate your pursuit of maximum compensation.

If you or your loved one has been injured in a car accident, it's advisable to speak to an experienced lawyer regarding your case. An attorney can help you understand the differences between at-fault vs. no-fault states.

Remember, even if you are at fault for your crash, there are circumstances when the other driver may also be liable for the accident. On the other hand, if you believe you are completely innocent and the other driver is to blame for the crash yet their insurance company is trying to limit or deny your claim, contact a reputable law firm now.

Contact the Spence Law Firm today to speak to one of our experienced car accident lawyers about your case. We help injured parties understand no-fault vs. at-fault insurance laws and can ensure you get the compensation you deserve.

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