Ask an Attorney: What if I have a car accident in a different state?
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Question: I was road-tripping to Los Angeles last weekend and got into a car wreck. The driver who hit me was fine, but I got pretty banged up and had to be taken to a local hospital via ambulance. Now I’m back home in Las Vegas, but I have to sort it out with the insurance company in California. Can I handle this from Nevada? Or will I need to go back to California?
Answer: Dealing with an out-of-state insurance claim, especially when there were injuries involved, can be a somewhat arduous process, but accidents between Las Vegas and Southern California residents are common.
Yes, you can handle the claim from Nevada, though if you cannot settle the claim, you will have to file a lawsuit under California’s laws. Because the accident occurred in California, it falls under that state’s legal jurisdiction.
This means that unless the driver opted for higher liability coverage, you’ll be covered by the California minimum insurance liability amounts, which are 15/30/5: up to $15,000 per person for bodily injury, $30,000 per accident per bodily injury and $5,000 per accident. Nevada’s minimum is 15/30/10.
Assuming your injuries and damages don’t exceed California’s minimum liability coverage amounts, or the driver’s extended coverage, filing the claim shouldn’t be much different than with any other accident. However, it could get tricky if your injuries/damages exceeded the other driver’s coverage limits.
Let’s say the driver’s coverage was the minimum amount in California, and you have $25,000 in medical bills and $4,000 in damages to your vehicle. His or her insurance would cover the vehicle’s damage in full, but only cover $15,000 for your medical costs, leaving you with an extra $10,000 bill.
Note: Had the California driver hit you within Nevada state lines, most insurance companies would extend the driver’s minimum liability coverage to match the state’s minimum, bumping their coverage up to 15/30/10.
To avoid the all-too-common problem of drivers having too little coverage, it is always recommended that you carry Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. With this coverage, even if the party who hit you did not have sufficient policy limits to cover your claim, your insurance coverage would kick in to compensate you.
If you do not have UM/UIM coverage, you should contact your insurance agent immediately and add it.
Filing a lawsuit
Again, because the accident occurred in California jurisdiction, if you have to file a lawsuit, it would need to be filed in California and abide by the state’s personal injury laws.
You’d also need a lawyer who is licensed in California. This leaves you with two options: to find a lawyer in California who can handle your case and deal with it remotely, or find a lawyer in Nevada who is licensed in both states. While the former is possible, it’s best to use a lawyer who is licensed in your home state as well as the state where the accident occurred. Further, some firms won’t even accept out-of-state cases because dealing with multiple jurisdictions can be more costly and complex.
There are many lawyers in Las Vegas who are licensed in both California and Nevada. The benefits to using a dual-state lawyer are numerous: You’re able to meet and consult in person rather than having to travel or navigate complicated paperwork over the phone or via email, they’re practiced in the nuances of the other state’s legal statutes, and they’re well versed in the laws for both states, so they’re often able to find better solutions.
In some cases, you may be able to sue a resident of another state within the legality of your home state. For instance, if the California driver had “minimum contacts” in Nevada (such as employment, a second home, etc.) you might be able to sue him or her from Nevada, following Nevada laws.
Because of the close relationship between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, many people are likely to fall into the “minimum contact” category, which is another important reason to find a dual-state attorney.
Note: Do not accept an insurance settlement if you’re planning to file a personal injury lawsuit. You would likely be required to sign a document forfeiting your right to sue. If you’re presented with a settlement, have an attorney review it before signing.
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