What happens if you have an accident without insurance?

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You could be on the hook financially if you’re at fault for an accident and don’t have auto insurance. (Shutterstock)

Most states require drivers to carry some level of car insurance. Even if you live in a state that does not legally require you to have auto insurance, you may be financially obligated to pay for any damages or injuries you cause in an accident.

Getting into an accident without car insurance can have serious financial and legal consequences. In addition to the out-of-pocket costs you may have to cover, you may be subject to serious fines and penalties, such as losing your license and vehicle.

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What happens if you have an accident without insurance?

How you handle a car accident when you don’t have auto insurance can vary depending on where you live. The circumstances surrounding the accident also matter, including whether you or the other driver were responsible for the accident and whether they have insurance. Lack of insurance has no bearing on who is at fault.

If you live in a state that legally requires drivers to carry auto insurance, you are breaking the law by not having coverage. The consequences of not having a car insurance policy may include:

  • License suspension or revocation (for multiple violations)
  • Vehicle detention
  • Fines
  • Time in prison

Your state or court may also require you to obtain an SR-22. The SR-22 is a form filed with the state that shows you have at least the minimum auto insurance coverage required by law. You are responsible for any fees your insurance carrier or the state charges for filing the form.

Insurance carriers may consider you a high-risk driver if you’ve been caught driving without insurance, and this could lead to higher insurance premium.

What to do if you are in an accident without car insurance

Whether you have insurance or not, you should take the following steps if you are involved in a car accident:

  • Seek medical attention. Contact 911 if you or anyone involved in the accident needs medical attention.
  • Call law enforcement. Call local law enforcement to send the police to the scene as quickly as possible.
  • Exchange of information. Exchange contact and vehicle information with the other driver.
  • Talk to witnesses. Gather contact information for anyone else who witnessed the incident.
  • Document the incident. Use your phone to take pictures of the accident scene, vehicles, VIN numbers, road signs, injuries sustained, and anything else that may be helpful to authorities and your insurance provider.

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Who pays when you get into an accident without car insurance?

A car accident can cause significant damage to your vehicle or cause serious injury to you or others. Fortunately, most auto insurance policies help cover the costs associated with accidents.

This is why car insurance is so important. If you don’t have insurance, you may have to cover these costs out of pocket, depending on whether the accident was your fault.

If you are guilty

If the accident is your fault, you may be liable for damages and injuries depending on where the accident occurred. The majority of states are at-fault states (also known as tort states), meaning that at-fault drivers are responsible for payment of damages and injuries that occur in a car accident.

If you don’t have insurance, the other driver can sue you for damages from the accident. You may have to pay for:

  • Property damage
  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

If the other driver sues you and the decision goes against you, you will have to pay for all damages out of pocket. If you don’t have the funds available, the court can garnish your wages until you pay all damages in full.

If it’s not your fault

If you are in an accident and the other driver is at fault, their insurance will pay for any damages or injuries.

However, in some states, the amount you can get from another driver’s insurance may be limited if you are an uninsured driver. These are known as “no pay, no play” states.

No-pay, no-play states also have limits on how much you can seek through legal action as an uninsured driver. If the accident occurred in a no-pay, no-play state, you can only sue the at-fault driver for quantifiable damages (such as medical expenses) and not for other consequences such as mental and emotional distress. Some states may not allow you to sue at all. You may also need to pay a deductible for repairs before you can pursue legal action against the other driver.

Because you don’t have insurance, even if the accident wasn’t your fault, you could still have your driver’s license suspended or revoked, your vehicle impounded, or you could face hefty fines.

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If the accident occurs in a no-fault state

Some states are considered no-fault states. In no-fault states, fault is not assigned to either driver, regardless of circumstances or insurance status. However, these states still require drivers to carry personal injury protection.

If you are in a no-fault accident, each driver must file a claim with their own insurance carrier, regardless of who caused the accident. If you are not insured, you cannot file a claim. You are responsible for paying any damages to your vehicle and any medical bills caused by injuries sustained in the accident.

If the accident is no-fault, the other driver usually cannot name you in a lawsuit or seek compensation directly from you in most cases, even if you are at-fault and uninsured.

You may be named in a lawsuit in limited circumstances where serious injuries have occurred. If the costs are above your state’s statutory threshold, you may have to pay out-of-pocket damages along with any legal fees incurred if you hire an attorney. The remedies available to either party may vary by state.

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