What If I'm In a Car Accident and I'm Uninsured?

Getting into an accident when you don't have car insurance can put in you in a number of predicaments.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

Every state requires vehicle owners to carry certain minimum amounts of car insurance, or otherwise be able to demonstrate financial responsibility for losses resulting from any accident they cause. Still, approximately one in eight people in the U.S. drive without car insurance. And when an uninsured driver gets into an accident, the consequences can include:

  • having no way to pay for medical care or property damage
  • limited rights to recover for their own losses against the at-fault driver
  • criminal and/or civil penalties, and
  • loss of driving privileges.

If You're Uninsured and At Fault for the Accident

The consequences for an uninsured driver who causes a car accident will depend in part on the severity of the crash. If there are injuries, you will likely need to report the accident to your state's department of motor vehicles, and perhaps even law enforcement.

If the other driver has the right type of car insurance, they might be able to file an insurance claim under their own coverage. But their car insurance company may still decide to sue you to recover any money they paid out to their insured.

If the other driver only has liability car insurance (and no uninsured motorist or "personal injury protection" coverage), you could very well face a lawsuit filed by the other driver, and find yourself on the financial hook for their losses.

If there are only minor injuries and you're in a no-fault insurance state, the other driver will likely file a claim with their own car insurance company. Only if the other driver has "full tort" car insurance coverage (an option in some no-fault states) will you need to worry about getting sued by the other driver after a minor car accident.

What about vehicle damage after an accident you cause as an uninsured driver? If the other driver has collision coverage, their insurance might pay for vehicle repair or replacement, but the insurance company might turn around at try to get reimbursed by you. In most other situations (including in no-fault states, where vehicle damage isn't covered under the no-fault scheme) you could be on the financial hook for the other driver's vehicle damage.

If You're Uninsured But Didn't Cause the Accident

If you suffered injuries or property damage, you can file a third-party claim with the at-fault driver's car insurance company. However, some states will limit your ability to sue the at-fault driver for damages you received from an accident when you were an uninsured driver. These "no pay, no play" states may prohibit you from suing to recover non-economic losses like "pain and suffering." These states may also prevent you from filing suit unless your damages exceed a certain threshold or the other driver broke the law in a way that contributed to the accident.

Learn about what happens if the other driver also doesn't have car insurance.

Criminal and Administrative Penalties for Driving Without Insurance

The consequences of driving or getting into an accident without car insurance vary among states. The penalties also get more severe if there are multiple offenses. Typically:

  • or a first offense, you can expect a fine of a few hundred dollars; many states will go further and also suspend your vehicle's registration and/or your driver's license
  • second and third offenses will often lead to jail time and extended registration and driver's license suspensions; you may also need an SR-22.

Keep in mind that if your driver's license gets suspended, you're not allowed to drive your own vehicle or anyone else's. And if you're vehicle's registration gets suspended, not only are you prohibited from operating it, so is everyone else, even if they have a valid driver's license.

All of the above applies, even if you weren't at fault for the accident. This is why it's so important not to drive unless you have car insurance that meets your state's minimum coverage requirements.

A final thing to understand is that there's a difference between driving without car insurance and driving without proof of car insurance. Both are illegal in most states, but having car insurance without carrying proof of coverage in your car is a far less serious offense. In many cases, it's basically the same thing as getting a traffic ticket.

Next Steps If You're Uninsured and In a Car Accident

If you're involved in a car accident and you don't have insurance, you might want to discuss your options and decide on your best path forward with the help of a skilled legal professional. You can use the tools on this page to connect with a lawyer in your area. It may even be a good idea to talk to an attorney about what sort of criminal and administrative penalties you could face. Learn more about when you need a lawyer after a car accident.

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