Taking a road trip is one of America’s greatest pastimes. There’s nothing quite like touring this great country by car, seeing the sights, experiencing the culture each state has to offer, and doing it all with friends and family you love. It truly is an activity for all, which is why it’s such a popular type of vacation.
With that popularity, however, comes risk. Accidents can happen on the road, and spending more time in the car only increases the possibility of being involved in one. When you’re out of state and unfamiliar with how rules and laws work when you find yourself on the other side of an accident with another vehicle, your family road trip can quickly turn from good times to tough times.
But if you know what to expect, understand your rights, and communicate with your insurance provider and lawyer correctly, you might be able to avoid some of the headaches that comes from being in an accident in unfamiliar territory.
How Your Rights Work Out-of-State
We’ll make sure we start by saying this: You have legal rights regardless of your physical location. Just because you’re involved in a serious car accident or trucking accident outside the state where you reside doesn’t mean your rights to damages or compensation are diminished. It just means the process of securing them might be a little more complicated.
Every single one of the fifty United States gives car accident injury victims the right to seek justice through the civil court system, no matter where in the country their injury occurred. The difference lies in where you will then be allowed or required to file your lawsuit.
Out-of-state car accident jurisdiction can be tricky but most often, you will sue in the state where the accident occurred, or in the state where the at-fault driver resides. If there are multiple such defendants from multiple states—which may seem strange but can occur in areas of high tourism—then you can sue in any state where at least one of those defendants resides. And if you’re involved in an accident with a semi-truck or tractor-trailer that’s owned and operated by a larger company, you can often sue in the state where that company is incorporated and/or does most of their business.
Generally, you cannot sue within the state where you reside unless the defendant also happens to live there. This is because the lawsuit needs to be governed under the state laws and regulations that are in place where the accident occurred and existed during the time of the accident. This is important to remember because some states may have different laws than others, especially when it comes to the statutes of limitations assigned to certain types of lawsuits, or the type of insurance their state residents are required to have.
How Insurance Works Out-of-State
Again, we’ll start by reassuring you that if you are an insured driver in your home state, then you’re insured nationwide. Just about all car insurance policies available in the U.S. will provide you with coverage no matter what state you’re in when your accident occurs. Though you are required to update your insurance plan whenever you become a permanent resident of a new state, for road trips to other states, you are still covered by your policy in your home state without having to temporarily change anything or notify your provider.
That said, the legal car insurance minimums do vary from state to state. But usually, if you pay for at least the minimum insurance coverage in your home state and are injured in an accident in another state, you will likely be treated as though you had the legal, appropriate minimum insurance coverage for the state where the accident took place.
There are also currently 18 states that are “no-fault” states, which are different from “tort” states like Missouri. No-fault car insurance coverage means that no matter who causes the car accident, each driver’s individual insurance company is responsible for paying for the damages their customers suffered. In tort states, it’s the insurance company of the driver who is found at fault and pays for damages for the victim.
Prior to leaving for your road trip, just take a quick look at the car insurance requirements of the states you’ll be traveling through so that you know how to appropriately handle an accident should you be involved in one, and subsequently how to work with your insurance company.
How Your Legal Team Works Out-of-State
If you and your family suffer a severe out-of-state car accident recklessly caused by another driver, and it results in extensive injuries or other costly and difficult damages, you will likely want to sue the driver or company responsible for causing the accident. Even in no-fault states, suing becomes an option if those damages extend beyond certain maximum thresholds of coverage. But this is where being out of your home state can really throw a wrench into the process.
If you have a trusted personal injury lawyer near you back home, you may not be able to call upon them to represent you in your out-of-state car accident case. And that’s because all attorneys are legally required to be fully licensed to practice law in the state where the lawsuit is filed. If they are not licensed in the appropriate state, your lawyer cannot attend court hearings, depositions, or other formal legal proceedings for cases in that state. That means you will need to find a car accident attorney or trucking accident attorney who is licensed in the state where your accident occurred to represent you. In this case, it’s important to do thorough research on picking the right attorney for you. You should also check with your local personal injury lawyer to see if they have any recommendations for your situation.
If your accident occurs not too far from home, your regular lawyer may even be licensed in the surrounding states for occasions such as this. But if they’re not, the good news is that even though your preferred in-state lawyer can’t attend official legal proceedings on your behalf, lawyers aren’t required to be licensed in the accident/lawsuit state to help perform legal research and other types of work on the case. They can still investigate your case and advise you accordingly.
And in some special circumstances, your lawyer can still participate in your case via a co-counsel agreement. In this case, your lawyer would receive permission to work with another attorney who is a member of the bar in the appropriate state as called “pro hac vice” admission.
This can be an excellent option, as your personal attorney knows you and your family and better understands how your life has been affected by the accident, while the out-of-state attorney will be familiar with state laws, as well as with the courts, judges, and jury pool in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred. The combination of these elements could help to achieve a better outcome for you and your family.
No matter if you’re in state, out of state, just started your road trip, or are on the last leg home, if you’re involved in any type of car accident, it’s important to take immediate action on your behalf. That way, you give yourself the best ability to protect yourself and your loved ones from the very beginning.