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Montana Auto Accident Laws

If you get in a car accident, you have important rights under Montana auto accident laws. Montana auto accident laws help accident victims receive compensation for their injuries. But these laws can be confusing and complex.

In this guide we will cover some important Montana auto accident laws. This general overview can help provide some guidance on the next step. To learn more about your rights and options contact an experienced Montana auto accident lawyer.

Montana is a Fault-Based State

Under Montana auto accident laws, the driver that causes a car accident must pay for damages. If the “at-fault” driver has liability insurance, his insurance company will pay for the damages up to the policy’s limits.

Someone that suffers an injury or property damage due to a car accident has several options. First, she can file a claim with her insurance if the damages fall under the policy. Second, she can file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Finally, she can file a lawsuit at the at-fault driver and/or his insurance company.

Comparative Negligence in Montana Auto Accidents Cases

Montana is a “comparative negligence” state. Under Montana Code Section 27-1-702 a car accident victim can recover damages as long as he is less than 50% at-fault for the accident. But any damage award reduces by the driver’s percentage of responsibility for the accident. Any driver that is more than 50% at-fault cannot recover damages.

For example, suppose that you suffer an injury in a car accident. You sue the other driver and his insurance company. The jury finds that your damages are $100,000. This includes medical expenses and pain and suffering. But the jury also finds that you were 20% responsible for the accident. Your damage award reduces by $20,000 (20% of $100,000) leaving you with $80,000. If the jury found that you were 55% at-fault for the accident, you cannot collect any damages.

Judges and juries must follow Montana’s comparative negligence standard if you go to trial. This standard is not binding on a car insurance company. But as a practical matter, the insurance claims adjuster will assign fault to determine a fair settlement amount.

Montana Auto Accident Laws Statute of Limitations

Montana Code Section 27-2-204 states that a party involved in a car accident has 3 years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. If the lawsuit is not filed within 3 years, the victim’s lawsuit is not allowed. Under Montana auto accident laws, the 3-year period also applies to a wrongful death claim. The statute of limitations begins running on the date that the accident victim died.

Montana Code Section 27-2-207 requires that a party file a lawsuit within 2 years from the date of the accident to recover property damages. It is important for car accident victims to know these and other deadlines. Failing to abide by the statute of limitations can have disastrous consequences. Consult with an experienced Montana car accident lawyer to protect your rights.   

Note that the statute of limitations does not apply to negotiating a settlement with the insurance company. But if the deadline passes, the insurance company has little incentive to settle. The insurance company knows that you lack recourse through the court system.

Montana Car Insurance Requirements

All motor vehicles in operation in Montana must have liability insurance coverage. Montana Code Annotated Section 61-6-103 lists the minimum amounts of coverage as 

  •   $20,000 liability coverage for property damage caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle.
  •   $25,000 liability coverage for bodily injury or death caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle.
  •   $50,000 liability coverage for total bodily injury or death liability caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle.

Liability insurance covers damages that the owner or driver of the vehicle may cause. For example, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damages. Your liability insurance does not cover your injuries or damage to your vehicle. If the other driver is at-fault, her insurance company will pay for your damages.

If you are at-fault or the other driver without proper insurance, you will be on the hook for the expenses. You can project yourself if you buy collision coverage and uninsured motorist coverage.

Penalties for Driving Without Car Insurance in Montana

Driving without insurance is a misdemeanor under Montana auto accident laws. For a first offense, an offender could receive a fine between $250 and $500 or spend up to 10 days in jail. A second offense carries a minimum fine of $350 or 10 days in jail. The offender faces having their license revoked for 90 days and will receive 5 points on their license.

A third offense carries a fine of $500 and/or up to 180 days in jail. Drivers without insurance also risk being on the hook for significant damages if they cause an accident.

Montana Auto Accident Laws for Accidents Involving Uninsured Drivers

According to research by the Insurance Information Institute, 8.5% of drivers in Montana are uninsured. If you are in a car accident in Montana and the other driver is  without insurance, you have several options:

  •   Sue the other driver. You can still file a lawsuit against the other driver. But if he or she has no assets it can be difficult to collect on any judgment awarded.
  •   Sue a third party. Some auto accidents are due to factors other than driver error. For example, a brake failure may have contributed to the accident. This could give you a potential claim against a third party.
  •   File an uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) claim. If you have UIM insurance, you may be able to seek compensation from your insurance company.

Reporting a Car Accident in Montana

Montana’s Uniform Accident Reporting Act requires a driver to report an accident if:

  •   The car accident caused damage of $1,000 or more.
  •   The car accident caused an injury or death.

The driver must report the accident to the local police department, county sheriff, or to the nearest office of the Montana Highway Patrol. Drivers must also file a report with the Montana Motor Vehicle Division with 10 days of the accident.

Types of Damages in Montana Auto Accident Cases

Montana auto accident laws do not limit the recovery of economic damages. Non-economic damages cannot exceed $250,000 per person. Some of the different types of damages you can recover in Montana are:

  •   Medical Expenses
  •   Lost Wages
  •   Pain and Suffering
  •   Property Losses

Medical Expenses 

Medical expenses make up a large percentage of economic damages in a car accident case. Compensation can include expenses you have already incurred. They can also include the costs of future medical treatment. Some common types of medical expenses car accident victims can recover include:

  •   Hospitalizations
  •   Ambulance costs
  •   Physician visits
  •   Physical therapy and chiropractic care
  •   Medication
  •   Surgeries

Proving estimated future medical expenses often requires retaining a medical expert. Future medical expenses can exceed immediate medical costs from the accident. An experienced Montana car accident lawyer can help you recover the compensation that you deserve.

Lost Wages

If you miss time from work, you can seek compensation for lost wages. You may also receive compensation for any permanent reduction in income. This includes not being able to return to work. Or having to take a lower paying job if you can no longer perform the same job duties.

Proving the costs of future medical treatment is complex. Many car accident victims make the mistake of accepting a low settlement offer. An experienced Montana car accident lawyer can help you prove the full extent of your damages.

Pain and Suffering

A car accident victim in Montana can recover up to $250,000 in non-economic damages. This includes pain and suffering. Pain and suffering represents emotional and physical injuries suffered in a car accident.

Some examples of pain and suffering include:

  •   Anxiety
  •   Depression
  •   Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  •   Chronic pain
  •   Loss of enjoyment in life
  •   Disability or physical limitations

Calculating pain and suffering is complex. An experienced Montana auto accident lawyer can help you calculate your non-economic damages.

Property Losses

Accident victims can recover damages for property losses. For example, the costs of repairing a damaged vehicle.

Recovering Damages in a Montana Auto Accident Case

Montana car accident victims can recover damages in several ways. The first step is often to contact your insurance company to report the accident. Your insurance company will contact the other driver’s insurance company. They will work together to make a fault determination.

If the other driver is at-fault his insurance company will pay your damages up to the policy limits. If you are more than 50% at-fault you will not receive any compensation. But damages to your vehicle may fall under your collision coverage.

When the other driver is at-fault you will often receive a settlement offer from his insurance company. The offer is generally a letter. The initial offer is often low. Insurance companies try to limit their liability. A car accident victim that is not represented by a lawyer may accept the offer. If they do they will not receive full compensation under Montana auto accident laws.

You have the option of sending a formal demand letter to the other driver’s insurance company. The demand letter details the extent of your damages. It also includes an offer to settle the case. A Montana car accident lawyer can help you determine the value of your claim.

Another option involves filing a lawsuit. The lawsuit may name the insurance company, other driver, and third parties as defendants. There are several reasons why it may be necessary to file a lawsuit. First, the insurance company may be unwilling to budge on their offer. In this case, you can go to trial to attempt to get more compensation from a jury.

Second, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations has expired. This is the case even if you are negotiating with the insurance company. It is important to preserve your right to go to trial if settlement negotiations fail.

To recover damages at trial you must prove that the other driver was negligent. This means that the driver failed to exercise a reasonable standard of care and caused the accident. If you contributed to the accident but were less than 50% at-fault your damage award will reduce.

Montana Car Accident Settlement Calculator

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