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Wisconsin Auto Accident Laws & Resources

“America’s Dairyland” offers drivers 112,362 miles of public roadways. Millions of drivers take to these roads each year to explore all that Wisconsin has to offer. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s roads can prove dangerous. 

In 2019, there were 145,288 total crashes in Wisconsin. Of these, 28,791 resulted in 39,723 people suffering injuries. Another 511 crashes resulted in 551 deaths. More than 1/3 of these crashes (57,601) occurred on urban city streets. 7,129 occurred on rural city streets and 23,455 on rural state highways.

If you live in or plan on visiting Wisconsin, it is a good idea to become familiar with Wisconsin auto accident laws. Wisconsin auto accident laws give car accident victims important rights. Yet Wisconsin auto accident laws are complex. Those that do not have a lawyer often do not know what their options are. 

This guide will cover some important Wisconsin auto accident laws. The guide provides a brief overview of laws that will likely be important to your case. For more information, discuss your case with an experienced Wisconsin car accident lawyer.

Wisconsin is an “At-Fault” State 

Wisconsin auto accident laws operate on a fault-based system. This means that the person that was at-fault for causing the accident must pay for damages. In most cases, the at-fault driver’s insurance company will pay for damages up to the policy limits. But Wisconsin’s comparative negligence standard could limit damage awards. 

Comparative Negligence in Wisconsin Auto Accident Cases 

This state follows a “modified comparative negligence” standard in car accident cases. Wisconsin Statutes Section 895.045 provides the standard. Under the statute you can recover damages for your injuries and property damage. But if you are more than 51% at-fault for the car accident, you cannot recover. If you are less than 51% at-fault the court may lower your damage award. The reduction is equal to your level of fault for the accident. 

For example, suppose you get into a crash on I-39 in Wisconsin. You suffer serious injuries. The insurance company refuses to settle.  You file a lawsuit against the other driver and his insurance company. At trial, you prove that the other party was negligent. The jury determines that your total damages are $100,000. But the jury also finds that you were 30% at-fault for the car accident. You will receive $70,000 ($100,000 – 30%).  

Wisconsin Auto Accident Laws Statute of Limitations 

In Wisconsin, you must file a lawsuit by a deadline. A statute of limitations states what that deadline is. The statute of limitations is not always the same for every type of claim. In Wisconsin, there are several different statutes that apply to car accident claims. 

Wisconsin Statutes Section 893.54 gives accident victims 3 years to file a lawsuit to collect for injuries. The statute of limitations starts running from the date of the accident. Deadlines for wrongful death claims is also 3 years. But the 3-year period starts from the day that the victim died. Surviving family members and the victim’s estate can bring a wrongful death claim.

Property damage falls under a different statute, Wisconsin Statutes Section 893.52. But the deadline is also 3 years from the date of the accident. 

The statute of limitations does not apply to the insurance settlement process. Your insurance policy will list the procedures for filing a claim. But if you miss the deadline the insurance company has little incentive to settle. They know that you lack recourse through the court system. 

Missing the deadline set by the statute of limitations can have disastrous consequences. Consult with an experienced Wisconsin auto accident lawyer to protect your rights. 

Wisconsin’s Minimum Insurance Liability Coverage Amounts

Anyone that owns or operates a vehicle in Wisconsin must carry at least the minimum amount of insurance. Liability insurance covers bodily injury and property damage. It only covers damages that you cause in a car accident. The minimum required limits are: 

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or the death of one person caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle; 
  • $10,000 for property damage per accident caused by the owner or driver of the insured vehicle; and 
  • $50,000 for total bodily injury or death liability caused by the owner or driver of the vehicle. 

Suppose the jury determines that you were 60% at-fault for the car accident. Since you were more than 51% at-fault for the car accident, you will not recover damages. 

Wisconsin’s comparative negligence standard does not apply to the insurance company. But the insurance adjuster will still make a fault determination. The insurance company will use the determination to calculate an adequate settlement.

Wisconsin also requires uninsured motorist coverage (UM). UM covers damages that you incur from a driver that lacks adequate insurance. It also protects you in accidents involving a hit-and-run.  Under Wisconsin auto accident laws, you must carry at least $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident in UM coverage. 

If you are at-fault for the accident liability insurance will not cover your damages. You will need to rely on other insurance. For example, collision coverage will reimburse you for the costs of fixing your car. 

Penalties for Driving Without Car Insurance in Wisconsin

Driving without insurance can result in significant penalties. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $500 under Wisconsin Statutes Section 344.65. The Wisconsin DMV may also suspend your driver’s license and/or registration.

If you can show proof that you had insurance the court will dismiss the infraction. Driving without insurance can also result in significant financial liability. If you are at-fault for an accident, you will be on the hook for the other party’s damages. 

Reporting Requirements for Car Accidents in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Statutes Section 346.70 provides car accident reporting requirements. Under the statute, drivers must report an accident if: 

  • The accident resulted in injury or death to any person;
  • The accident resulted in more than $200 in damages to state or government property; or
  • The accident resulted in property damages of $1,000 or more to any one person.

Reporting requirements apply to both drivers and occupants. This means that passengers also have a potential legal duty to report. Accident victims must report crashes meeting any of the above criteria “immediately”. They must use the “quickest means of communication.” 

The easiest way to meet reporting requirements is to contact law enforcement. If police show up to the accident they will complete the crash report. However, if the police are not called, you can report the accident online by completing the form. 

Types of Damages in Wisconsin Car Accident Cases

There are several types of damages that car accident victims can recover. The first are economic damages. Economic damages are those that are easy to prove. For instance, you can provide copies of medical bills and pay stubs to prove damages. 

The second type is non-economic damages. These are more difficult to prove. Some examples of non-economic damages include pain and suffering and disfigurement.  Pain and suffering is a broad category that includes mental anguish and emotional stress. There are several different methods for calculating pain and suffering. A Wisconsin auto accident lawyer can help you to prove the extent of your pain and suffering. 

The third type of damages in Wisconsin auto accident cases are punitive damages. Punitive damages are not a compensatory type of damages. Rather, they are to punish the at-fault party and deter others. Punitive damages are rarely awarded. The defendant must have acted with intentional disregard of your rights or acted maliciously. When the court awards punitive damages, there is a cap. Punitive damages cannot exceed $200,000 or twice the amount of your compensatory damages, whichever is larger. 

Recovering Damages in a Wisconsin Car Accident Case 

There are several different ways injured drivers can recover damages in Wisconsin. The first step is 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 determine fault for the accident. 

If you are at-fault, the other driver’s insurance company will not pay for your damages. You will need to turn to your own insurance company for compensation. For example, you may have purchased collision coverage. Collision coverage will pay to repair or replace your vehicle. 

If the other driver is at-fault, his insurance company will pay for your damages. The insurance company will usually try to settle. They will often send you a written offer with a low initial offer. Insurance companies attempt to limit their liability by getting you to accept the first offer. Accepting is often a mistake. You can avoid this by consulting with an experienced Wisconsin auto accident lawyer. The lawyer can inform you of your rights and help value your claim. 

You can also send the insurance company a formal demand letter

A demand letter is a formal letter that details your damages. The letter will request a specific amount to settle your case. Be sure to list all your damages. Include your estimated non-economic damages. Calculating these amounts can be complex. Again, consider consulting with a lawyer to ensure that you receive the compensation that you deserve. 

You may also choose to file a lawsuit. Your suit will usually name the other driver and his insurance company as defendants. In some cases, you may also need to list third party defendants. For example, a mechanical defect may have contributed to the accident. This may give you a claim against the manufacturer. 

Filing a lawsuit may be necessary if the insurance company is refusing to settle. By going to trial you can attempt to prove your case to the jury. It is also often necessary to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations has expired. Sometimes the insurance settlement process can take a long time. Filing a lawsuit preserves your right to go to trial. 

To recover damages at trial, you must prove negligence. Negligence means that the other driver failed to exercise a reasonable standard of care. And his failure must have caused the accident. Remember, you cannot be more than 51% at-fault for the accident. If you are, you will not recover under Wisconsin auto accident laws.

Wisconsin Car Accident Settlement Calculator 

Did you or someone that you know suffer an injury in a car accident in Wisconsin? Use our free online Injury Settlement Calculator to see what your case might be worth.