You pack up your belongings and head out of state to go see your family at Christmas or any other time of the year. The last thing on your mind as you set out on your adventure is what you should do if you get in a car accident once you leave your home state (which is Tennessee, if you’re lucky). Normal accidents that happen close to home are traumatic enough, but when you are in unfamiliar surroundings, the level of shock and stress can exponentially increase. So what do you need to know to better prepare you for this potential situation?

Start by Following the Same Procedure

If you’ve read any of our car accident blogs, you are likely familiar with the steps that you should take if you’ve been in a car accident. To summarize, if you are able to, you should:

  • Check on everyone to be sure they are OK.
  • Call the police to the scene so they can make an official report.
  • Take photos of the scene, the damage to vehicles, and any apparent injuries.
  • Collect contact information from any witnesses.
  • Collect contact information from the other driver or drivers.
  • Seek medical treatment, even if you don’t feel that injured – let a doctor decide.
  • Refrain from admitting fault in any way.
  • Call an attorney who can speak to the insurance company on your behalf without compromising your recovery.

Relax: Your Policy Probably Carries across State Lines

One thing that can cause momentary panic is the thought that maybe your insurance doesn’t cover you once you cross state lines – but this is almost never true. Most insurance policies cover all 50 states, U.S. territories, and even most of Canada. Now if you have headed south to Mexico, you may run into some issues with coverage. But in the U.S. and Canada, you are usually covered.

Which State’s Laws Apply?

Comparative Negligence

When an out-of-state accident happens, the laws of the state wherein the accident happens controls the rules on fault, minimum liability coverage, and how long you have to file your claim. This can be an incredibly important question, because insurance minimum requirements and negligence rules can change dramatically from one state to the next. For instance, if you travel from Tennessee to Alabama and your accident happens in Alabama, you may be in for a shock.

Tennessee follows the modified comparative negligence rule, which means that if you are partially at fault for the accident, but less than 50% at fault, you may still recover for your injuries. Your damages will simply be decreased by the amount that you were at fault. So if you got in a wreck in Tennessee, you were 20% at fault, and your damages are $100,000, then you would receive $80,000 in compensation. ($100,000 minus 20%)

But, if the crash happens in Alabama where they follow the pure contributory negligence rule, you will be out of luck under the same circumstances. The Alabama rule bars any recovery if you are even 1% at fault for your own injuries. And, unfortunately in this situation, it is the presumption that the laws of the state wherein the accident happened is the law that applies. While this presumption can be rebutted, it is a very difficult presumption to overcome.

No-Fault States vs. Fault States

In the United States, there are 12 “no-fault” states when it comes to car accidents and compensation, including Florida. What that means is that when two Floridians are in a car accident, their own PIP (personal injury protection) insurance will pay for their injuries.

Tennessee, however, is a “fault” state. This means that if two Tennesseans are in an accident, the driver who is at fault will pay for the injuries of the driver who was not at fault (or rather, their insurance would pay).

But what happens if you live in Tennessee (a fault state), travel to Florida (a no-fault state) and get in an accident? Florida law would prevail and your own insurance would pay for your injuries. And of course, the opposite is true, too. If you are a Floridian traveling through Tennessee and get into an accident there, Tennessee law will rule and you will get compensated through the other driver’s insurance.

Where Can You File Suit?

Getting an attorney for your personal injury suit is important for many reasons, and one reason is for assistance in deciding which state you can file suit in. The basic rule here is that an accident victim from out of state can file suit in either:

  • The state where the accident happened, or
  • The state where the defendant lives.

Notice that you cannot file suit in your own home state. This is obviously a disadvantage to the plaintiff, but it is the rule nonetheless. So if you got in an accident in Alabama with an Alabama resident, there’s no choice. You would have to file in Alabama. However, if you got into an accident in Alabama and you are from Tennessee, but the other driver is from Montana, you could file suit in either Alabama or Montana. You could ask the Montana driver if they would agree to be sued in your state, but it would not be advantageous for them to do so, because that would make things easier for you, the plaintiff. Obviously, in this case, Alabama would be a more convenient jurisdiction for a Tennessee resident, so it would likely be where you’d choose to file.

Let Our Experience Work for You

When you are injured in a car accident, you need an experienced attorney by your side – and this is even more true when you’ve had an out of state crash. The team at Batson Nolan PLC  has the experience you need to get the compensation that you deserve. Call us today, or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our Clarksville or Springfield office.