If you’re in a car accident in California without insurance, the consequences can be serious. If you’re not at fault, you’ll be able to file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company, but you won’t be able to collect noneconomic damages—and you’ll face harsh penalties for driving without insurance.
Car accidents are stressful enough without worrying about the legal troubles that can follow if you’re in an accident without insurance. Luckily, trusted
car insurance broker app
Jerry is here with a guide to car accidents without insurance in California. We’ll go over your options for claiming damages, cover all the possible penalties for driving without insurance, and show you how to get
cheap California car insurance to avoid a costly accident!
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What to do if you’re in a car accident without insurance in California and not at fault
Driving without auto insurance in the state of California is a crime—and if you’re in an accident, it could compound your expenses and put you in a precarious legal situation. Here’s what to do if you’re in a car accident in California and you don’t have insurance.
First: don’t leave the scene of the crash. While you might be tempted to get out of there to avoid revealing that you don’t have valid insurance coverage, leaving could actually land you in significantly more trouble. Leaving the scene of an accident is always a serious offense in California, whether or not you have insurance and regardless of who is at fault. If you leave, you could receive:
A $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail if the accident involved property damage
A $10,000 fine and up to three years in jail if the accident involved injuries
hit-and-run charge and extended prison time if the accident involved a death
So, if you’re in an accident without insurance, stay calm and stay at the scene. Instead, pull over when it’s safe to do so and check yourself, your passengers, and anyone else involved in the accident for injuries. Call 911 if necessary and exchange information with the other driver, including your driver’s license number. Document the accident with photos and any other evidence you can collect—this will help to show later on that you weren’t at fault.
If you weren’t at fault and the other driver has insurance, you’ll be able to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for any vehicle repairs or medical bills that come out of the crash—even if you don’t have your own insurance policy. And if the other driver is uninsured, you’ll be able to file a personal injury lawsuit for any economic damages such as repairs, medical expenses, and lost wages.
But here’s where your rights are limited if you’re not at fault without insurance: you can’t file a suit for noneconomic damages. That means you won’t have any legal resources to compensate for your pain and suffering, diminished earning capacity, and the other long-term effects of a serious car accident. This is called a “No Pay, No Play” rule.
Who decides fault in a car accident in California?
If the police show up at the scene of the accident, the officer’s report will help insurance companies determine liability. However, no matter who receives a ticket or what the police note may have contributed to the accident, the insurance company ultimately determines who is at fault for the accident.
If you are not at fault in an accident while uninsured, provide evidence of the other driver’s fault in your claim with their insurance company. Photographs can go a long way toward demonstrating that you were not at fault and not financially responsible for the other driver’s expenses.
Do you need to report a car accident in California?
Not necessarily. If the accident didn’t result in any injuries or deaths and caused less than $750 of property damage, you don’t necessarily need to report it to the police—although leaving the scene is still a criminal offense.
But any accident that causes at least $750 of property damage or results in injuries or death must be reported to police within 24 hours—and if any individual’s property damages exceed $1,000, you’ll also need to file a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 10 days.
What if you’re at fault?
If you were at fault in an accident while uninsured, the consequences become serious—fast. Because California is a
comparative negligence state, you’ll be financially responsible for your portion of the other driver’s vehicle repairs and medical bills, and that driver can file a personal injury lawsuit to demand the money.
If you’re found to be driving without insurance after a collision, you’ll also face serious legal penalties, including fines up to $1,800 and a mandatory one-year suspension of your license. Your vehicle could even be impounded if you cause an accident while uninsured.
What if you’re hit by an uninsured driver in California?
What if the other driver doesn’t have insurance but you do? If the at-fault driver in a car accident in California has no insurance you’ll need to pursue them directly for damages—and that could be a time-consuming and thankless process.
On the other hand, there are a few types of additional auto insurance that could cover your expenses. California is required to offer drivers
uninsured motorist coverage, and underinsured motorist coverage, which are commonly referred to as UMC/UIM. These coverages will pay for your medical expenses if you are hit by an uninsured driver, or a driver who isn’t carrying enough
bodily injury liability to cover your medical cost.
California must also offer uninsured motorist property damage coverage (UMPD) which pays up to $3,500 towards the repairs of your vehicle as long as the at-fault driver is identified as being uninsured. All of these coverages are optional and can be waived by signing a coverage selection form from your insurance provider.
Another optional coverage is
medical payments (MedPay) coverage. With this coverage, your hospital bills will be paid through your own car insurance up to the policy limits. And if you have a policy that includes
collision coverage, you’ll be able to file a claim with your insurance company for vehicle repairs.
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), about 16.6% of California drivers were uninsured in 2019—meaning that you have close to a two in 10 chance of being in an accident with someone who doesn’t carry liability insurance. With those odds, it’s worth arming yourself with UIM and collision insurance.
Penalties for driving without insurance in California
As laid out in
California Vehicle Code Section 16029, the fine for driving without insurance in California is $100 to $200 for a first offense, with additional penalty assessments of $26 for every $10 of the original fine. In other words, a single instance of uninsured driving could cost between $360 and $720!
For a second offense, penalty assessments follow the same rate, but the base fine is bumped up to $200 to $500, resulting in a total cost of $520 to $1,300.
But if you’re found to be driving without insurance after a collision, the consequences become much more serious. If it’s your first offense, you’ll face:
Fines and penalties up to $720
A mandatory one-year license suspension
An SR-22 filing requirement for three years
SR-22 certificate is a form of proof of financial responsibility required after major driving offenses. If you maintain your SR-22 filing and carry the required insurance, you’ll be able to get your license back after one year. But an SR-22 will result in extremely high insurance premiums, adding to the cost of the initial fines. In addition, police can legally impound your car if you’re in an accident without insurance—even if you’re not at fault—requiring you to pay steep fees to get it back.
If your second offense of driving without proof of insurance involves an accident, the same penalties apply, but your license can be suspended for up to four years.
There’s no way out of these penalties; you can’t buy insurance after the fact and have it apply retroactively, and you can’t appeal the charges. The only exception is if you had insurance coverage at the time of the collision but didn’t have
proof of insurance with you. If you appear in court with proof that you were insured at the time of the accident, the court may let you off with a $20 administrative fee.
Minimum required car insurance in California
So how much insurance do you legally need to carry in California to avoid these negative consequences? Under state law, all drivers must purchase an auto insurance policy that includes at least:
California’s insurance laws only require minimal liability coverage, meaning even people who are driving with the required insurance, won’t have enough coverage for anything more than the most minor accident. Most experts recommend going beyond those minimum limits and purchasing higher limits of $100,000 per person, $300,000 per accident for bodily injury liability, and $100,000 for property damage liability. These limits will protect you financially in most situations and are surprisingly affordable.
You will also notice that California doesn't require you to have collision coverage or
comprehensive coverage which protects your car. Even if you have a old car, comprehensive coverage can provide protection from losses like glass damage, fire, windstorm, and earthquake which are all prevalent in California.
Driving without insurance can increase premiums
One more reason to carry at least minimum liability insurance:
if you’re caught driving without it, you’ll have to pay more to insure your vehicle afterward. Any violations and car accidents on your driving record have the potential to drive up your rate—and keep it high as long as the points stay on your record.
How to find cheap car insurance in California
If you’ve held off on meeting California’s car insurance requirements because you’re not sure you can afford coverage, we get it. Insurance can be expensive—but the potential consequences of driving without it are even more expensive.
Jerry, insurance coverage might not be out of your reach. Jerry is a licensed insurance broker that can analyze your profile and compare quotes for over 55 top-rated insurance providers in just 45 seconds. We’ll show you all the cheapest options and handle the paperwork to sign you up. Sign-up is totally free, and Jerry users save a whopping $800+ per year on auto insurance, on average.
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