What is no-fault car insurance and which states have it?

What does no fault insurance mean? There are three approaches that states use to incorporate no-fault auto insurance:

  1. True no-fault states. No-fault states require you to purchase no-fault insurance. This is also called Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. True no-fault states also restrict your ability to sue an at-fault driver.
  2. Optional or "choice" no-fault states. Drivers in optional no-fault states can go with the no-fault system or opt out and choose a traditional tort-liability policy. If you've opted in, you abide by the same rules as drivers in true no-fault states, meaning your ability to sue another driver is limited. At the same time, other drivers can't sue you for minor collisions either.
  3. Traditional liability with PIP states. Some states allow you to add no-fault (PIP) coverage to your traditional liability coverage. In these states, your insurer covers your injury damages regardless of fault, but there are no restrictions concerning lawsuits.

No-fault insurance in Michigan: A special case

According to Michigan’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services, the state requires drivers to purchase no-fault auto insurance that includes the following:

  1. PIP. This is intended to cover all your medical costs. It pays up to 85% of your lost income for up to three years (up to $5,398 per month) and can pay your family a death benefit in the event you die. PIP benefits include up to $20 per day to purchase household service providers that you must hire due to injury.
  2. Property protection. Your no-fault auto insurance must pay up to $1 million for damage your car causes to property owned by others.
  3. Residual liability. Insured people are protected from being sued except in special situations.

States that aren't no-fault are called "tort" states. In a tort state, at-fault drivers in a crash are responsible for paying the other driver's medical expenses. The at-fault driver must also pay for additional damages, such as loss of wages and "pain and suffering." This is usually paid out of your liability, personal injury or medical payments coverage, depending on state requirements.

An overview of coverage, lawsuit restrictions and average premiums is available below.

StateCoverageLawsuitAvg annual Premium
ArkansasNot required but must reject in writing.None$674
  • $15k per person
  • $30k per accident
  • $5k funeral
Florida$10k per personSignificant permanent injury$1,144
Hawaii$10k per personSignificant permanent injury$739
  • $4.5k per person medical
  • $4.5k rehab
  • $2k funeral
  • $900 per month income
  • $25 per day for household
Significant permanent injury$669
Kentucky$10k per person$1,000 medical expenses or serious injury$773
Massachusetts$8k per person$2,000 or permanent serious injury$1,008
Maryland$2.5k per accidentNone$979
  • Unlimited medical expenses
  • Up to $5,189/month lost income
  • $20/day household
Death or serious permanent injury$1,131
  • $20k medical
  • $20k loss of income
  • $4,000 medical expenses
  • 60+ days disability or serious permanent injury
North Dakota$30k per person$2,500 medical expenses or serious injury / 60+ days disability$605
New Hampshire
  • $15k per person
  • $30k per accident
  • $5k funeral
New Jersey
  • $15k per person
  • $250k severe / permanent injury
  • $2k funeral
  • 80% lost income up to $2k per month
  • $25 / day household
Significant permanent injury$1,254
New York
  • $50k per person
  • $2k funeral
  • 80% lost income to $2k/month
  • $25 per day household
  • Serious injury
  • bone fracture
  • 90+ days disability
Oregon$15k per personNone$783
Pennsylvania$5k per accidentSignificant permanent injury$841
South DakotaNo minimumNone$581
TexasNot required but must reject in writing.None$895
  • $3k per person
  • $1.5k funeral
  • $3k death benefit
  • $250 / week lost income
  • $20 / day household
$3,000 medical expenses or permanent serious disability or disfigurement$734
VirginiaNo minimumNone$719
WashingtonNot required but must reject in writing.None$838
Washington D.C.
  • $25k per person
  • $50k per accident
Drivers have 60 days to decide to take no-fault benefits or sue the at-fault driver.$1,187
WisconsinNot required but must reject in writing.None$621

Why do some states use no-fault car insurance?

No-fault insurance is designed to reduce lawsuits, expedite injury claims, and keep car insurance rates low.

In true no-fault states, a lawsuit against the at-fault party can take place only for accidents in which the medical expenses reach a certain threshold or the injuries meet the state's legal definition of "serious." No-fault insurance systems were implemented in an attempt to achieve the following:

  • Quicker payment of claims
  • Victim's reimbursement not split with lawyers
  • Lower insurance rates
  • Fewer lawsuits to defend and reduced legal costs to insurers
  • No subsidizing uninsured motorists

No-fault systems have often failed to contain costs and even resulted in higher costs for several reasons:

  • Fraudulent medical claims
  • Litigation did not decrease -- instead of suing at-fault drivers, many accident victims switched to suing their own insurers for denied or insufficient reimbursement
  • High coverage limits led to exorbitant payouts
  • Bad drivers were not punished sufficiently to change behavior

Today, only a dozen states and Puerto Rico have no-fault laws. Other states modified their laws or returned to traditional tort liability systems.

How does no-fault auto insurance work?

No-fault insurance only kicks in when you're injured in an auto accident. You don't need to contact the other driver's insurer, file witness statements and police reports or wait for the other company's decision to pay (or worse, NOT pay).

The no-fault process works like this:

No-fault injuries

  1. You are injured in a car accident.
  2. Regardless of who is at fault, you file a claim with your insurer for expenses related to your injuries.
  3. Your insurer reviews your claim and researches the accidents’ circumstances.
  4. Benefits to which you're entitled are paid by your insurer.
  5. You may not sue the at-fault party and he/she may not sue you, unless criteria are met for “serious” damages.

It’s important to note that no-fault is for injuries, not property damage. If your car is damaged by another driver in a no-fault state, you can still make a claim with the at-fault party’s property damage liability insurer.

What does no-fault insurance cover?

Your policy benefits generally cover:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Funeral expenses in the event of a fatality
  • Other expenses that result from the accident

To be compensated for property damage, such as repairs to your car and other property, you must file a traditional liability or collision claim and the insurers will investigate and determine who was at fault and who owes whom. If you're not at fault, the other driver's liability policy should cover your damages; if you caused the accident, your own collision coverage should pay. (Note: collision insurance may not be required if you own your car outright; if you want this coverage, you have to purchase it as an option.)

No-fault restrictions on lawsuits

No-fault laws make it harder to sue for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering for seemingly minor injuries. If you get whiplash, for example, you're unlikely to meet the threshold for a lawsuit -- soft tissue damage isn't considered a serious injury.

Some states specify the types of injuries that allow you to step outside the no-fault system and file a lawsuit; these are called "verbal" states because the allowed injuries are described in words. Other states set their thresholds at certain levels of medical costs ("monetary" states) or length of disability.

Paying medical costs in a no-fault state

Some states require that you use your PIP benefits to pay medical costs first, then have your health insurer pick up the rest. Other states require you to use your medical insurance first, then use PIP to cover deductibles and non-medical expenses.

In some states, the funds are paid directly to medical providers, while in others, the check goes directly to you.

Will your insurance rates go up if an accident wasn't your fault?

In a no-fault car accident, the term "no-fault" doesn't mean that an insurer cares who's responsible for causing an accident. It just means that injury benefits are paid by each party's insurer without regard to who is at fault. However, both insurers investigate and assign blame.

No-fault responsible

If the investigation determines that you didn't cause the accident, your rate is unlikely to increase. Michigan, for instance, rates drivers by the number of tickets and at-fault accidents on their records.

In some states, even if you're at least partially to blame for an accident, your rates may not increase, if you have not filed any claims during the past few years.

Advantages of no-fault car insurance

One of the biggest advantages of no-fault car insurance is that there's no need to fight with a second insurance company to get medical bills paid. This reduces claim processing times, which can be dragged out when the insurance companies are waiting on, or arguing, fault before deciding which will pay.

No-fault insurance is also meant to discourage lawsuits, which in turn should discourage insurance fraud. However, this has not always been the case in practice. While no-fault insurance does discourage drivers from suing each other, it doesn't always prevent insurance fraud, which is common in some states, with drivers often exaggerating injuries to collect personal injury protection benefits.

Saving on no-fault auto insurance

It's vital to understand that just because your state government mandates no-fault insurance coverage, and regulates what insurers charge, it doesn't mean there's no competition for business among auto insurers.

No-fault insurer competitionIt's your responsibility to compare insurance quotes from several companies when choosing insurance coverage. In addition, mandated coverage may not be enough to meet your needs.

If you have assets to protect, you may need liability insurance coverage that goes beyond your standard policy, provided by an umbrella policy. If you own your car free and clear, and it's not a pile of junk, consider collision coverage to get it repaired if you're the at-fault party.

"No-fault" doesn't mean "no responsibility." Drive carefully.