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What Happens if You’re in a Car Accident Driving Out of State?

Offered by Law Offices of Scott M. Miller, PLLC

You have legal rights regardless of your physical location

There’s nothing quite like a road trip – but with travel comes the risk of injury, and when you’re hurt in a car accident in a state where you don’t reside, your legal situation can get complicated quickly.

Every state gives injured people a right to recourse through the civil justice system, and no matter where in the United States you are injured, you can take legal action. However, the process to do so can be difficult without the right representation. Here’s what you need to know about out-of-state car accidents.

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If you are an insured driver in your home state, you’re insured nationwide.

Virtually all car insurance policies in the United States will cover you no matter what state you’re in. If you become a full-time resident of a new state, you need to update your registration and get insured in your new state, but for trips and vacations out of state, you are covered by your insurance policy in your home state.

Of course, the legal car insurance minimums vary from state to state. If you have at least the minimum insurance coverage in your home state and you are hurt in a car accident in another state, then you are treated as though you had the appropriate minimum insurance in the state where the accident occurred as well. For example, if you live in a “fault” state, have the legal minimum insurance in your state, and are in a car accident driving in a “no-fault” state, you can generally claim no-fault benefits even if they aren’t included in your policy.

(It gets much more complicated if you’re injured in another country – some U.S. policies will cover you in Canada, but most won’t cover you in Mexico or other countries south of the United States. Always check with your insurance company before you go on an international road trip.)

Jurisdiction for out-of-state cases can get tricky.

One key consideration in an out-of-state car accident case is where you’re allowed to file a lawsuit. As a rule, you can sue in the state where the accident occurred or the state where the defendant (the at-fault driver) resides. If there are multiple defendants from different states (uncommon, but it does happen, especially in areas with a lot of tourism), then you can sue in any state where at least one of the defendants resides. You generally cannot sue in the state where you reside unless the defendant also happens to live there or has sufficient “minimum contacts” in your state (such as owning property there).

If the defendant happens to be a business (for example, a trucking company), then you can likewise sue in the state where the accident occurred or the state where the business resides. A business is generally considered to “reside” in the state where it was incorporated or where its principal place of business is located. In addition, if the company does a significant amount of business in another state (e.g. your home state), you can usually sue in that state. Practically speaking, this means that you should be able to sue a large national business pretty much anywhere, but small businesses are only under the jurisdiction of the state(s) where they do business.

To take legal action, you need a lawyer licensed in the right state.

Attorneys are admitted to practice law on a state-by-state basis. While you don’t have to be admitted to practice to perform legal research or some other types of work on a case, you do need to be licensed in the appropriate state to attend court hearings, depositions, and other formal proceedings.

As such, you generally need an attorney licensed in the state where the accident happened to take legal action on your behalf. If the accident happened in a neighboring state and you live near the border, this often isn’t too difficult, as there are most likely several attorneys in your area who are licensed in both states. However, if your accident happened in a distant state, you will most likely need a lawyer who is based in that state to represent you.

It may be possible for an attorney in your state to be admitted pro hac vice (a legal term that means “for this occasion only”) to handle your case in another state. Normally, though, this requires the attorney to work with another attorney who is a member of the bar in that state. So for instance, if you live in New York and are injured in a car accident in Florida, you may be able to have an attorney from your area who is licensed in New York represent you, but the New York attorney will most likely need to work with a Florida attorney as co-counsel in order to do so. (In this situation, the law firms will split the attorney’s fee, so it doesn’t cost you extra.)

An attorney who is admitted in a state can practice in any court in that state, but it’s generally in your interest to find an attorney in or near the city or county where the accident happened. Practically speaking, this means the costs of time and transportation will be lower. More importantly, a local attorney in the jurisdiction where your case will be heard knows the courts, the judges, and the jury pool in that area, which can help achieve a better outcome for you.

If you’re in a car accident out of state, take immediate action.

As with any car accident, if you’re involved in an out-of-state crash, the first thing you should do is call the police and have them investigate your accident. Be meticulous about gathering information: the name of the investigating law enforcement agency, insurance information for the other driver(s) involved, contact information for witnesses, and so on. Get prompt medical attention; you can get immediate treatment in the state where you’re located, then follow up with your doctor when you get back home. Report the accident to your insurance company, but keep that initial conversation brief.

Then, get legal help. Your best bet is usually to find a car accident lawyer in the jurisdiction where the accident happened who can advise you on the specific legal circumstances and prognosis of your case. Most attorneys offer free phone or video consultations, especially for out-of-state clients, and you can and should ask about logistical issues such as overnight delivery of documents and whether you’ll need to attend court hearings in person.

Each state has different legal deadlines that apply to car accidents, so the sooner you talk to an attorney who knows the law in the state where you were injured, the better. If you’ve been hurt in an out-of-state car wreck, talk to an experienced car accident attorney about your legal options today.

The Law Offices of Scott M. Miller, PLLC is a personal injury law firm in Longwood, FL.

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