How is the Victim of a Car Accident Compensated Under Utah’s No-Fault Insurance System?

Automotive accidents can result in serious injuries, expensive medical bills, and months or years of pain and suffering.  However, depending on the extent of your injuries and resulting expenses, you may be entitled to compensation.  If you or one of your family members was hurt in a car accident in Salt Lake City, this article will help you understand how compensation works under Utah’s “no-fault” system.  

How is Car Accident Liability Determined in a No-Fault State?

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Most states follow a “fault” or “at-fault” auto insurance system.  Under this type of system, accident victims are compensated through the other driver’s insurance company after proving that the other driver was at fault for the crash or collision.  This is known as filing a “third-party claim.”

Utah belongs to a minority of states which use the “no-fault” system instead.  As its name might have led you to guess, it doesn’t matter who was at fault for an accident under the no-fault system.  No matter which party caused the accident to occur, injury victims are compensated first through their own insurers, which is called a “first-party claim.”  The insurer is required to provide up to $3,000 of coverage known as “Personal Injury Protection” (PIP), which will go toward medical costs such as:

  • Ambulance rides
  • Dental care
  • Hospital inpatient care
  • Surgery
  • X-ray scans

If the accident victim’s injuries are minor and cost $3,000 or less to treat, this is the end of the legal process.  However, if the injuries cost more than $3,000 to treat – or if the injuries meet certain physical criteria, regardless of treatment costs – the victim may be able to recover compensation for his or her pain and suffering, which is a common example of “non-economic” or “general” damages.  General damages are distinct from “economic” or “special” damages, which include hard, calculable costs like lost earnings and surgery bills.

Recovering Damages for Pain and Suffering: Meeting the Serious Injury Threshold

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Utah’s laws prohibit car accident victims from recovering non-economic damages for injuries whose care costs do not exceed $3,000.  Yet even minor accidents can – and unfortunately, often do – cause injuries which cost tens of thousands of dollars to treat.  For instance, medical researchers have found that the average cost to surgically repair a herniated disc, which is one of the most common back injuries caused by car accidents, is approximately $12,750.  That number increases to roughly $19,000 if the injury victim experiences complications, and climbs even higher once additional costs like doctor’s appointments, prescription drugs, and diagnostic tests are all factored in.

If an accident victim’s injury costs exceed $3,000 or meet the following criteria, which are also called “serious injury thresholds,” he or she may recover general damages:

  • Death
    • Utah defines a wrongful death as any preventable death caused by the negligent actions of another party, such as excessive speeding, driving while intoxicated, ignoring the right-of-way, or following another vehicle too closely (tailgating).  Wrongful death victims’ personal representatives and immediate family members, such as surviving spouses or parents, may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or business whose actions caused fatal injury to the decedent.
  • Dismemberment (loss of limb)
  • Permanent disability
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Permanent impairment

These thresholds apply regardless of how much it cost to treat the injury.  For example, if Victim A’s medical costs were $2,000, but he was also permanently disabled, he still could recover general damages because he met the severe injury threshold.  If Victim B did not meet the injury threshold, but her medical costs were $10,000, she could also recover general damages because her care costs exceeded the $3,000 threshold.

By comparison, if Victim C’s medical costs were $2,000 and he did not sustain any of the injuries specified above, he would not be able to recover general damages, because he met neither Utah’s financial nor injury thresholds.  Utah Code § 31A-22-309 is very clear in its specification that injury victims “may not maintain a cause of action for general damages arising out of personal injuries alleged to have been caused by an automobile accident” unless one of these thresholds are met.

Trust a Utah Personal Injury Attorney to Work for You

If you or one of your loved ones was injured in a car crash, please don’t hesitate to call the experienced Utah County car accident lawyers of Overson Law, LLC at (801) 895-3143 for a free and confidential legal consultation.  Attorney Darwin Overson has more than 33 years of experience handling multi-vehicle accident claims throughout the Salt Lake County area, including West Valley City, West Jordan, South Jordan, Sandy, Bountiful, Draper, and more.  For more information, you might also be interested in reading our article on steps to take after you get into a car accident.

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