Car insurance is a requirement in California. While driving without car insurance can lead to civil fines and penalties, it also leaves you at risk of not having coverage if you’re in an accident. Even if you’re not at fault, you may not be able to get the compensation you need to cover all your damages if you don’t have insurance.
California Car Insurance Laws
All drivers in California must have insurance to drive a motor vehicle. California requires all drivers to carry a minimum of:
- $15,000 liability per person
- $30,000 liability per accident
- $5,000 property damage
If you don’t carry the minimum state requirements, you may receive a violation and have to pay a fine. You could even lose your driver’s license. If you’re in a car accident, you’ll still likely receive a ticket, even if you’re not at fault.
Some drivers in California also choose to buy uninsured or underinsured coverage. This type of insurance specifically covers damages when a driver is in an accident with a driver who doesn’t have sufficient or any insurance.
Who Decides Who’s at Fault for an Accident?
The first person to decide who is at fault is typically the police officer who arrives at the scene of the accident after investigating. The insurance company will also review the details of the accident, including witness reports and photographs, and make their own claim. If you don’t agree with the outcome, you can always hire a lawyer to help build a case proving that it wasn’t your fault.
Even if the police officer or insurance representative decides that you’re not at fault, you could still receive a ticket and expensive fines if you weren’t carrying the minimum level of car insurance required by California. However, if you are at fault, the consequences are even more severe. You may be personally responsible for the property damages and medical bills of other drivers and passengers who were in the accident.
Who Covers Damages If You Don’t Have Insurance?
California follows tort law, which means that the state allows injured drivers to file a claim against the other driver for damages. This is in comparison to a no-fault state, which California doesn’t follow. If you’re in an accident and you’re not at fault, whether or not you have insurance, you can file a claim with the other driver’s insurance for property damages and medical bills.
However, the amount of compensation that you can collect may be limited if you’re uninsured, even if you’re not at fault. Legal professionals refer to California as a “No Pay, No Play” state. This means that they limit the driver’s eligibility to recover funds from someone else’s insurance company if they didn’t have insurance at the time of the accident.
While you can still file a claim with the other driver’s insurance, California only allows you to claim economic damages, and you won’t qualify for non-economic damages. There are two categories of damages following a car accident:
- Economic damages: Economic damages are specific costs that relate to the accident, like property damages. This may include repair costs or medical bills.
- Non-economic damages: Non-economic damages are costs that are harder to calculate, like pain and suffering. This may include a diminished earning capability or the physical pain or mental anguish that comes with a chronic injury.
If the insurance company or police decide that you’re are fault for the accident, you could be subject to paying these costs for the other driver out-of-pocket without insurance. It’s also possible for the other driver to not have insurance. If this is the case, you would both likely receive tickets and fines, and you would have to take the case to small claims court to cover your damages. Many car accidents also lead to both parties experiencing injuries. If this is the case, you may have fewer options to collect than the other driver.
Who to Do If You’re in an Accident Without Insurance
It’s important to ensure that you have sufficient insurance before driving a vehicle in California. However, if you’re in an accident and don’t have insurance at the time, there are a few things to avoid that can make the situation even worse. Never leave the scene of the accident. This can get you into even more trouble legally, and it may be more difficult for the police to decide who was responsible for the accident. Leaving the scene of the accident can even lead to jail time.
You’ll also want to check for injuries, regardless of who’s at fault for the accident. Call the local police to file a report and inform them if you or anyone else involved in the accident needs medical care. Once the police arrive, avoid admitting guilt or claiming responsibility for the accident. Let the police and insurance company decide who’s at fault. Otherwise, they may use your admission of guilt against you.
How to File a Claim Without Insurance
If you’re injured in an accident in which someone else is to blame, you can file a claim with their insurance provider. They may limit your ability to collect. If you experience severe life-changing injuries, you may consider filing a personal injury case against the responsible driver. However, nothing is a guarantee, and California tends to favor drivers with insurance.
Tips for Finding Affordable Insurance in California
The potential financial consequences of getting into an accident without insurance greatly outweigh the cost of buying insurance. If you’re skipping insurance because of the cost, here are a few tips that may help this necessary bill become more affordable:
- Shop around and compare rates with different providers.
- Ask about discounts, including student, multi-policy, or multi-vehicle.
- Enroll in a defensive driving course for discounts.
- Pay in full or enroll in a paperless bill program.
- Consider whether you need full coverage since it costs more than minimum coverage.
Driving without insurance in California can also be expensive in other ways. A lapse in coverage can make it more expensive when you buy insurance later. Numerous violations can also lead to a bad driving record, which in turn can lead to higher rates.
Not having insurance in California is risky. In addition to the potential for expensive fines, you may be on your own to cover damages or medical bills following an accident.
At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.