Wisconsin car accident laws
When you’ve been injured in a car accident, it’s important to understand how exactly state law applies in your situation. Both the at-fault driver and victim have legal obligations to fulfill. Wisconsin car accident laws directly affect injured victims' car accident claims and how much compensation they can recover.
How long do you have to report an auto accident in Wisconsin?
Wisconsin statute §346.70 spells out how long you have to report an accident depending on the circumstances.
You must immediately call the police after a car accident if:
- Anyone is injured or killed
- A deer or other animal is injured or killed
- One or more vehicles needs a tow
- There’s $1000 or more in damage to someone’s property
- There’s $200 or more in damage to government property
If an officer of the law files a Wisconsin motor vehicle accident report, you’re in compliance. If the police don’t respond to the accident you must make a Driver Report of Accident within 10 days. Don’t break the law if another driver asks you not to report the accident, even if they offer to pay. Failure to report an accident can lead to suspension of your driving privileges.
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What’s a non-reportable accident?
In Wisconsin a non-reportable accident does not include any of the above criteria for injury, death or property damage.
If you’re injured in a non-reportable accident you still have the right to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance.
Does a non-reportable accident go on your record?
In most cases if the police aren’t notified it won’t go on your motor vehicle record. But your insurance company will report a claim to property loss databases. If you apply for new insurance the new insurance company will be able to see the accident claim history.
How long do you have to call your insurance company after an accident?
Policies vary depending on which insurance company you have. Typically instead of a specific time limit the requirement is phrased as “within a reasonable time” or “promptly after the accident”.
It’s in your own best interests to report an accident to your insurer. An insurance policy is a legally binding document, and one of your obligations is promptly reporting an accident you were involved in.
Failing to report an accident to your insurance company can also put you at risk. Let’s say the other driver says they weren’t hurt and drives away. Later they decide they actually did suffer an injury and file a claim against your insurer. If you didn’t report the accident and your insurer receives a letter from the other driver’s attorney claiming damages, they might deny coverage, raise your premiums, or make you ineligible for renewal.
Learn more about what you should do after a car accident in Wisconsin.
Is Wisconsin a no-fault state for car accidents?
Wisconsin is not a no-fault insurance state. In no-fault states like Michigan and Minnesota, every driver involved in an accident files a claim with their own insurance company, no matter who caused the accident. Injured victims can only sue for compensation if their injury is severe enough (determined by a medical diagnosis or cost of medical treatment).
Wisconsin is what’s called a tort state. Tort means doing something wrong that causes harm to someone else. In tort liability states there are no laws restricting your ability to file a lawsuit and claim compensation for your injuries. The at-fault driver can be sued by the victim(s) for medical expenses, pain and suffering damages, property damage and other losses.
Wisconsin is also a comparative negligence state aka shared fault state §895.045. This means both drivers can be found partly at fault for the accident. As long as you are no more than 50% at fault, you have the right to recover damages. This means you can only recover damages if you can prove the other driver is at least 50% at fault.
If you are legally found partly at fault, any compensation you’re awarded by a jury will be reduced by the percentage of fault you have. So if a jury determined your injuries, property damage, and pain and suffering were worth $500,000 but you were 25% at fault, your award would be reduced by 25% leaving you with $375,000.
This comparative negligence law controls how juries and judges in Wisconsin must calculate damages. It’s also used by the insurance adjuster evaluating your claim.
Who determines fault in a car accident?
There are a few different ways fault for an auto accident is determined:
If a driver admits fault for causing an accident, their words can be used to build a case. Even saying ‘I’m so sorry’ to another person involved in the crash is the same as admitting it was your fault. In general you should avoid speaking to the person who caused the accident as much as possible.
It’s all right to:
- Ask if they are ok or need you to call an ambulance
- Exchange contact and insurance information
- Say you’re sorry or apologize in any way
- Engage in conversation outside of the necessary details
It’s easy to apologize as a reflex, regardless of whether it was your fault or not. Especially after a shock when it’s hard to think clearly. For this reason your best move after an accident is getting all necessary medical attention, reporting the accident to the police, and calling a personal injury attorney to represent you.
In many cases the police are responsible for determining fault after a car crash. After police are called to a crash scene they file an accident report including their own observations. The police will talk to all parties involved in the accident and witnesses if there are any. They’ll also examine vehicle damage and the position of each. Sometimes determining fault is cut-and-dry, for example in a rear-end collision where one car was stopped at a traffic light.
Other scenarios can be much harder to accurately determine fault, especially if there were no witnesses or camera recordings, and the liable driver denies responsibility.
When an at-fault driver says they’re not at fault, the insurance company can review evidence from the accident and make its own determination. This is why it’s crucial to collect and preserve as much evidence as possible, as soon as possible after an accident.
This is also why partnering with an experienced personal injury attorney can make such a huge difference in your settlement amount.
Steve Caya is highly skilled in accident reconstruction and hires all necessary specialists to evaluate the cause of the crash and the long-term implications of your injuries. Calling on industry experts like accident reconstruction professionals, medical doctors, actuaries and rehabilitation specialists is one of the ways he builds the strongest possible case and determines not only who was at fault, but what a truly fair settlement amount is.
Determining fault is not black and white
There are no hard-and-fast rules making it clear who’s at fault in an accident. Your ability to receive adequate compensation for your injuries and other losses is really determined by negotiation and presenting persuasive evidence.
Insurance adjusters and lawyers working for insurers make a living negotiating claims and building a case in their favor. You owe it to yourself to have a determined attorney fighting for your side. Learn more about what accident victims need to know about personal injury law in Wisconsin.
What if someone else is driving my car and gets in an accident?
If you gave that person permission to drive your car and they cause an accident, your insurance will probably cover it. Your collision coverage applies to vehicular damage and your liability coverage pays for harm done to the other vehicle and people hurt in the crash.
If the cost of damage from the accident exceeds your insurance policy limits, the person who was driving your car might have to get their own insurer involved to cover the costs (if they have insurance).
If the person borrowing your car was not at fault for the accident, then they (and you) are best off consulting a personal injury attorney to file a claim for compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance.
There are exceptions, including driving under the influence, drivers who are specifically excluded from a policy, and a driver who “borrowed” your car without your permission. Again: to protect your legal rights and best interests, you should get your case reviewed by a personal injury lawyer experienced in Wisconsin car accident claims.
Wisconsin car insurance laws
Wisconsin car insurance laws define how much auto insurance drivers are legally required to carry, and the legal and financial consequences for failing to meet insurance requirements.
Wisconsin law also specifies how insurers must act when a claim is filed.
Car insurance requirements for Wisconsin drivers
All Wisconsin drivers must carry auto insurance. As of 2020 the minimum coverage amounts are:
- $10,000 in liability coverage for property damage
- $25,000 in liability coverage for the injury or death of one person
- $50,000 in liability coverage for the injury or death of multiple people
- $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident in uninsured motorist coverage
Liability coverage only pays for expenses associated with damage, injury and death suffered by others, caused by you. It doesn’t cover your own expenses.
Uninsured motorist coverage covers your expenses if you’re injured by a driver who has no insurance.
Is Wisconsin a PIP state?
No, Wisconsin does not require Personal Injury Protection. PIP is optional auto insurance coverage for medical costs (and usually lost wages) regardless of who is at fault for the accident. PIP coverage is frequently required in states with no-fault accident laws.
Legal risks of having no auto insurance
Failure to carry sufficient insurance while driving a motor vehicle in Wisconsin can result in a fine of $500, suspense of registration and/or your license, plus other administrative penalties. If you do have insurance but have no proof when pulled over you can be fined $10. §344.65
Uninsured drivers found at fault for an accident face suspension of driving privileges until they can prove insurance coverage with an SR22 certificate and pay reinstatement fees.
It’s strongly recommended (though not legally required) to carry additional insurance beyond the minimums.
Related: Why you need adequate auto insurance
Legal risks of having minimal auto insurance
Only meeting Wisconsin’s legally mandated minimum auto insurance means you’re risking being an underinsured motorist and more importantly puts your personal finances at risk if you’re involved in a major accident.
If you’re in a collision and the at-fault driver is un- or underinsured, your own uninsured motorist coverage kicks in to cover the cost of medical treatment, property damage and other losses. If the cost of recovering from the accident exceeds the uninsured motorist minimum, you’ll be on the hook for the rest.
If you are at fault for an accident and have only minimum auto insurance, you can be held personally responsible for the damages the victim(s) of the crash are entitled to.
Wisconsin auto insurance claim laws
Wisconsin’s laws on auto insurance and car accidents directly affect how a claim is handled and how much compensation you can seek in a claim.
Because fault is a factor in Wisconsin car accidents, someone who is injured or suffers other losses (wrongful death, vehicle damage, lost wages, etc) has three options:
- You can file a claim through your own auto insurance (typically your insurance company then pursues a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurer)
- You can file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance
- You can file a personal injury lawsuit directly against the at-fault driver
In a state with no-fault accident laws, accident victims are limited to claims against their own personal injury protection coverage, unless certain criteria are met.
It’s important to keep in mind you only have one opportunity to claim the financial compensation you need. Without the counsel of an attorney who understands how the system works, accident victims are at risk of settling for less than they deserve, or having their claim denied.
How long does an insurance company have to settle a claim in Wisconsin?
Under Wisconsin law §628.46 an insurance company has to pay a claim within 30 days of receiving written notice reporting a covered loss.
In the aftermath of a car accident it can be tempting to take the first settlement offered, just to have some compensation as quickly as possible. But this may not be in your best interests. Once you sign the back of the check, you can’t seek any further compensation, even if legitimate accident-related expenses arise later.
In most cases the best course of action is to have your claim reviewed by a personal injury attorney who can help you understand the full scope of your losses and protect your legal rights to fair compensation.
Steve Caya is an experienced car accident insurance lawyer offering free claim evaluations. All cases are handled on a no-win, no-fee basis. We’ll help you get through the financial aspects of your personal injury claim and fight for a fair settlement. All you have to do is focus on recovering your health.
Wisconsin car accident compensation laws
When an auto accident victim suffers personal and financial losses because of another driver’s negligence, they’re entitled to claim compensation. The financial compensation awarded to the injured victim is called compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages is an umbrella term with two categories: general and specific damages.
Specific damages refer to quantifiable costs such as:
- Medical expenses including rehabilitation
- Property damage (cost of repair, replacement, or reimbursement for irreplaceable items)
- Loss of use damages (financial compensation for your lack of a vehicle – including rental car costs, etc)
- Missed work and other lost income
- Loss of earning capacity
When adding up specific damages, it’s important to consider how the accident will affect you in the future. To receive a fair amount of compensation you need to calculate and prove the value of future medical treatments, reduced earning capacity over your expected lifetime, and so on. This is most effectively done by working with a personal injury attorney and the experts in their network.
General damages refer to suffering the victim experiences as a result of the accident, such as:
- Pain and suffering damages (both physical pain and mental anguish)
- Physical impairment and/or disfigurement
- Loss of companionship (applies to family members filing a wrongful death claim)
- Loss of consortium (the victim, spouse or family members are deprived of intangibles like love, affection, emotional support and so on)
- Diminished quality of life (a decreased ability to enjoy or perform certain tasks – qualifying injuries include paralyzation, brain trauma, etc)
- Wisconsin law doesn’t put a cap on compensatory damages, except in claims against a government entity.
Loved ones of the accident victim may also be able to sue for emotional distress, depending on the circumstances and severity of the injuries.
Though your losses and need for compensation are very real, your ability to recover a fair sum hinges on establishing liability. The losses may be evident to you, but the law requires proving who caused them and how much they’re worth.
Hiring a personal injury attorney to represent you in a claim improves your chances of uncovering all sources of liability (through action or inaction), proving cause, and receiving just compensation for your current and future costs stemming from the accident.
Punitive damages in Wisconsin car accident claims
While compensatory damages compensate victims for losses, punitive damages are intended to penalize the person who caused the accident. They only apply in extreme cases, and are meant to act as a deterrent against similar behavior by others.
Wisconsin law caps punitive damages at $200,000 or double the compensatory damages, whichever amount is greater §895.043.
Two exceptions to the punitive damages cap:
- Claims against a government entity do not allow punitive damages
- Claims against a drunk driver who caused an accident have no cap on punitive damages
To win punitive damages in a car accident case, you have to prove the at-fault driver acted wantonly or maliciously, intentionally disregarding the rights of the victim. Punitive damages are rarely awarded in Wisconsin, though a jury may find a reckless driver’s behavior merits them, for example in a hit and run case.
Car accident statute of limitations in Wisconsin
The statute of limitations is a time limit established by law §893.54. It determines how long you have to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for injuries or a wrongful death.
In Wisconsin you have three years to file a personal injury lawsuit against the individual or organization at fault for the auto accident. Exceptions are possible for individuals with a disability or mental illness.
The three-year limit is measured from the date of the accident, no matter what type of accident it was (car accident, slip and fall, nursing home neglect, etc).
The personal injury statute of limitations for minors is different: a minor injured due to someone else’s negligence has until two years after their 18th birthday to file a claim. §893.16
Motor vehicle wrongful death statute of limitations
For a wrongful death involving a motor vehicle the Wisconsin statute of limitations is 2 years (for all other wrongful death claims the limit is 3 years). In a wrongful death case the countdown begins when the accident victim dies, not the accident date.
Just because you have years doesn’t mean you should wait until the last month to file your claim. The longer you wait, the more evidence fades away, making it harder to build a strong case.
Ideally an injured victim would enlist the help of an injury attorney immediately after the accident so evidence can be gathered right away. The opposing side isn’t wasting any time building their case, and neither should you.
Auto accidents and Wisconsin government
When a car accident involves government liability, there are entirely different laws controlling the process and outcome.
Government liability matters when your auto accident:
- Involved a bus, truck or other vehicle owned and operated by a government agency
- Was caused by a government employee acting in an official capacity and driving a government-owned vehicle
- Was fully or in part caused by dangerous road or highway conditions, or an inadequately marked road work zone
The Law of Sovereign Immunity established in the Wisconsin Constitution says the state is protected against lawsuits. There are exceptions, and accident victims can sue the government for damages as long as strict rules are followed.
How suing the state of Wisconsin or a municipality works
Sovereign immunity can be waived, allowing accident victims to seek compensation by filing a claim against the state government. To make a successful claim you must:
- Provide written notice by certified mail to the attorney general within 120 days of the accident (a MUCH shorter timeframe than the general statute of limitations)
- Include the total amount you are seeking and a detailed description of the accident, resulting injuries & losses, and the name of the government employee at fault
In government liability claims, damages are capped by law rather than insurance policies:
- Damages for Wisconsin state government claims are capped at $250,000 §893.82(6)
- Damages for Wisconsin municipal government claims (for example a claim against the City of Madison, or the City of Milwaukee) are capped at $50,000 §893.80(3)
- Damages for claims against a volunteer fire company or its agents are capped at $25,000
You are not allowed to seek punitive damages in any government liability claim. The comparative negligence rule still applies in cases involving a government vehicle.
After you file a claim against a local or state government they will investigate and either pay or deny your claim. You have the right to file a lawsuit up to three years after a denial.
As you can probably imagine, filing a claim or a lawsuit against a government agency represents a significant undertaking. Steve Caya has the experience and resources to act in accordance with any and all special requirements to secure fair compensation for accident victims.
Wisconsin hit and run laws
Wisconsin hit and run laws establish the criminal penalties for a driver who flees the scene of an accident. But what about the accident victim? Can you sue a hit and run driver?
Your ability to sue for damages is limited unless the offending driver is found and identified. If they are found, you can make a claim against their insurance or file a lawsuit against the individual. You might not be able to collect any damages if the person is underinsured and/or has no assets.
If the hit and run driver is not found, or if they are uninsured, you may be able to seek compensation through your own uninsured driver coverage.
Consulting a hit and run accident lawyer will help you understand your best options for recovering damages.
Drunk driving car accident laws
The same car accident laws apply if the at-fault driver was intoxicated when they caused the crash: the injured victim is entitled to claim compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, property damage, and other losses.
Under certain circumstances, the victim of a crash caused by a drunk driver is also entitled to claim punitive damages. The Wisconsin punitive damages cap may also be waived in a drunk driving injury claim, depending on the degree of intoxication.
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a drunk driver, your case still needs to prove liability, which is best accomplished by working with an experienced drunk driving injury lawyer.
What happens if the at-fault driver dies?
If the driver who caused the crash is killed, you can still file an injury claim against their insurance company. If they were un- or under-insured, you may be able to file a claim against their estate.
If the deceased at-fault driver had no auto insurance and no assets, the remaining option is seeking compensation from your own uninsured motorist coverage (no different than if they had lived).
Hurt in a car accident? Don’t gamble with your financial future.
In the aftermath of a collision when you’re hurt, reeling, and trying to plan your next steps, the at-fault driver, insurance companies and opposing legal teams are already building a case meant to minimize your compensation.
You need a personal injury attorney who works with the right experts to build the strongest possible case, and prepares to win at trial.
Steve Caya has won millions of dollars’ worth of settlements for victims of car accidents in Wisconsin. As a former insurance industry attorney he understands exactly how insurers operate and what it takes to make them pay fair compensation.