February 13, 2021 | Car Accidents
Oklahoma uses an at-fault insurance system. So, the company that insures the driver responsible for a car accident will be financially responsible for the resulting costs. And, the responsible driver’s insurance provider will only provide benefits up to the driver’s policy limits. If costs exceed what a driver’s policy covers, the at-fault driver can be held personally responsible for the remaining damages.
Here are some of the things you should know about your liability for damages when you are at fault for a car accident in Oklahoma.
Liability Insurance in Oklahoma
Oklahoma assigns liability for car accidents to the driver who caused the accident. For this reason, state law requires every driver to carry liability insurance.
Liability Insurance Minimums
Under Oklahoma law, you must have liability insurance to cover up to $25,000 in bodily injury claims per person, with a total cap of $50,000 per accident. You must also carry at least $25,000 in property damage coverage.
How Liability Insurance Works
Liability insurance only pays third-party claims. This means that your own claims will not be paid out from your liability insurance. If you have $3,000 in medical bills after an accident that you caused, you cannot seek compensation through your liability policy.
Instead, you will need to:
- Pay out of pocket.
- Use your health insurance to pay.
- File a claim under your medical payment (Med Pay) or personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.
This last option can only be used if you purchased Med Pay or PIP coverage with your auto insurance policy. These coverages are optional, so you might not have them. But if you do, Med Pay will pay your medical bills and PIP will pay your medical bills and lost income after an accident that you caused.
The same holds true when it comes to property damage. Your liability insurance will not pay for damage to your car. Instead, you must have collision coverage to file a claim for the repair or replacement of your vehicle. If you do not have collision coverage, you will need to pay for the repairs out of pocket.
To summarize, when you cause an accident, you will be financially liable for:
- Third-party bodily injury claims that exceed your policy limits
- Third-party property damage claims that exceed your policy limit
- Your medical expenses and lost income (unless you have Med Pay or PIP coverage)
- Your damaged property (unless you have collision coverage)
As you can see from the above examples, even though you have insurance, you might have additional financial burdens to consider after you’ve been involved in an accident.
Legal Exposure After You Cause an Accident
When you cause an accident, the injured parties can sue you for their damages. To establish liability, they must prove that you acted negligently when you caused the accident.
Negligence in Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, negligence has three elements:
- Duty to protect the injured person from harm
- Breach of the duty by failing to act reasonably
- Injuries or damages that were proximately caused by the breach of duty
Every driver must act in a reasonably prudent manner to drive safely. This includes things like observing traffic laws and taking reasonable measures to prevent accidents.
When a driver fails to drive in a reasonably safe manner and causes an accident, liability for the accident falls to that driver. The driver’s liability extends to all reasonably foreseeable injuries that occur because of the accident.
Suppose you run a red light. In this case, you have failed to drive in a reasonably safe manner. If you strike a vehicle that hits a pedestrian, your liability includes all of the injuries suffered by the pedestrian and the occupants of the vehicle you struck. Injuries to a pedestrian from running a red light are foreseeable, even if the exact sequence of events was not.
Damages for Negligence
The damages that could be asserted in a lawsuit against you include:
- Medical expenses, including the costs of treatment, therapy, and drugs
- Lost income if the injured person missed work while recovering from their injuries
- Diminished earning capacity if the injuries forced the injured person to change jobs
- Pain and suffering
Oklahoma used to have a law that capped pain and suffering damages at $350,000. However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidated the cap in 2019. This means that you could be exposed to hundreds of thousands of dollars of damages after you cause an accident.
Defending Yourself When You’re Blamed For a Crash in Oklahoma
To defend yourself against allegations of fault, you will probably need to disprove one or more of the elements of negligence. For example, you might not have breached your duty to drive carefully if a vehicle malfunction caused the accident. Similarly, you might not have acted negligently if you hit a vehicle while swerving to avoid a bike that drifted into your lane.
Contributory Negligence in Oklahoma
Another potential defense uses Oklahoma’s contributory negligence statute. Contributory negligence laws determine how claims are paid and damages are allocated if an accident had multiple causes. Oklahoma follows a modified comparative fault system with a 51% bar to recovery.
Everyone who contributes to an accident shares blame. Everyone is liable to the degree they played a role. The amount of fault you’re allocated will limit how much money:
- You are able to recover for your injuries, and
- You will owe other parties who were injured in the crash.
Suppose you caused an accident by turning left in front of oncoming traffic. If the driver who struck you was unable to avoid the collision because he was texting, he would also be at fault for the accident.
According to Oklahoma law:
- The other driver cannot recover damages from you if he was more than 50% at fault for the accident.
- The other driver’s damages will be reduced in proportion to his fault in the accident if he is 50% or less at fault.
- You can recover damages from the other driver if you bear 50% or less of the fault for the accident.
For example, if a jury allocates 65% of the fault to you and 35% of the fault to the other driver, you and your insurer will only pay 65% of the other driver’s damages. This could reduce the value of the other driver’s claim. If it falls below your policy limits, your insurer would then pay the entire amount.