District of Columbia Car Insurance Rules

A summary of the Compulsory/No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, including minimum coverage requirements for District of Columbia vehicle owners.

In the District of Columbia, residents are required to purchase certain minimum amounts of insurance if they want to register and drive any vehicle in the district. D.C. also has a "no-fault" car insurance system in place, with a few unique twists. In this article, we'll cover:

  • D.C.'s minimum insurance coverage requirements, and
  • some important details regarding the district's no-fault rules and your options after a car accident.

Minimum Car Insurance Requirements in D.C.

In order to register a vehicle in Washington D.C. (or get a "reciprocity" sticker, which gives non-residents certain vehicle-related privileges within the district), you must purchase, at minimum, the following amounts of car insurance coverage on the vehicle:

  • $25,000 liability coverage for bodily injury per person, and $50,000 total liability bodily injury coverage per accident
  • $10,000 property damage liability (per accident), and
  • uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage (for your own physical harm when the at-fault driver doesn't have insurance) of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, and uninsured motorist property damage coverage (for your vehicle damage and other property losses when the at-fault driver doesn't have insurance) of at least $5,000.

When selling a car insurance policy to a D.C. resident, insurers are required to offer the option of purchasing "personal injury protection" (also known as "no-fault") coverage. More on this in the next section.

Learn more about the role of insurance in a car accident case.

How Does No-Fault Car Insurance Work In Washington, D.C.?

Under a traditional no-fault car insurance system, after a car accident, the policyholder's own car insurance coverage (called "personal injury protection" or "medical benefits" coverage) pays for medical treatment and certain other out-of-pocket losses incurred by anyone covered under the policy, up to coverage limits, regardless of who caused the accident. In many so-called "no-fault states," this kind of system is the only option after a car accident, at least initially.

Washington D.C.'s no-fault car insurance system is somewhat unique. According to the Insurance Information Institute, drivers in D.C. have the option of purchasing either no-fault or fault-based (liability) coverage when they buy their policy from an insurance company. But after a car accident, a driver who originally chose no-fault benefits has 60 days to decide whether to receive those benefits or file a claim against the other party. This means D.C. is somewhere between a "mandatory" no-fault state and a "choice" no-fault state.

But be aware that with a no-fault claim, you can't get compensation for your "pain and suffering" and other non-economic losses, which can make up a significant amount of your "damages," especially when your car accident injuries are serious. And if you choose the no-fault option after a crash, you can't file any kind of claim against the at-fault driver (so that "pain and suffering" and other non-economic losses are on the table) unless your injuries meet certain thresholds under D.C. law, specifically:

  • your medical bills arising from the accident exceed your personal injury protection coverage limits, and (not or)
  • your injuries directly result in substantial permanent scarring or disfigurement, or certain qualifying impairment.

Keep in mind that, if you're found at fault for causing a car accident, and the injured person (driver or passenger) has opted out of no-fault and incurred injuries and other losses that exceed your car insurance coverage limits (a distinct possibility if your policy only includes the minimum coverage requirements), you could find yourself on the financial hook for making up the difference.

Finally, it's important to note that D.C.'s no-fault car insurance rules can only be applied to injuries caused by car accidents, not to vehicle damage claims.

For more details on Washington D.C. car insurance rules, and how they might apply to your own situation after a car accident, it might make sense to talk with an attorney. Learn more about how a lawyer can help with a car accident case.

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