No matter where you live, car insurance is sure to play a big role in the wake of a car accident. Read on for the details of Montana's mandatory automobile liability insurance rules, how insurance coverage typically affects different kinds of claims, and the range of penalties you're likely to face if you drive without insurance in Montana.
The first thing to know is that Montana follows a traditional fault-based system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a crash: that includes car accident injuries, lost income, vehicle damage, and so on.
So, the person who was at fault for causing the car accident is also responsible for any resulting harm (from a practical standpoint, the at-fault driver's insurance carrier will absorb these losses, up to policy limits).
In Montana, a person who suffers any kind of injury or damage due to an auto accident usually can proceed in one of three ways:
Note: In no-fault car insurance states, a claimant doesn't usually have this same range of options. After a car accident in a no-fault state, you must turn to the personal injury protection coverage of your own car insurance policy for payment of medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries reach a certain threshold can you step outside of no-fault and make a claim directly against the at-fault driver. But Montana drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.
Montana Code Annotated section 61-6-103 requires that any motor vehicle operated on public roads be insured by a liability insurance policy that meets the following minimum coverage limits:
Liability coverage pays the medical bills, property damage bills, and other costs of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who are injured or have their vehicle damaged in a car accident you cause, up to coverage limits. You can (and in some situations should) carry more coverage to protect you in case a serious crash results in significant car accident injuries and vehicle damage. Once policy limits are exhausted, you are personally on the financial hook, so higher insurance limits can help protect your personal assets in the event of a serious crash.
Your liability coverage will kick in if any family member is driving your vehicle, or if you've given someone else permission to use it. It will likely also cover you if you get into an accident in a rental car.
Remember that liability coverage doesn't apply to your own injuries or vehicle damage after a Montana car accident. You'll need different (additional) coverage for that if you're involved in a car accident and no one else's coverage applies to your losses. For example, collision coverage (optional in Montana) can pay for repairs to (or replacement of) your damaged vehicle after a car accident. Note that collision or comprehensive might be required under the terms of a vehicle lease or financing agreement.
Your Montana car insurance policy must also include uninsured motorist coverage unless you specifically deny that option in writing.
Driving without insurance in Montana is considered a misdemeanor. A first-time offender could be punished with a fine between $250 and $500, or up to 10 days in jail.
A second-time offender faces a minimum fine of $350 or 10 days in jail, will have their driver's license revoked for 90 days, and will receive 5 points on their driving record (a total of 30 points will result in revocation of a driver's license).
A third or subsequent conviction is punishable by a fine of $500 or imprisonment for up to six months, or both.
Keep in mind that these penalties will come on top of serious financial consequences if you cause a car accident and you don't have insurance.