North Dakota Car Accident Laws

A look at North Dakota's deadlines for filing a car accident lawsuit, the state's rules on shared fault for a crash, and drivers' legal duties to report a car accident in North Dakota.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

After any kind of traffic accident in North Dakota, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant damage to your vehicle, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few North Dakota laws that could have a big impact on your case, including:

  • the six-year deadline for the filing of most car accident lawsuits in North Dakota's civil court system, and
  • North Dakota's "modified comparative fault" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant was less responsible than the other party (or parties) for causing the car accident.

(Important note on no-fault: North Dakota is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on North Dakota's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)

The North Dakota Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit. If you miss the time limit set by this law and you try to file your claim after the deadline has already passed, the North Dakota court system is almost certain to dismiss your case, unless some rare exception applies to extend the deadline.

In North Dakota, you can find the statute of limitations that will apply to almost all lawsuits arising from a car accident at North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-16. Under this law, you have six years to turn to the state's civil court system for a remedy after any kind of personal injury or property damage caused by someone else.

So, in the context of a vehicle accident, any lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this six-year filing deadline, as will any lawsuit for damage done to a vehicle or other personal property. For these cases, the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.

The deadline is different if someone died as a result of the vehicle accident, and the family or the representative of the deceased person's estate wishes to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person who caused the crash. Specifically, North Dakota Century Code section 28-01-18 requires that a wrongful death lawsuit be filed in the state's court system no later than two years after the date of the deceased person's death.

It's crucial to understand and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential car accident lawsuit. If the statute of limitations deadline is coming up, it may be time to discuss your situation with an experienced North Dakota car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in North Dakota Car Accident Cases

If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: the other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

As codified at North Dakota Century Code section 32-03.2-02, North Dakota follows a "modified comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident trials, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: the total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the modified comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault. But the plaintiff must be less than 50 percent at fault in order to collect anything from the defendant. If the plaintiff's fault meets or exceeds 50 percent, the plaintiff gets nothing.

For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under North Dakota's comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant sum, but not as much as the grand total of your damages.

Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind North Dakota judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

Reporting a Car Accident in North Dakota

According to North Dakota Century Code section 39-08-09, the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident must report the crash—to the local police department if the accident occurred within a municipality, or if outside a municipality, to the office of the county sheriff or the state highway patrol—if it resulted in:

  • injury to or death of any person, or
  • property damage to an apparent extent of at least $4,000.

It's a crime to leave the scene of a car accident without taking such legally-required steps.

North Dakota's No-Fault Car Insurance Laws

As touched on above, North Dakota is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on the North Dakota no-fault car insurance rules.

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