After any kind of traffic accident in Utah, if you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensation. In this article, we'll discuss a few Utah laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting an accident to law enforcement.
(Important note on no-fault: Utah 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 Utah's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.
(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
In Utah, there are a few different lawsuit filing deadlines that could come into play after a vehicle accident.
First, for car accident injuries, Utah Code section 78B-2-307 gives you four years to ask Utah’s civil court system for a remedy. So, in the context of a car accident, that means any injury-related lawsuit by any driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian injured in the crash will be subject to this deadline, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident.
If anyone was killed as a result of the car accident, Utah Code section 78B-2-304 sets a two-year statute of limitations deadline for any wrongful death claim that might be brought by the deceased person’s family or representatives. And it’s important to keep in mind that for these kinds of claims, the two-year "clock" starts running on the date of the accident victim’s death (as opposed to the date of the accident itself).
Finally, if anyone had their vehicle or other property damaged as a result of a car accident, Utah Code section 78B-2-305 says that any lawsuit over that damage must be filed within three years of the date of the vehicle accident.
Whichever of these deadlines applies, if you try to file your car accident lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it’s crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.
Even if you’re confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you’ll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Utah car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a Utah car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?
Under Utah Code section 78B-5-818, Utah is a "modified comparative negligence" state. This means you can still recover damages in a car-accident-related lawsuit, but your award will be reduced according to your share of negligence -- and importantly, your share of liability must be less than 50 percent in order to recover from other at-fault parties.
For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $20,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $20,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $2,000, leaving you with a total award of $18,000.
The comparative negligence rule binds Utah judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
Under Utah Code section 41-6a-401.7, the drivers involved in an accident "shall immediately and by the quickest means of communication available" (i.e. a phone call from the scene) give notice of the accident to the nearest law enforcement agency.
The Utah Department of Public Safety may also ask the drivers involved in the crash to prepare a traffic accident report. If so, the report must be filed with the department within 10 days of the request.
As touched on above, Utah 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 Utah no-fault car insurance rules.