In Virginia, as in every state, car insurance is sure to play a big part in any claim brought after a car accident. Read on for the details of Virginia's auto insurance requirements, how coverage affects claims made in the wake of a crash, and the kinds of penalties you're likely to face if you drive without insurance in Virginia.
Virginia follows a traditional "fault"-based system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a car accident: injuries, lost income, vehicle damage, and so on. This means that 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 Virginia, 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 Virginia drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.
In Virginia, you are not required to carry liability insurance on your vehicle if you pay a $500 Uninsured Motor Vehicle fee to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Once you pay the fee, you are legally permitted to drive a vehicle in the state without car insurance. But bear in mind that you are not purchasing any form of insurance by paying this fee. If you cause an accident, you will be personally liable for whatever damages you cause. This could add up to thousands of dollars, or more.
If you choose not to pay the fee, you are required to carry the following minimum amounts of liability car insurance coverage in Virginia::
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 Virginia 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 Virginia) can pay for repairs to (or replacement of) your damaged vehicle after a car accident. Note that collision or comprehensive coverage might be required under the terms of a vehicle lease or financing agreement.
According to the Virginia DMV, serious penalties are imposed for not complying with the state's insurance rules. If your insurance coverage terminates or cancels, you must either:
If you drive uninsured, and have not paid the $500 fee to the DMV, your driver's license and registration will be suspended. To restore your driving privileges, you will need to pay $500 and file a proof of insurance form with the DMV for the next three years.
Of course, that's all in addition to serious financial consequences if you cause a car accident and you don't have car insurance.