No matter where you live, car insurance is sure to play a big part in any claim you decide to bring after a car accident. Read on for the details of Wisconsin'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 Wisconsin.
The first thing to know is that Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin, 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 Wisconsin drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.
All Wisconsin drivers are required to carry automobile insurance or, in rare cases, some other form of financial security (surety bond, personal funds, certificate of self-insurance). Any car insurance policy must include at least the following minimum amounts of coverage:
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 Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin) 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.
Uninsured motorist coverage is also required in Wisconsin; at least $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. According to the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance: "This kind of coverage applies to bodily injury you, your family, and other occupants of your vehicle incur when hit by an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run driver. It also covers you and your family if injured as a pedestrian when struck by an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run driver."
According to Wisconsin Statutes section 344.65, anyone who operates a vehicle that is uninsured may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $500. Other administrative penalties are also possible, including suspension of vehicle registration and/or your driver's license.
Of course, that's all in addition to serious financial consequences if you cause a car accident and you don't have car insurance.