Liability for Auto Accidents in Oklahoma
Oklahoma is an at-fault insurance state. This means that the driver primarily or totally responsible for an accident can be held liable for injuries and property damage.
Oklahoma’s mandated auto insurance coverage is fairly standard but meager. You are required to carry $25,000 in liability insurance for the bodily injury or death you cause another in an accident. You are also required to carry $50,000 in liability insurance for all persons injured or killed in an accident caused by you. The final requirement is $25,000 in property damage liability coverage. This is generally known as 25/50/25 auto insurance.
Note that this insurance covers only injury and damage to others and their vehicles, not your own. For that, you will need to purchase additional comprehensive and collision coverage.
The dollar-amount requirements are so low that even the Oklahoma Insurance Department notes that “buying only the minimum amount of liability means you will likely pay more out-of-pocket for losses incurred from an accident.” The agency recommends 100/300/100.
If you are involved in a vehicular accident, you have three options:
- File a claim with your own insurance company.
- File a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance.
- File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
State Laws Regarding Personal Injury Lawsuits
You have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. However, no insurance company is going to accept a claim that long after an accident. Auto insurance policies have clauses requiring you to file a claim “promptly” after an accident, which generally would mean within a few days. Even waiting as long as two years to file a lawsuit can pose additional challenges if potential witnesses or the at-fault party move out of state.
The concept of an at-fault driver is a relative one. Many car accidents involve decisions, actions or inactions, and negligence by both drivers. For example, say you’re rear-ended. The accident results in damage to your vehicle and injury to your back.
When you file a claim or a lawsuit, the claims adjusters or the jury will rely on what is called the modified rule of comparative negligence. When you were rear-ended, perhaps one of your brake lights failed to work. The adjuster or jury might decide you’re thus 20 percent at fault (or more or less). This means that any settlement or award you receive will be reduced by that percentage. Your $50,000 settlement or award suddenly becomes $40,000.
What if both your brake lights were out and you veered in front of the other driver and stopped suddenly? You might be found 50 percent or more at fault. In that case, you could recover nothing. Once your fault rises above the other party’s, you are not entitled to any compensation.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If you lose a loved one in a car accident, no monetary amount is going to bring that person back, but you can hold the at-fault party accountable by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Oklahoma defines a wrongful death as one caused by “the wrongful act or omission of another.” The wrongful act of another in a car accident is the negligence of the at-fault driver.
The statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is also two years, but it dates from the death of the loved one, not from the accident. The legal standard is that if the deceased had survived and would’ve been able to file a personal injury lawsuit, then a wrongful death lawsuit is warranted.
In some states, family members can bring a wrongful death lawsuit themselves, but in Oklahoma, the “personal representative” named in the person’s will must file on behalf of the family members. If there is no will, a probate court will appoint a personal representative (or executor), probably from among the family members.
A wrongful death lawsuit enables you to recover damages for medical and funeral expenses, loss of companionship and comfort, loss of future income contributions by the deceased, your pain and suffering, and more.