How Are Car Accident Legal Claims Handled With Out-of-State Drivers?

Key Points:

  • Auto insurance policies vary from state to state, but the protection you buy covers you no matter where you drive in the country—even if you’re driving in a state with different insurance requirements.
  • If you have a negligence claim against an out-of-state driver, their insurance carrier is still obligated to pay damages for a car accident in Georgia.
  • In cases where the out-of-state driver’s insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement amount, the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act allows victims to file a lawsuit to recover compensation in either their county of residence or the county where the accident took place.
  • Minimum insurance coverage limits are determined by Georgia law rather than the at-fault driver’s home state, and comparative negligence rules apply to compensation even if the driver resides in a no-fault state.

Every year metro Atlanta attracts approximately 50 million tourists, making it one of the most visited cities in the nation. People come from all across the country to see its professional sports teams, aquarium, museums, and more, and many other people travel through Atlanta on their way to Disney World or other Florida destinations.

US, Georgia map

With such a large number of people traveling to or through the city, there’s an increased likelihood that you may be involved in a car accident with an out-of-state driver. Dealing with a car crash is always challenging, but being hit by an out-of-state driver can bring additional problems when negotiating with the insurance company or filing a lawsuit.

This guide explains how to file an insurance claim against an out-of-state driver’s policy and how to file a lawsuit against the carrier if it refuses to offer full compensation for your costs.

Where to Start: Focusing on the Out-of-State Driver’s Insurance Policy

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident because of someone else’s negligence, you have the right to seek compensation from the at-fault driver. Even though the driver’s negligence gives rise to a personal legal claim, however, you are far more likely to recover full compensation from the insurance company. Thus, your first step in recovering compensation is to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier.

If the at-fault driver has an auto insurance policy, the carrier is obligated to indemnify its insured under the terms of the contract. Indemnification means the carrier must make a settlement offer for full compensation up to the policy limit when liability and damages are clear. This obligation is the same regardless of where the at-fault driver lives.

Auto insurance requirements, such as minimum coverage limits, vary from state to state, and you purchase coverage based on your home state’s rules. But the protection you buy covers you no matter where you drive in the United States—even if you’re driving in a state with different insurance requirements. That means if you have a claim against an out-of-state driver, their insurance carrier is still obligated to pay damages for a car accident in Georgia.

When filing a claim, you should know that Georgia’s insurance requirements govern an accident that takes place in this state. Under Georgia law, drivers must carry a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in bodily injury liability coverage.

If a nonresident driver causes an accident in Georgia, the insurance company is obligated to provide this amount of coverage even if the minimum requirement in the insured’s home state is lower. This obligation is based on a “broadening clause” that most insurance policies contain, increasing the coverage limit under these circumstances.

Georgia Law Allows You to Sue Out-of-State Drivers

Just because a driver is from another state doesn’t mean they can get away with causing a car accident. If you’re unable to negotiate a settlement with the at-fault driver’s carrier, Georgia law has provisions allowing a victim to file a legal claim against an out-of-state insurance policy to recover compensation.

Georgia Long-Arm Statute

Under Georgia’s long-arm statute, a court “may exercise personal jurisdiction over any nonresident” in the event that the nonresident “commits a tortious injury in this state.” O.C.G.A. § 9-10-91. In other words, when someone’s negligent driving causes you to be injured, that’s a tort, and the statute gives you the right to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver (and their insurance company) in the jurisdiction where the accident took place—even if the driver isn’t a Georgia resident.

For example, if you are hit by a Florida resident while driving in Fulton County, you can sue them/their insurance carrier in Fulton County. That means the trial would take place in Fulton County if no settlement is reached.

Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act

If you’re filing a lawsuit against an out-of-state driver, you must also comply with the Georgia Nonresident Motorist Act. Under the act, plaintiffs are given an additional filing option when the tort involves an at-fault driver from another state. O.C.G.A. § 40-12-3 states that a car accident victim may file a lawsuit either in the county where the accident took place or the county where the victim resides.

For example, if the accident in the above scenario happened in Fulton County but the victim/plaintiff was a Cobb County resident, the statute allows the plaintiff to choose whether to file suit in Fulton or Cobb. Before deciding, the victim should consult an attorney to see which venue might be more favorable for plaintiffs in car accident cases.

If you’re filing suit under this act, you should know that certain requirements make filing lawsuits against out-of-state drivers more complicated. First, the act requires the plaintiff to take all reasonable measures to properly serve the defendant, which means you or your attorney must notify the defendant of the pending lawsuit by serving them a copy of the complaint by registered or certified mail at their address.

Second, you must attach the return receipt to an affidavit you file with the court and then send copies of all documents to the Georgia Secretary of State, who acts as the nonresident driver’s “agent” for service.

It’s important that you allow enough time to meet these requirements before filing your lawsuit. Under Georgia law, you must file suit within two years of the accident, so waiting too long may put you in jeopardy of missing the deadline.

Each State Has Its Own Auto Insurance Policies

Insurance policy requirements vary from state to state, and you purchase coverage based on your own state’s rules. Some states have no-fault requirements, which means that each driver’s carrier pays for their insured’s accident costs no matter who was at fault. In Georgia, however, the driver who was responsible for the accident is liable for the costs.

Because Georgia is a comparative negligence state, the drivers may share responsibility for the accident and costs. If you’re at least 50 percent to blame, you cannot recover any compensation. If you’re less than 50 percent at fault, your amount of compensation can be reduced by that percentage. For example, if you were 20 percent at fault for the accident and your costs were $10,000, you are entitled to recover $8,000 from the other driver’s insurance company.

The amount of compensation you can receive and the insurance rules that apply are determined by the location of the accident. In other words, if the accident takes place in Georgia, compensation is based on comparative negligence law, and coverage is determined by Georgia’s minimum policy limits.

What if the Driver Is from a No-Fault State?

Even if the at-fault driver is from a no-fault state, Georgia law determines insurance rules and compensation in a local accident. In no-fault states, each driver’s carrier pays for their insured’s accident costs regardless of fault. But jurisdiction in a nonresident motorist claim is determined by the location of the accident—not where the at-fault driver lives.

Auto insurance carriers are contractually bound to protect the insured no matter where they travel, so policies typically contain a “broadening clause” that provides additional coverage. Thus, drivers who purchase insurance policies in no-fault states are still covered if they cause an accident in a negligence or comparative negligence state.

While visiting Georgia, I was hit and injured by a resident of another State, do I have a case?

Yes.  However, the answer to this question can be complicated.  You may be able to file a claim in Georgia or have your choice between other states.  This will be very specific to your case, and we recommend consulting with a Georgia attorney or a lawyer from your home area.

The majority of cases do not make it to trial. In a rare situation if your case goes to trial, you would have to come back and visit Georgia.

Can an Out-of-State Insurance Company Act in Bad Faith?

All insurance companies try to make a profit by paying as little as possible on car accident claims. When the insured is an out-of-state driver, however, the carrier may be more likely to use unfair tactics to avoid paying full compensation.

For example, the carrier may argue it is only required to pay up to the coverage limit of the at-fault driver’s home state despite having a policy clause that provides increased coverage for out-of-state accidents. Sometimes insurance companies will also try to drag out the claims process to create unreasonable delays, especially when they know that it can take longer to file a lawsuit under nonresident motorist laws.

Insurance carriers are required to exercise good faith and fair dealing when handling claims, however, because they have a duty to protect the insured’s financial interests. The fact that an accident took place out of state doesn’t change this duty—the insured is entitled to protection no matter where they go.
When an insurance company denies a claim or refuses to pay full damages up to the applicable coverage limit, it acts in bad faith. Under Georgia law, the plaintiff can seek compensation beyond the limit when the carrier has acted in bad faith in refusing to settle a claim. If the case goes to trial, the jury can award any amount of compensation it sees fit.

A bad faith claim belongs to the insured based on the carrier’s failure to provide protection under the insurance policy, but the insured typically assigns this claim to the plaintiff after a verdict is reached.

Can a Local Lawyer Be Hired to Handle a Nonresident Car Accident Case?

Yes. Whether you are an accident victim who lives in Georgia or an out-of-state driver who was involved in a Georgia collision, it makes sense to hire a local lawyer. First, because the crash happened in Georgia, local jurisdiction and state laws apply. A car accident lawyer will be familiar with the local police and court systems as well as the applicable insurance statutes.

Second, you cannot get full compensation from the insurance company without evidence proving liability and damages. That means you need police reports, 911 calls, medical records, photos and videos of the accident scene, witness statements, and possibly accident reconstruction experts. A local attorney is in a far better position to investigate and collect this evidence, building a strong claim on your behalf.

Consultations Are Free at The Millar Law Firm

Whether you were hit by an out-of-state driver or are a nonresident who was hurt in a Georgia accident, our lawyers know how to answer any questions you may have about your claim and recover full compensation from the insurance company. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

- D. Lo
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