When you get injured in a car accident, recovering just compensation for your losses involves asserting your legal rights. Even if it seems like all you are doing is filing a claim with the insurance companies, the reality is that there are several complex legal aspects to auto accident insurance claims; and, in some cases, accident victims in Alaska will be entitled to compensation outside of auto insurance as well.
10 Important Laws Alaska Car Accident Victims Need to Know
With this in mind, it is a good idea to have at least a basic understanding of the laws that apply. Your personal injury lawyer will handle the legal aspects of your claim for you, but knowing the basics will help you stay informed and feel more in control while your case is pending. So, without further ado, here are ten Alaska laws that apply to car accident victims' claims for financial compensation:
1. Auto Insurance
In most of Alaska (there are exemptions in specific rural communities), drivers are required by law to carry auto insurance. The minimum coverage requirements are (i) liability insurance coverage of $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident for bodily injury or death, and (ii) property damage coverage of $25,000 per accident. Again, these are the minimum coverage amounts. Paying for additional coverage is a good idea for most people, and many Alaska drivers have coverage above the statutory minimums.
2. Distracted Driving
In Alaska, it is illegal to text while driving, but the state legislature has not yet outlawed other forms of distracted driving. That said, distracted driving is still hazardous, and this means that distracted drivers can be held liable for causing accidents even though hand-held cell phone use is not expressly prohibited by law.
3. Drunk Driving
Drunk driving is also illegal in Alaska, as is driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs. However, while drunk drivers can face steep penalties if convicted in criminal court, DUI accident victims must still file civil claims to assert their legal rights. Auto insurance covers impaired driving, so, in most cases, seeking financial compensation will involve submitting an insurance claim against the drunk driver's policy.
4. Negligence-Based Claims
As in other states, the vast majority of car accident cases involve claims rooted in the law of negligence. In the simplest terms, negligence can be equated to a fault, and a driver who is at fault in an accident is legally responsible for the accident victims' losses. However, car accidents can involve negligence on the part of non-drivers as well. For example, accident victims could potentially have claims against repair shops, road contractors, drivers' employers, and various other companies depending on the circumstances involved.
5. Negligence Per Se
Alaska law recognizes the concept of negligence, per se. Under negligence per se, a violation of a law that has been enacted in order to establish a standard of conduct and protect the public is considered negligent without evidence of the other factors typically required to establish a negligence-based claim. This means, for example, that drunk driving and texting behind the wheel are considered negligent in Alaska regardless of the other facts and circumstances involved in a collision.
6. Comparative Negligence
Alaska is a “pure comparative negligence” state. Comparative negligence comes into play in accidents in which two or more parties share responsibility for the collision. With pure comparative negligence, each victim's financial recovery is reduced in proportion to his or her percentage of fault. So, for example, if you are deemed 10 percent at fault in an accident in which your total losses are $100,000, your financial recovery will be limited to $90,000.
7. Product Defect Claims
While the law of negligence governs most types of car accident claims, there is one major exception: accidents caused by vehicle defects. In-vehicle defect cases, accident victims' claims are governed by the law of “strict liability.” With strict liability, proof of negligence is not required, and any company in a defective vehicle component's “chain of distribution” can be held fully liable for the victims' losses.
8. Compensatory Damages
Car accident victims in Alaska are entitled to just compensation for all of the economic losses they incur as a result of the collision. This includes property damage as well as current and future medical expenses, loss of income, and other out-of-pocket costs. Accident victims can recover their non-economic losses as well (“pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, and other nonpecuniary damage”), but these damages are capped by statute. Alaska's statutory caps on non-economic damages are:
- “$400,000 or the injured person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $8,000, whichever is greater;” or,
- “$1,000,000 or the person's life expectancy in years multiplied by $25,000, whichever is greater, when the damages are awarded for severe permanent physical impairment or severe disfigurement.”
9. Punitive Damages
Punitive damages are available in certain cases up to an amount equal to $500,000 or three times the compensatory damages awarded, whichever is greater. To prove a claim for punitive damages, an accident victim must be able to show that the negligent driver's conduct either:
- “[W]as outrageous, including acts done with malice or bad motives;” or,
- “[E]videnced reckless indifference to the interest of another person.”
10. Statute of Limitations
Finally, all car accident claims are subject to Alaska's personal injury statute of limitations. This law requires all claims to be filed, “within two years of the accrual of the cause of action.” If you wait more than two years from the date of your accident to file your claim, you can lose your legal rights entirely.
Discuss Your Car Accident Claim with Eric Derleth
Accident Attorney Eric Derleth has been helping car accident victims in Alaska recover just compensation for more than 25 years. If you have been injured and have questions about your legal rights, call 907-262-9164 to schedule a free initial consultation.