Montana Car Insurance Laws: Guide for Post Car Accident Rights

If you’ve been in a car accident in Montana, understanding Montana car insurance laws is critical – and the attorneys at Heenan & Cook, a premier Montana personal injury law firm, are here to help.  These laws dictate your rights, the compensation you might be eligible for, and the crucial actions you must take to safeguard your financial wellbeing.

Not being fully aware of Montana’s insurance regulations after an accident can be significantly detrimental. You could miss out on compensation you deserve or unintentionally waive your rights. This comprehensive guide aims to empower Montana residents with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves after a car crash.

Montana’s insurance laws can be complex. To learn more about the specifics and how they might apply to your situation, read further in this blog. We’ll cover everything from Montana’s unique rules to practical steps you must take after an accident.

Montana: A “Tort” State

In the realm of car accidents, Montana is what is known as a “tort” state. In plain English, this means that if you’ve been injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you have the right to sue them to recover costs associated with your damages. Here’s what you might be entitled to:

  • Medical Expenses: This includes all costs related to your care, from hospital bills and ambulance fees to prescriptions, doctor’s visits, and ongoing rehabilitation.
  • Lost Wages: If your injuries prevent you from working, you may be able to claim lost income, both current and potential future earnings.
  • Property Damage: The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, as well as any other personal property damaged in the accident.
  • Pain and Suffering: This covers the less tangible impacts of the accident, such as physical pain, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

This “tort” system is the foundation of Montana’s car insurance laws. Montana requires drivers to carry liability insurance, which provides financial protection for anyone they injure or whose property they damage due to an accident.

Comparative Negligence in Montana and Car Accidents

Montana follows a rule known as “modified comparative negligence.” Let’s break down what that means:

  • You can still file a claim, even with partial fault: Even if you were partially responsible for an accident, you may still be able to recover compensation from the other driver(s).
  • Compensation is reduced proportionally to your fault: The amount you receive will be reduced based on your percentage of fault in the accident.

Montana’s “51% Rule” is a critical part of this system:

  • The 51% Bar: If you are found to be 51% or more at fault for the accident, you cannot recover any damages from the other driver.
  • Compensation Reduction: If you are less than 51% at fault, your compensation is reduced by your assigned percentage of fault.

Example: Say you were awarded $10,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault for the accident. Your compensation would be reduced by $2,000 (20% of $10,000), leaving you with $8,000.

Important Considerations:

  • Determining Fault: Figuring out who’s at fault in a Montana car accident can be complex. Insurance companies, lawyers, and even the courts may disagree on the percentages of fault to assign to each driver.
  • The Role of Insurance Adjusters: Insurance adjusters work for the insurance company and will often try to minimize your payout. They may attempt to place more fault on you than is fair.

It’s crucial to understand how comparative negligence works in MT insurance laws to ensure a fair outcome in your case.

Montana’s Minimum Insurance Requirements

Montana law mandates that all drivers must carry a minimum amount of car insurance coverage. These minimums are:

  • Bodily Injury Liability:
    • $25,000 per person
    • $50,000 per accident (for injuries to multiple people)
  • Property Damage Liability: $20,000 per accident

This coverage protects you financially if you cause an accident that injures others or damages their property.

Understanding the Limitations of Minimum Coverage

While minimum insurance is a legal requirement in Montana, it’s important to understand that it might not offer enough protection in all situations. Consider these scenarios:

  • Catastrophic Injuries: A severe accident can lead to medical bills, lost income, and ongoing care costs that far exceed the $25,000 per-person limit. If the injured person sues you, you could be personally liable for the amount exceeding your insurance coverage.
  • Multiple Vehicles Involved: If an accident involves several cars, the $50,000 per-accident bodily injury limit could quickly become insufficient if multiple people are hurt.
  • Lawsuits: If you are sued and the damages awarded exceed your insurance limits, your personal assets like your home, savings, and future income could be at risk.

The Importance of Higher Coverage Limits

Choosing liability coverage amounts above the state minimum can significantly reduce your financial risk. Here’s why:

  • Peace of Mind: Knowing you have greater coverage offers peace of mind in the event of an accident.
  • Asset Protection: Higher coverage limits help shield your personal assets from seizure if there’s a judgment against you.
  • Affordability: Increasing your limits is often less expensive than you might think. Talk to your insurance agent about the cost difference between various coverage options.

Additional Coverage to Consider

  • Uninsured Motorist Coverage and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM/UIM): This coverage is crucial in Montana, as it protects you financially if you’re involved in an accident with a driver who either has no insurance or not enough insurance to cover your losses.
  • Collision Coverage Pays to repair or replace your own vehicle after an accident, even if you were at fault. This can be valuable, even for older cars you wouldn’t replace without it, as you may need a vehicle to get to work or medical appointments.
  • Comprehensive Coverage Covers damage to your vehicle from incidents other than collisions, like theft, hail damage, fire, or vandalism.

The Crucial Role of Your Insurance Agent

Your insurance agent is a valuable resource when determining which coverage levels and policies are right for you. Discuss your individual circumstances, assets, and driving habits to ensure you are adequately protected.

Filing a Claim: Your Insurance vs. The At-Fault Driver’s

Car insurance policy with red car toy and blur image of man hand for vehicle insurance policy concept.

After a car accident in Montana, understanding your options for seeking compensation is key. Should you start with your own insurance or file directly against the at-fault driver’s? Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved:

Types of Insurance Claims

  • First-Party Claims (Your Insurance):
    • Collision Coverage: Pays for repairs to your vehicle, even if you were at fault. You’ll likely have a deductible.
    • Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM): Protects you if the at-fault driver lacks insurance, has insufficient coverage, or cannot be identified (like in a hit-and-Run).
    • Medical Payments (MedPay): Covers medical expenses up to your policy limit, regardless of fault.
  • Third-Party Claims (The Other Driver’s Insurance):
    • Bodily Injury Liability: Seeks compensation for your injuries from the at-fault driver’s insurance.
    • Property Damage Liability: Seeks compensation for damage to your vehicle or other property from the at-fault driver’s insurance.

Step 1: Always Report the Accident to Your Insurer

Even if you believe the other driver is completely at fault, it is best to immediately contact your insurance company to report the accident. This protects your interests and gives timely notice, as required by most insurance policies.

Step 2: Gather Evidence

If it’s safe to do so, document the accident scene. This includes:

  • Photos or videos of the damage to vehicles and the surrounding area
  • Witness contact information
  • A copy of the police report
  • Medical records documenting your injuries

Step 3: Decide on Your Claim Approach

  • Filing with Your Insurer (First-Party): Start here if you have applicable coverages (collision, UM/UIM, MedPay), even if you intend to ultimately pursue a third-party claim as well.
  • Filing with the Other Driver’s Insurer (Third-Party): Only consider this if you are 100% certain of fault and have strong evidence. Be prepared for potential disputes, as their insurance will try to minimize payout.

Important Note: Even your own insurance company may try to minimize your payout or deny your claim altogether. This is especially true for claims involving injuries or significant vehicle damage.

When Does a Lawyer Make a Difference?


  • Disputed Fault: If the other driver’s insurance company or even your own insurer tries to shift blame onto you, a lawyer can build a strong case to protect your rights and obtain fair compensation.
  • Serious Injuries or Significant Damages: Complex claims involving substantial medical bills or long-term loss of income often warrant legal representation. Lawyers understand how to value these claims and fight for your best outcome.
  • Hit-and-Run Accidents A lawyer can be invaluable in hit-and-run cases, helping you navigate your uninsured motorist claim or potentially track down the at-fault driver.

The Bottom Line: While reporting the accident to your own insurance company is crucial, remember, they are a business with a financial incentive to minimize payouts.  If you have any doubts about the fairness of a settlement offer, consulting with a car accident lawyer is highly recommended.

Montana Car Insurance Laws – FAQs

What if the other driver doesn’t have insurance?

This is where uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM) becomes vital. UM/UIM coverage on your own policy will compensate you for damages caused by an uninsured driver or a driver whose insurance limits are too low to cover your losses. Montana law requires insurers to offer this coverage, though you can reject it in writing.

The insurance company says I’m partially at fault. What do I do?

  • Understanding Comparative Negligence: Montana’s comparative negligence rule means even partial fault reduces your compensation. Insurance companies often try to maximize the percentage of fault assigned to you to lower their payout.
  • Don’t Accept Blame Prematurely: Do not readily agree with the insurance adjuster’s initial fault determination. A car accident lawyer can investigate the accident independently, gather evidence, and negotiate forcefully on your behalf to minimize your assigned share of fault.

My injuries seem minor now, but what if they worsen?

  • Seeking Medical Attention: Always get checked out by a doctor after an accident, even if you feel okay initially. Some injuries, like whiplash or internal injuries may not have immediate symptoms. Having medical documentation is crucial if issues develop later on.
  • Don’t Rush to Settle: Don’t sign any releases or accept a quick settlement offer from the insurance company until you have a clear understanding of the full extent of your injuries and their potential future impacts.

What is the deadline for filing a lawsuit after a car accident in Montana?

In Montana, you generally have three years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. There are some exceptions to this timeframe, so consulting with an attorney as soon as possible is important.

Acting quickly is crucial. Evidence can be lost, and witnesses’ memories may fade over time, making it harder to build a strong case if you wait too long.

Do I really need a lawyer for a car accident claim?

While you can technically handle simpler claims on your own, there are scenarios where an attorney is invaluable:

  • Severe Injuries: Significant injuries may involve complex medical treatment, long-term disability, and lost income. A lawyer will help ensure you receive compensation for all your current and future losses.
  • Disputes over Fault: If the insurance company tries to pin a large portion of blame on you, a lawyer can fight to protect your rights.
  • Insurance Company Tactics: Insurance companies employ tactics to diminish your claim. A lawyer knows how to counter these tactics and obtain the best possible outcome.

Montana’s car insurance laws can be complex, especially after the stress of an accident. Understanding your rights, the different types of claims, and when legal representation is crucial will empower you to navigate the aftermath of an accident with greater confidence.

If you’ve been injured in a Montana car crash, remember: prioritize proper medical care, thoroughly document the situation, and never hesitate to seek legal counsel if you have doubts about your rights or the compensation you deserve.

Heenan & Cook are always ready to guide and be on your side through your journey of taking justice and getting what you deserve.