Have you ever been the victim of an automobile accident and had the other driver’s insurance company partially blame you for the accident and require you to pay part of the claim?
Nearly every driver in the United States will submit an insurance claim at some point in their life. We buy auto insurance to protect ourselves and our property in case of an accident. Few insured people realize that if they are involved in an accident, even if the other party was mostly at fault, they can find themselves on the hook for part of the damages and medical expenses.
Assigning liability levels to two or more parties involved in a traffic accident is called Comparative Negligence, often referred to as “Comp Neg.” Montana is one of 23 states that use Modified Comparative Negligence with a 51% bar rule. This means, if you are 51% or more at fault, you cannot collect damages from the other party.
Imagine you make an illegal u-turn and get hit by another driver who is running a stop sign. Who is at fault? Most would agree both parties are liable but are you at fault 20%, 50%, or something else? The insurance company will determine what level of responsibility each party has for the accident and assign liability.
Insurance companies have a duty to assign liability correctly. Your insurance company is acting in bad faith if they deny your claim without conducting a sufficient investigation or fail to act on available information within a reasonable time frame after a claim is filed.
Here’s another common example of Comp Neg that would be considered suspect:
On an icy morning, you realize you can’t get traction after stopping at a light. A car going above the speed limit rear-ends you. Who is at fault? When you submit your claim to the other driver’s insurance company, they tell you that you were 10% liable because you didn’t turn on your flashers. Instead of the insurer paying the $1,000 repair claim you submitted to them, they assess you $100 of the liability.
Does that seem fair? Montanans lose money every year by agreeing to take a lower insurance payment when an insurance company determines the victim was partially to blame for the accident. Sometimes it is warranted, sometimes not. If your insurance company says you’re $100 at fault, is it worth your time to fight?
It may only be just $100 to you, but a $100 adds up when multiplied by thousands of claims. Comp Neg can equate to thousands, or maybe millions, of dollars collected by companies from unsuspecting consumers.
Insurance companies may be motivated to inappropriately assign comparative negligence in cases where no negligence exists.
In some cases, the insurance company may determine that you are 51% at fault and completely unable to collect. However, if they determined you were 49% at fault, you could collect some of the damages for your claim.
The Commissioner of Securities and Insurance (CSI), Montana State Auditor, is a criminal justice and consumer protection agency that regulates the insurance industry. Most insurance companies are good-actors, but some may be probing the fence by increasing Comp Neg claims where none exist by assuming small-dollar claims won’t be contested.
If you believe you have been improperly assigned a portion of blame following an accident, contact the Commissioner’s office. We will investigate your claim, and if valid, work to get you proper payment. A complaint can be filed with a live person in policyholder services by calling 406-444-2040. You can also file a complaint online by visiting www.CSIMT.gov.