Personal Injury

What Should I Do if My Car Accident Was in a Different State?

Getting into an out-of-state car accident raises a few unique considerations, especially when it's time to hire a lawyer.

If you got into a car accident in a state other than the one in which you live, and you decide to make a claim for your injuries and/or vehicle damage, you'll find that the claims process is the same as it would be if the accident happened in your own state. But if you want to hire a car accident lawyer to represent you, there are some geographical issues to consider. Read on for the details.

Steps to Take After an Out-of-State Car Accident

If the accident was the other driver’s fault, you would contact the other driver’s insurance company to make a claim, just like you would in your state. If you need immediate medical treatment, you should go to the emergency room wherever the accident happened. You should then see your own doctor as soon as you get home, to get the right course of treatment set up.

Even if you happen to live close to where the accident occurred -- you live in Vermont and the accident happened just across the border with New Hampshire, for example -- you don’t have to go across the state line just to see a doctor, unless you would have done that anyway.

Learn more about What to Do After a Car Accident.

If You're Not Hiring a Lawyer

If it seems like the claim will be pretty small and straightforward, and you won’t need to hire a lawyer, then it makes no difference where the accident happened. You should continue with your medical treatment and then settle the claim with the insurer. You can sign the release in your home state. The insurer will not need you to return to the state where the accident occurred just to finalize the settlement. The insurer will mail you the settlement check, and the case is over. Learn more about Settling a Personal Injury Claim.

If You Need a Lawyer

If you are seriously injured or the claim is contentious, and you decide to hire a car accident lawyer, now you have to think about whether that lawyer should be from your home state or from the state in which the accident happened. Often this decision will depend on how far away the accident occurred.

Geography Matters

If the accident happened just across the border from your home state, you’ll find that many personal injury lawyers are licensed (i.e., admitted to the bar) in neighboring states, especially in the northeastern U.S.

For example, if you live in North Jersey, but you got into a car accident in New York City, you’ll see that a lot of personal injury lawyers are admitted in both New Jersey and New York. In that case, the answer is easy. You should hire a local personal injury lawyer (in New Jersey) who is also admitted in New York. Now you have the best of both worlds: a local lawyer who can handle your case in the other state.

If the accident happened further away, the decision gets a little more complicated. A lawyer is usually allowed to handle a case in a state where they’re not admitted as long as they associate with another lawyer who is admitted in the state, and they get special permission from the other state’s bar (this is called pro hac vice admission). If you want to stay with a local lawyer, you should find one who has handled cases in other states under a pro hac vice arrangement, and is comfortable with the process.

When It Makes Sense to Hire a Lawyer From Another State

If the accident happened really far away, like in a state on the opposite coast from where you live, you should probably hire a lawyer from that state, especially if it looks you'll be filing a personal injury lawsuit over the accident. It's easier for a lawyer to handle a case when close to the courthouse. It's also less expensive, because now the lawyer doesn’t have to fly out to every hearing. Even for a car accident case that's taken on a contingency fee basis, any costs and expenses are likely going to come out of your share of the settlement or court judgment, so you'll want to do what you can to keep costs down.

It's true that the lawyer in the other state is still going to have some travel costs. He or she will likely have to fly to your state to depose your doctor, but at least that will be only one round trip flight, not five or six.

Learn more: Can I Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer in Another City or State?

If you've been involved in a car accident within the last three years, please consider taking our car accident survey so that we can include your experience in Martindale-Nolo's 2016 Car Accident Survey. Your participation will help inform others about their situation and options before dealing with their car accident.

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