Fault and Liability in Wisconsin Car Accidents

If you are injured in a car accident in Wisconsin, it is important to know who is responsible for paying for your necessary medical bills and property repairs so that you can move forward. Liability – the legal term for financial responsibility – for a car accident depends on the state’s insurance laws and the circumstances of the crash. Determining fault for your car accident in Wisconsin takes at least a basic understanding of the state’s liability laws.

What is the Required Car Insurance in Wisconsin?

In most cases, financial recovery in car accident cases comes through an insurance policy. Every motor vehicle operator in Wisconsin is required to purchase and maintain at least a minimum amount of automobile insurance. The failure to do so can result in a fine of up to $500. Wisconsin is a 25/50/10 state, meaning the following types of liability insurance are legally required:

  • $25,000 for bodily injuries suffered by one person in a car accident.
  • $50,000 for bodily injuries suffered by multiple people in a car accident.
  • $10,000 for property damage repairs suffered by a victim.

These types of liability insurance pay for the other driver’s losses, not the policyholder’s. If the policyholder wishes for first-party coverage after a crash, the driver must purchase additional insurance, such as uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance, collision coverage or comprehensive coverage.

Fault vs. No-Fault Car Accident Laws

There are two main types of car insurance systems in the United States: fault and no-fault. An at-fault law, also referred to as a tort-based system, is the most common. In a fault state, the person or party at fault for causing a car accident is who must pay through his or her car insurance. In a no-fault state, on the other hand, a driver does not have to prove fault after a car crash. Instead, the driver will first seek coverage through his or her own car insurance policy, regardless of fault. No-fault states require different types of insurance – namely, personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, which pays for the policyholder’s own medical bills after a car accident.

Wisconsin is a fault state. This means that in any car accident case, you, a car accident victim must establish that another party was legally at fault for the collision before they may recover damages.

How Do You Prove Fault in a Wisconsin Car Accident Case?

In Wisconsin, fault in car accident cases is predicated on the theory of negligence. In a legal sense, negligence refers to careless (sometimes intentional) conduct that leads to the harm or injury of another person.   In a car accident this can occur when a driver is doing something they should not be doing, such as driving distracted or ignoring traffic control devices, or a failure to do something they should, such as giving the cars ahead of them enough space to react to a breaking event.

Liability in a Wisconsin car accident must be proven by the greater weight of credible evidence, also referred to as the ordinary burden of proof. Evidence is information that establishes the truth of what you are claiming. It can include photographs and video footage, eyewitness statements, testimony from a subject-matter expert, a police accident report, medical records, and cell phone records.

If you aren’t sure who is at fault for your recent car accident, an attorney can investigate for you. A car accident lawyer can also help you gather evidence against one or more defendants to prove your claim.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Wisconsin has a rule known as the comparative negligence doctrine that allows for a recovery in car accidents even if the injured person is found to be liability. Under state law, partial fault (also known as contributory negligence) for a car crash will not automatically bar you from making a financial recovery as long as you are less than 51 percent responsible. It will, however, reduce your recovery by an equivalent amount.

Wisconsin Law Stat. 895.045  Contributory negligence:

895.045(1)(1)  Comparative negligence. Contributory negligence does not bar recovery in an action by any person or the person’s legal representative to recover damages for negligence resulting in death or in injury to person or property, if that negligence was not greater than the negligence of the person against whom recovery is sought, but any damages allowed shall be diminished in the proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the person recovering. The negligence of the plaintiff shall be measured separately against the negligence of each person found to be causally negligent. The liability of each person found to be causally negligent whose percentage of causal negligence is less than 51 percent is limited to the percentage of the total causal negligence attributed to that person. A person found to be causally negligent whose percentage of causal negligence is 51 percent or more shall be jointly and severally liable for the damages allowed.

For example, if you are awarded $100,000 in a car accident claim in Wisconsin but are given 20 percent of fault for the crash, your award would be reduced by 20 percent ($20,000) to $80,000. The majority share of fault for an accident, however, will bar you from financial recovery entirely. Contact a car accident lawyer in Wisconsin to help you combat the comparative negligence defense and maximize your financial recovery after a collision.