If you cause an accident in a tort state, you must pay for any damage you’ve caused. Tort states require drivers to carry liability auto insurance to cover any injuries and damages they cause to someone after an accident.

The details and regulations in the insurance space for a tort system vary from state to state. Find out about your state’s tort or no-fault system by contacting your state’s insurance regulatory body for consumer information.

Keep reading to learn about tort states, tort insurance and no-fault insurance states.

Key Highlights
  • In a tort state, if you’re at fault for a car crash, you are responsible for paying the other driver’s medical bills.
  • In tort states, drivers must carry liability insurance to cover the property damage and injuries they cause to others in an accident.
  • Tort states do not require drivers to carry additional coverages, like personal injury protection and medical payments coverage.

What is the definition of tort insurance?

Tort insurance is an auto insurance system in which drivers can seek compensation from the other party who caused the accident. Any state with a tort system requires drivers to carry liability insurance to cover the injuries they might cause to others in an auto accident.

Unlike the tort system, drivers in a no-fault state need to purchase liability insurance to cover their own and their passengers’ bodily injuries and property damage.

What is no-fault auto insurance?

No-fault insurance is insurance coverage that will pay for your medical costs and/or loss of income when you get in an accident, regardless of who was at fault.

In some states, drivers must carry no-fault auto insurance, which is optional in other states. The no-fault states/territories are Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah and Puerto Rico.

Check out our detailed guide: Which states are no fault and what does it mean?

What is the difference between a tort state and a no-fault insurance state?

States are either tort states or no-fault states. Most states are under a tort system; only 12 are no-fault.

What is a no-fault insurance state?

In a no-fault insurance state, if you are involved in an accident, you must file an insurance claim with your insurer regardless of who caused the accident.

States that follow the no-fault policy require drivers to buy personal injury protection (PIP). Insurance companies pay for their policyholder’s injuries and property damage, no matter who was at fault.

“In a no-fault state, the law generally requires the injured person’s own insurance to pay for their own medical expenses up to a coverage limit, and only at a percentage of the reasonable expense amount,” says Jason Turchin, attorney with the Law Offices of Jason Turchin in Weston, Fla.

“The at-fault person’s insurance would be responsible for the balance. The injured person would only be entitled to money for pain and suffering from the at-fault person if they have certain injuries.”

What is a tort state?

A tort state is one in which at-fault drivers in a crash are responsible for paying the other driver’s medical expenses. The at-fault driver must also pay for additional damages, such as loss of wages and “pain and suffering.”

If you live in a tort state, you may not be required to buy additional car insurance coverage, such as personal injury protection and medical payments coverage. In that case, deciding whether to buy extra coverage is up to you.

“In a partial tort state or limited tort, vehicle owners can opt into no-fault coverage but may forfeit certain rights if they get into an accident. This could include giving up the right to sue for pain and suffering, but the injured person would get the benefit of medical treatment regardless of who was at fault,” Turchin says.

In a tort state where no-fault coverage is unavailable, the at-fault person’s insurance may be responsible for paying all damages to the injured party. This may include all medical expenses and pain and suffering.

You may rely on your health insurance to cover potential car crash injuries instead of buying extra medical payments coverage. Contact your health insurance company if you are unsure about your coverage.

Under the tort system, a driver must be found to be at fault for causing the accident. The at-fault party is then held responsible for the damages sustained. Comparative and contributory negligence laws help to determine fault and if one or more than one driver can be found at fault for an accident.

Read more about MedPay and PIP medical coverages

How does tort insurance work?

Every state that adheres to the tort system has options such as full or limited tort that you can choose when obtaining your car insurance policy.

Limited tort: With limited tort, you cannot sue for pain and suffering unless you sustain a serious or permanent injury.

Full tort: If you’re injured in a car accident and it’s not your fault, then there are no restrictions on suing the person who caused the crash. You can file charges for damages like lost wages, suffering and pain.

In some states, drivers can choose between the limited and full tort car insurance system, while in other states it is mandated by law for all drivers.

“Drivers should review their insurance policy with their agent or insurance professional to understand what coverages they have,” says Turchin. “Too often, people don’t really understand all of their coverages until they look at their policy after an accident when they need it most. Understanding your coverage now can help you make a better-informed decision on what coverages you are opting out of or which others you could buy now to protect you in the event of an accident.”

Laura Longero

Ask the Insurance Expert

Laura Longero

Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

John McCormick

Ask the Insurance Expert

John McCormick

Editorial Director

John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Leslie Kasperowicz

Ask the Insurance Expert

Leslie Kasperowicz

Managing Editor

Leslie Kasperowicz is an insurance educator and content creation professional with nearly two decades of experience first directly in the insurance industry at Farmers Insurance and then as a writer, researcher, and educator for insurance shoppers writing for sites like ExpertInsuranceReviews.com and InsuranceHotline.com and managing content, now at CarInsurance.com.

Nupur Gambhir

Ask the Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir

Managing Editor

Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.

Please Enter Valid Question. Min 50 to max 250 characters are allowed. Only (& ? , .) charcters are allowed.
Please Enter Valid Email.
Error: Security check failed
Thank You, Your message has been received. Our team of auto insurance experts typically answers questions within five working days. Note that due to the volume of questions we receive, not all may be answered. Due to technical error, please try again later.
Get quotes near you!
Please enter valid zip
author image
Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.