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In its broadest sense, no-fault insurance is any type of insurance contract under which insureds are indemnified for losses by their own insurance company, regardless of fault in the incident generating losses. In this sense, it is no different from first-party coverage. However, the term "no-fault" is most commonly used in the context of state/provincial automobile insurance laws in the United States, Canada, and Australia, in which a policyholder (and his/her passengers) are not only reimbursed by the policyholder’s own insurance company without proof of fault, but also restricted in the right to seek recovery through the civil-justice system for losses caused by other parties.
No-fault systems generally exempt individuals from the usual liability for causing body injury if they do so in a car accident; when individuals purchase "liability" insurance under those regimes, the insurance covers bodily injury of the insured and the insured's passengers caused by a car accident, regardless of which party would be liable under ordinary common law tort rules. No-fault insurance has the goal of lowering premium costs by avoiding expensive litigation over the causes of accidents, while providing quick payments for injuries or loss of property. Further, no-fault systems often grant "set" or "fixed" compensation for certain injuries regardless of the unique aspects of the injury or the individual injured. Workers compensation funds typically are run as "no fault" systems with usually a fixed schedule for compensation for various injuries.
Proponents of no-fault insurance argue that automobile accidents are inevitable and that at-fault drivers are not necessarily higher risk and should not necessarily be punished; moreover, they note that the presence of liability insurance insulates reckless or negligent drivers from financial disincentives of litigation; also, uninsured motorists are often "judgment proof" (i.e. can't and won't end up paying for their liability anyway), so that regions with high numbers of such uninsured motorists, no-fault systems may make more sense.
Critics of no-fault argue that dangerous drivers not paying for the damage they cause encourages excessive risky behavior, with only raised premiums and a higher risk rating as the potential consequence, and no jury awards or legal settlements. Detractors of no-fault also point out that legitimate victims with subtle handicaps find it difficult to seek recovery under no-fault. Another criticism is that some no-fault jurisdictions have among the highest automobile-insurance premiums in the country, but this may be more a matter of effect than cause (e.g., the financial savings from no-fault may simply make it more popular in areas with higher automobile-accident risk, or high insurance rates may cause more drivers to go uninsured, increasing the attraction of a no-fault system).
Overview in United States
Most U.S. states have a "traditional tort" liability system for auto insurance in which recovery is governed by principles of provable negligence. However, twelve U.S. states and the Commonwealth territory of Puerto Rico require policyholders to operate under a "no-fault" scheme in which individuals injured in automobile accidents are limited in their ability to seek recovery from other drivers or vehicle owners involved in an accident and an additional 8 states have an "add-on" system in which the insureds retain the right to sue. In 2012, RAND Corporation published a study which found that costs were higher in no-fault systems. In the case of economic (medical and wage-loss) damages, most no-fault systems permit injured parties to seek recovery only for damages that are not covered by available first-party insurance benefits. In the case of non-economic (pain-and-suffering) damages, most no-fault systems permit injured parties to seek compensation only in cases of exceptionally "serious" injury, which can be defined in either of two ways:
- A quantitative monetary threshold that sets a specific dollar (or other currency) amount that must be spent on medical bills before a tort is allowed. Disadvantages of this threshold are: (1) that it can encourage insureds (and their medical providers) to exaggerate medical costs through over-utilization, and (2) that, unless indexed, it can become ineffective over time because of inflationary effects on medical costs.
- A qualitative verbal threshold that states what categories of injuries are considered sufficiently serious to permit a tort (e.g., death, or permanent disability or disfigurement). The advantage of the verbal threshold is that it removes any incentive to inflate damage amounts artificially to meet some preset monetary loss figure. The primary disadvantage is that broad interpretation by the courts of the threshold can lead to over-compensation.
In three U.S. states – Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – policyholders are permitted to choose between traditional tort and no-fault recovery regimes. Under such systems, known as “choice” or “optional” no-fault, policyholders must select between “full tort” and “limited tort” (no-fault) options at the time the policy is written or renewed; once the policy terms are set forth an insured may not change his/her mind without rewriting the policy. In both Kentucky and New Jersey, policyholders who do not make an affirmative choice in favor of either full tort or limited tort are assigned the no-fault option by default; whereas in Pennsylvania, the full-tort option is the default.
Several U.S. states have experimented with and repealed their no-fault laws. Twenty-four states originally enacted no-fault laws in some form between 1970 and 1975. Colorado repealed its no-fault system in 2003. Florida's no-fault system sunset on October 1, 2007, but the Florida legislature passed a new no-fault law which took effect January 1, 2008.
In terms of damages to vehicles and their contents, those claims are still based on fault. No-fault systems focus solely on issues of compensation for bodily injury. But it also works the other way: policies pay the medical bills for drivers and their companions independent of who was at-fault for the accident.
States/Provinces with No-fault Laws
- Qualitative threshold
- Quantitative threshold
- Choice no-fault
- Accident Compensation Corporation in New Zealand
- Transport Accident Commission in Victoria, Australia
- No-fault liability
- Saskatchewan Government Insurance, Press Release - Choices in Auto Insurance.
- Is no-fault insurance finished?. MSN Money.
- Anderson et al. (2012). What Happened to No-Fault Automobile Insurance?. RAND Corporation.
- Insurance Bureau of Canada Car Insurance - Québec
- Insurance Bureau of Canada Car Insurance - Manitoba
- Right-to-sue part of SGI's no-fault plan: [Final Edition] Ehrkamp, Andrew. Star - Phoenix [Saskatoon, Sask] 29 May 2002
- Insurance Information Institute 
- Jost, K. (1992, May 22). Too many lawsuits?. CQ Researcher, 2, 433-456
- Randall R. Bovbjerg & Frank A. Sloan, No-Fault For Medical Injury: Theory and Evidence, 67 U. Cin. L. Rev. 53 (1998)