Oregon Car Accident Laws Staff Profile Picture
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Despite strictly enforced laws, car crashes remain among Oregon's leading causes of preventable injuries and deaths. In 2021, 550 people died on Oregon roadways, an increase from the 507 fatalities and 1,590 life-altering injuries of 2020. State data and comprehensive motorist surveys partly attribute this rise to risky driving behaviors, such as improper seat belt use, excessive speeds, and drug or alcohol intoxication while at the wheel.

Oregon traffic regulations and motor vehicle laws are designed to keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe. If you have been involved in a car accident in Oregon, it is important to understand your rights and obligations under these statutes. Talking to an experienced lawyer can help you determine how the legal system works and ensure you get the money you are owed for any injuries or damage to your property.

Car Accident Reporting Laws

Oregon drivers have legal obligations to meet after a traffic accident, especially when property has been damaged or a person has been injured. These stringent regulations ensure driver accountability and the resulting paperwork proves useful when filing claims.

Drivers must stop their vehicles at the accident site, being careful not to obstruct traffic or endanger pedestrians. Drivers must render aid to the injured, call for emergency medical personnel and law enforcement as needed, and assess property damage. Information must then be exchanged with the other driver using the printable checklist prepared by the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. Give any passengers in the other vehicle and any injured pedestrians your name, address, driver's license number, license plate number, and insurance information.

If you hit an unattended vehicle or private property like perimeter fences, take reasonable care to find the owner. If you can't locate the owner, you are required to leave a message in a conspicuous spot, providing your name, address, and a brief account of what transpired.

Drivers are also required by law to report a car accident to the Oregon DMV within 72 hours if any of the following criteria are met:

  • Injury or death resulted from this accident

  • Damage to a vehicle is over $2,500, even if your vehicle was the only one in the crash

  • Damage to a vehicle is over $2,500 and a vehicle is towed from the scene

  • Damage to property other than a vehicle is more than $2,500

Anyone involved in a car accident that meets any of the above criteria must fill out and submit the Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report to the DMV. Failure to do so will prompt a suspension notice for your driver’s license. Note that a police report is not the same as the mandatory DMV report; submitting a report to law enforcement does not exempt drivers from filing with the DMV. 

If the other driver doesn't have insurance and you get into an accident with less than $2,500 in property damage, you can still report it to the DMV. Just make sure to expressly state on the accident report that the crash does not meet the requirements for required reporting.

Failure to perform a driver’s legal duties to injured persons is a Class C felony. Not performing legal duties after a crash that led to property damage is a Class A misdemeanor. Some hit-and-run convictions require the defendant to pay victims restitution proportional to the latter’s losses, so having legal counsel can help victims maximize awarded damages. 

Oregon Seat Belt Laws

All motor vehicle drivers and passengers, regardless of age and seating position, must be properly restrained with a safety belt or safety harness, according to the Oregon Revised Statues. Violation of this law is a primary offense, so police officers can stop a car and issue citations if they see someone not wearing a seat belt or if seat belts are not worn properly. Failure to wear a seat belt is a Class D traffic violation, which carries a maximum fine of $265, though the fine can be reduced if the driver participates in a state-run safety course.

Oregon consistently charts the country's highest seat belt usage rates: 2021 recorded a 94.9% usage rate among vehicle occupants, an improvement from the as-impressive 94.6% rate of 2020. Strict law enforcement is used to make these numbers even better and to teach new state residents, new drivers, and people who are at high risk. Oregon’s 2021 Transportation Safety Action Plan analysis shows that between 2014 and 2018, occupants who were not properly employing safety restraints were involved in 900 fatal and serious injury crashes. For the same period, 21% of fatal collisions involved unrestrained occupants, and approximately 65% of these occurred in rural areas.

Drivers also face consequences in court if they get into a car accident while unbelted: If the plaintiff in an accident claim is determined not to have been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, compensation may be reduced by up to 5%.

Oregon Speed Limits

Oregon motorists must follow the basic speed rule, which applies on all roads at all times: Motorists must drive at a reasonable speed, exercising caution to account for existing conditions. Drivers must always adjust their speed in relation to the flow of traffic, pedestrians, roadway infrastructure, and the weather.

The state also abides by statutory or maximum speed limits, which are assigned to the following areas, whether posted or not:

15 mph

When driving in alleys

Narrow residential areas

20 mph

In any business district

Within a school speed zone

25 mph

In residential districts

In public parks

On ocean shores, if vehicles are permitted

55 mph

On all roads and highways not meeting any other definition unless otherwise posted

65 mph

Most interstate highway sections

Some Oregon roadways use digital speed limit signs for variable speed limits. These devices use sensors to account for changing weather conditions, road visibility, traffic flow, road infrastructure changes, or crash sites and lower speed limits accordingly.

The penalties for speeding violations depend on how much drivers go over the maximum allowed speeds, starting with a Class D traffic violation and a presumptive fine of $115 (or $225 if in a school zone) for going 1 mph to 10 mph over the speed limit. Egregious instances can result in reckless driving convictions, whose first offense is a Class A misdemeanor and carries up to a year of jail time and a maximum fine of $6,250.

In 2020, excessive speeds and driving too fast for the conditions caused 31% of all road deaths in Oregon. This made it the second biggest cause of traffic deaths that year. Speeding also led to 4,000 traffic injuries in the same year. Given how often car accidents are caused by speeding, experienced lawyers can be a big help. They can help plaintiffs understand their rights, figure out how bad the damage was, and fight for fair compensation on their behalf.

Impaired Driving and Dram Shop Laws

Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII)—whether by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both—is the leading cause of Oregon collisions that result in fatalities and significant injuries. The state has acknowledged the complexity of impaired driving behaviors, addressing them through law enforcement, the judicial system, and rehabilitation programs. Measure 110, passed in a referendum in 2021, decriminalized the possession of small quantities of drugs and transformed prosecutorial policies into a health-based approach to substance use and overdose prevention. State traffic enforcement officials claim this decriminalization plays a role in the growing number of fatal accidents associated with impaired driving.

Statutes that curtail impaired driving remain in place, however. Drivers can be charged with a DUII if they operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more and/or while under the influence of cannabis, an inhalant, psilocybin, or a controlled substance. Oregon also applies a "zero tolerance" DUII policy for drivers under the age of 21 found to have any quantity of alcohol in their system. A DUII conviction in Oregon subjects first-time offenders to a minimum fine of $1,000 (or $2,000 if the BAC is 0.15% or higher), at least 80 hours of community service, or at least 48 hours of jail time, up to a year; and a one-year license suspension. The steep penalties are aimed at reducing repeat offenses.

Oregon also abides by dram shop laws, which hold businesses that sell alcohol accountable for serving visibly intoxicated customers who later cause an accident while inebriated. Victims of drunk driving accidents thus have the option of bringing claims against both the at-fault driver and the business that provided them with alcohol. This is useful if the driver does not have enough money or insurance to meet a compensation claim, as commercial establishments are likely to be insured and capable of meeting damage judgments.

If you’re the victim of a car accident caused by the erratic driving behavior of someone under the influence, an experienced personal injury attorney can often draw on criminal statutes and civil laws to prove fault and maximize compensation. The mandatory DMV report and police reports, for example, can be used against impaired at-fault parties.

Oregon Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements

Oregon requires vehicles driven on public roads to be covered by auto insurance. The state’s mandatory insurance law dictates the following minimum coverage:

  • Bodily injury and property damage liability at $25,000 per person, $50,000 per crash for bodily injury to others, and $20,000 per crash for damage to others’ property. Liability coverage pays for the other driver's losses, such as medical expenses and car repairs, in the event of a car accident.

  • Personal injury protection (PIP) at $15,000 per person. PIP pays for the driver’s medical expenses and incurred property damage, as well as their passengers’ losses, regardless of who is at fault.

  • Uninsured motorist coverage at $25,000 per person and $50,000 per crash for bodily injury. This protects the driver and their passengers if the at-fault party carries no auto insurance or if the policyholder is the victim of a hit-and-run accident.

It is illegal in Oregon to drive without liability insurance, and penalties include a one-year license suspension and a fine between $130 and $1,000. Not carrying auto insurance would also mean that a driver would have to personally pay for another driver’s losses should a car accident occur. Drivers must always carry proof of auto insurance.   

Oregon Is an At-Fault State for Insurance Claims

Oregon follows a fault-based system for insurance claims, where the driver responsible for the accident is liable for paying for the damage they caused. Car accident victims normally file a claim with their insurance carrier and, simultaneously, a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Another option, especially for contentious cases, involves filing a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.

Though a driver’s mandatory PIP policy kicks in regardless of who is at fault for an accident, the minimum coverage of $15,000 might not be enough to cover high medical expenses or vehicle repairs. In this case, car accident victims can use the fault-based system to their advantage. Moreover, if the accident was not your fault and you used the at-fault driver’s insurance, you will not have to use your policy or pay a deductible.

Oregon Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State for Car Accident Lawsuits

In Oregon, even if a plaintiff contributed to their car accident in some way, they are still eligible to get compensation through a lawsuit as long as their percentage of fault does not exceed 50%. Under the state’s modified comparative negligence rule, any damages awarded are reduced in proportion to the plaintiff’s share of the blame. For example, if you file a lawsuit for $10,000 and are found to be 10% to blame for the car crash, the court will award you $9,000 or 10% less of the damages you seek. 

Oregon Statute of Limitations for Accident Lawsuits

Car accident victims have two years from the date of the crash to file a personal injury lawsuit against other drivers. Claims for property damage alone have a statute of limitations of six years. Wrongful death lawsuits, meanwhile, must be brought by the deceased’s representatives within three years after the discovery of the injury that caused the death. But a wrongful death suit cannot be brought more than three years after the victim’s passing.

Keep in mind that the deadline is paused for minors until they reach the age of 18. However, this extension cannot last longer than five years or exceed one year after the plaintiff turns 18, whichever occurs first.

The deadline is much tighter for drivers filing a claim against the state. Victims of property loss and injury arising from, for example, poorly managed roadways or collisions with public transport vehicles only have 180 days from the date of the incident to file a claim. This statute of limitations extends to one year for wrongful death suits against the state.   

Average Settlement for Oregon Car Accident Lawsuits

Oregon posts no limit or cap on economic damages like medical expenses, car repairs or replacement, and loss of future earnings. However, in wrongful death cases, the state limits non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium. Moreover, accident lawsuits where the plaintiff is found not to have been wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash can reduce awards by up to 5%.

Settlements and compensation amounts vary depending on the specifics of each case and how much money can be awarded in damages. Most experienced car accident attorneys can help plaintiffs maximize their claims, especially at court trials where higher damages amounts will be decided by a judge or a jury.

Legal Resources for Oregon Car Accident Victims

Oregon State Bar Lawyer Referral Service

The Lawyer Referral Service operates as a public service of the Oregon State Bar. It helps plaintiffs find an attorney based on geographic area, area of law, language, and other specific needs a client may have. LRS lawyers are in good standing with the bar, have no pending disciplinary actions, and carry malpractice insurance. Potential clients are entitled to an initial consultation of up to 30 minutes for a maximum fee of $35. The LRS does not have pro bono attorneys.

Oregon Legal Aid Directory serves as a guide to legal information and free civil legal services for low- and moderate-income individuals and seniors living in Oregon. It maintains a directory of legal programs, courts, and social service organizations that can assist clients who meet income guidelines with their non-criminal legal concerns. Individuals over 60 may also seek the assistance of Senior Law Project volunteers for their legal issues. The site was created and is maintained by the national non-profit Pro Bono Net.

Legal Aid Services of Oregon

Legal Aid Services of Oregon is a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to low-income individuals and families, seniors, veterans, and individuals with disabilities. To qualify for LASO assistance, Oregon residents must meet income and asset guidelines. LASO attorney services span legal advice, representation in court or administrative hearings, and help with legal forms and documents. It maintains eight regional offices and two specialized statewide programs, which serve farmworkers and provide representation on Native American issues.

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