Ohio Motor Vehicle Accident Laws and Safety Requirements

A thousand drivers a year die on Ohio roads, and several thousand are injured. Ohio, like other states, offers compensatory and sometimes punitive damages when someone is injured or killed in a road accident that was someone else’s fault. The basic features of this legal regime appear below.

Statute of Limitations: In Ohio, you have two years from the date of an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. Although you have four years to sue for property damage, you need to meet the two-year deadline in order to litigate both types of claims in the same lawsuit. A plaintiff has two years from the date of a fatal accident to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

When the Victim is Partly at Fault: If the incident that caused your injury was partly your fault, an Ohio court will assign you a percentage of fault based on the evidence presented. If you were mostly at fault for the accident (51 percent or more), your claim will be dismissed. If you were anywhere up to 50 percent at fault, the court will simply deduct that exact percentage from your damages award.

Fault/No Fault Rule: Ohio is a “fault” auto insurance state, meaning that you may pursue a claim against the other driver’s liability insurance policy if you believe he was at fault for the accident.

Minimum Insurance Coverage: Ohio drivers must purchase liability insurance coverage with limits of at least $12,500 per injured victim, $25,000 per injury accident and $7,500 for property damage.

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Ohio drivers are not required to purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Types of Damages Available: Although compensatory damages are available, non-economic damages such as pain and suffering may not exceed the greater of $250,000 or three times economic damages, with a ceiling of $350,000 per plaintiff and $500,000 per accident. Although there is no cap on punitive damages, the amount cannot be “arbitrary”.

Product Liability for Defective Vehicles: Strict product liability is available and punitive damages are possible.  

Suing the Government over Defective Roadways (Sovereign Immunity): State and local governments can be sued for personal injury or wrongful death, although limitations apply to the amount of damages.

Motorcycle Helmet Laws: All riders under 18 must wear helmets.

Seat Belt Laws: Occupants aged 8 to 14 must wear seatbelts at all times, and occupants 15 or older must wear seat belts while sitting in the front seat. The maximum first-offense fine is $30 for drivers and $20 for passengers. Ohio’s seat belt law is a secondary offense – you cannot be cited for failure to wear a seat belt unless the officer first stops you for a separate infraction.

Dram Shop Law: Ohio’s dram shop law allows third parties to sue licensed alcohol vendors for serving alcohol to underage or obviously intoxicated patrons, if the patron later injures the third party due to his resulting intoxication. Social hosts face the same liability for serving underage guests, and limited liability for serving obviously intoxicated guests.

DUI/DWI Penalties (first offense): A first-offense DUI (known as OVI in Ohio) can result in jail time of three days to six months, a fine of $250 to $1,000, and a driver’s license suspension of six months to three years.

Distracted Driving (texting while driving, etc.): Although texting while driving is banned, it is a secondary offense – the officer cannot cite you unless he stops you for another infraction. Drivers under 18 may not use cell phones even if they are not hand-held.