Being involved in any type of car accident is a frightening and traumatic experience. When you learn that you were hit by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, it could send your stress levels even higher. How will you and your passengers pay medical bills if the other driver does not have comprehensive auto insurance, or even minimum liability coverage? Who will pay for repair or replacement for your damaged vehicle?
These are all legitimate questions and cause for serious concern. Fortunately, the experienced car accident lawyers at TorkLaw can help you seek and obtain fair compensation for your injuries, damages and losses when you are the victim in an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
Auto liability insurance is mandatory in 49 out of 50 states and in the District of Columbia (the exception is New Hampshire). While carrying liability insurance is nearly universal, the type of insurance and required level of coverage varies from state to state.
Unfortunately, many people choose not to comply with these laws, or cannot afford to buy auto insurance. According to the Insurance Research Council, nearly 13 percent of motorists did not have auto insurance in 2015 – this means one in every eight drivers is operating a vehicle without insurance coverage. In California, the percentage of uninsured motorists was even higher, at 15.2%.
A study of uninsured motorists conducted by the Financial Responsibility and Insurance Committee found that 82 percent of those surveyed either listed affordability as the primary reason for not having insurance on their vehicle, or said the vehicle is inoperable/not in use.
Typically, when you are injured in a car accident, the at-fault driver’s insurer pays for your injuries, damages and losses. When someone without insurance hits you, the case becomes more complicated, requiring reparation to be sought from alternative sources.
If you are in a situation where traditional insurance coverage is not available, here are a few different avenues you can explore that might provide the funds necessary to cover your losses.
Your own auto insurance policy may have coverage in place that will provide payment for your damages when the responsible party’s does not. So, it is important to fully understand what type of auto insurance you have, what it covers, and how much money will be available to you in the event that you need to make a claim. For more information on this, read our article How to Read a Car Insurance Declaration Page.
Uninsured (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage usually pays for property damage and medical bills when adequate insurance is not held by the at-fault driver. In addition to collisions with drivers who are uninsured or underinsured, UM/UIM is also applicable in hit-and-run crashes where the driver is never identified or found.
In most cases, an Uninsured Motorist Coverage claim can be made by:
Because this type of coverage is so beneficial, many states require drivers to purchase UM/UIM policies, while other states only require that such coverage is available as a purchase option for motorists.
Notable State mandates regarding uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage:
If you live in California or Texas and you’re not sure whether or not you have UM insurance, it’s likely that you don’t. You can confirm this by looking at your insurance policies declaration page or contacting your insurance agent. If you do not have UM/UIM coverage in place, we encourage you to do so. While you cannot retroactively obtain UM/UIM coverage after an accident has taken place, you can proactively apply the coverage to your policy so that it is available to you in the event that you are in an accident. If you are involved in accident with an uninsured motorist, you will be glad it is there.
Determination of fault is one of the first aspects of a case that must be established, as that will dictate how a case proceeds. In “tort states” like California, the person who caused a car accident is responsible for the resulting injuries and damages. By contrast, in “no-fault” states such as New Jersey, the injured party collects from his or her own insurance company for medical bills and lost income regardless of whose fault the accident was.
A police report is a vital document to have when making an insurance claim This is particularly true when pursuing an uninsured motorist claim, as many insurance companies are skeptical of such claims. A traffic collision report can validate many aspects of your claim, since it is provided from a trusted and reliable third-party. A police report at the scene provides proof that the incident occurred, and documents the key facts about the incident, such as the date, location and parties involved. The report will also document if someone does or does not have valid insurance.
The next step is to file an uninsured motorist claim with your insurer. If you have uninsured motorist coverage on your plan, you should reasonably expect that your insurance provider will pay for your medical expenses and property damage, up to your coverage limits.
Your claim should be filed sooner rather than later. In some cases, you may only have 30 days in which to file a claim.
If you don’t have uninsured motorist protection as part of your auto insurance policy, it is often possible to file a claim under the “collision” portion of your policy for repairs to your vehicle. While this covers costs related to property damage, it will not include reimbursement for your medical expenses.
While an uninsured motorist policy looks good on paper, obtaining the compensation you need and rightfully deserve is not always as simple or as straightforward as it should be.
You can greatly improve the process and end result by taking responsibility for keeping tabs on all of the different aspects of your case, like collecting evidence, filing a police report, keeping track of all the receipts and invoices relating to vehicle towing and repairs, and preserving records and documents relating to medical care, including records of doctor’s office visits or any surgery or procedures you may have had, hospitalization records, receipts for prescription and over-the-counter medications, medical equipment, etc.
Dealing with insurance companies — even your own insurer — can be an extremely tricky business. While insurance adjusters may appear to be friendly and cordial, their goal is always to increase profitability for their company, which means minimizing or doing away with your claim. It would be in your best interest to never provide statements to the insurance company without first consulting an attorney, as what you say can be used against you.
The insurance company will do their best to convince you to settle without input from an attorney. Don’t allow this to happen, even if you really want to put the incident behind you; once you sign an agreement, you will no longer be able to seek further compensation.
There are a number of questions, concerns and complications surrounding uninsured motorists.
Beware, each auto insurance policy is unique; your uninsured motorist policy may not cover everything. Here are some commonly excluded claims made against uninsured motorist policies:
When you select your uninsured motorist coverage, it is just as important to understand the exclusions to your policy as it is to understand what is covered.
So, what do you do if you have no uninsured motorist coverage and a driver who doesn’t have auto insurance hits you? If you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage, your collision coverage will most likely pay for vehicle damage. However, you may not be reimbursed for medical bills.
You may consider taking the offending driver to small claims court, but understand that when a driver doesn’t have auto insurance, it is typically an indication that he or she cannot afford it. So, while you have a good chance of winning, you still may not be compensated because the other person simply cannot pay you. Also, small claims court has a maximum claim amount, which varies from state to state, usually between $5,000-$10,000.
Another option for those who don’t have uninsured motorist coverage is to file a notice with the Department of Motor Vehicles showing evidence of the damage your vehicle sustained. The DMV could then suspend the other driver’s license until he or she pays for the damages to your car. Such a suspension could provide strong incentive for the driver to take financial responsibility.
You may wonder if your insurance company will hike your premiums if you use your uninsured motorist coverage. The answer to this question will vary from state to state. Under California law, insurance companies cannot raise your rates or cancel your policy for making an UM/UIM claim.
It is particularly egregious for an insurance company to cancel or raise rates after an uninsured motorist accident, because they are penalizing you for an accident that wasn’t your fault. If you encounter this situation, file a complaint with your state insurance commissioner or contact an attorney who is experienced in bad faith cases.
If neither you nor the other driver has auto insurance, or your UM coverage isn’t enough to cover your your repairs or medical bills, you most likely will have to pay out of pocket for all expenses including medical bills and vehicle repairs. As noted above, small claims court may be an option.
It is also a fact that not having insurance is illegal in most states. So, in addition to all the expenses, you may also be looking at a hold on your driver’s license and additional fines. The fines for driving without auto insurance may be hefty, costing you several thousand dollars. So, it would be in your best interest to purchase an insurance policy — one that includes uninsured motorist coverage.
It can be extremely frustrating when you’ve been paying your insurance premiums diligently, only to find out that your auto insurance company has deserted you when you most need them. There are cases where auto insurance companies deny uninsured motorist claims. If you believe that your claim has been unfairly denied, or that your insurance company isn’t paying enough on your claim given your coverage, contact the experienced team of attorneys at TorkLaw. They can help you obtain fair compensation for your injuries, damages and losses.
If you have been injured in a car accident by an uninsured or underinsured motorist, it is certainly in your best interest to seek counsel from a reputable attorney, with experience handling uninsured motorist claims.
Consulting with the TorkLaw team is completely free. Our team has helped hundreds of people in similar situations and can advise you on the best road forward for your particular circumstances. If our firm can help you with your case, the individual providing the consultation will inform you during your consult call. Whether or not you would like to accept our services is entirely up to you. Call us today for an obligation-free consultation.