Few of us make it to life’s finish line without having been involved in a few car wrecks along the way. It’s a hassle that can become even more of a headache when the driver at fault (here’s to hoping it wasn’t you) either cannot be identified as he or she flees the scene (hit-and-run) or has no insurance at all. While most states require proof of car insurance to renew vehicle tags, it’s an imperfect system – underinsured and uninsured drivers are all around us, not especially worried if they cause a bunch of property damage and/or injuries and leave someone else holding the bag for the expense. Is there any protection against the uninsured? Actually, yes. Here are some options to consider.
This fancy little acronym stands for Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UIM). It’s a policy add-on purchased from your own insurance company that covers car damage and personal injuries in the event you are smacked by someone without coverage and they are found to be at fault. Though UIM is required by most states to be offered with all policies an insurance company writes, there are only a few states that require a driver to carry it. Normally there is a hard cap of $75,000 that a UIM will pay for in damages and injuries combined. Unfortunately, when economic times are tough, car insurance is a common area people look to reduce costs.
This policy add-on pays for damage to your car if you are hit by an uninsured motorist. Bear in mind collision coverage applies only to vehicle damages. You would need to look elsewhere to recoup medical bills. If you have the misfortune to be injured by an uninsured driver, you would need to find another source to cover the expense incurred by injuries, possibly health care insurance or UIM coverage. With so many fender benders causing untold thousands of dollars worth of damages, with no injuries involved, you might find it worth the added expense to carry collision coverage.
The Concept of No-Fault
It would be nice to think you could run right down to the courthouse and file a lawsuit against an uninsured driver. The reality is that some states don’t allow for that option. Many states have instituted a legal definition known as No-Fault. In a nutshell, it means that no matter how obviously the accident is created by the negligence of a particular driver, the accident is seen as being “no one’s fault” in the eyes of the state. If there is no one at fault for the accident, well, lawsuits are out of the question, which removes an important legal remedy. The following 12 states are no-fault in nature:
* Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah
Fortunately for anyone damaged by an uninsured motorist, the majority of states maintain traditional negligence laws on the books, meaning you can sue a driver who has been established as the one at fault. The problem, as you have probably already foreseen, is in collecting any awarded damages from another party. It’s often the case that those who choose to drive without insurance don’t have much in the way of assets or ability to pay a court judgement. There’s a good chance you may never collect anything, though could have title liens placed on vehicles or property they own.
The Bottom Line
Depending upon your own financial circumstances, you might decide it’s worth it to carry policy add-ons like collision and UIM. Another consideration is the age and value of the car you drive. An older, high-mileage vehicle that is worth a few thousand dollars or less might not be a good candidate for hiking your monthly insurance premium.
What are you chances of being involved in an accident with an uninsured driver? Depending upon where you live, the odds might be higher than you think. The top five states (and accompanying percentages of uninsured drivers) are listed below:
1. Oklahoma – 25.9 percent
2. Florida – 23.8 percent
3. Mississippi – 22.9 percent
4. New Mexico – 21.6 percent
5. Michigan – 21 percent
In Oklahoma, you have a better than 1 in 4 shot at being involved with an uninsured motorist. This despite the fact that all states except New Hampshire have mandatory minimum insurance laws. It’s not hard to skirt them, though. Drivers have figured out they can buy a policy just for the length of time necessary to register a vehicle, then drop it. While you can’t protect yourself against an uninsured motorist in every circumstance, at least now you know the enormity of what you’re up against. Drive defensive!