Drivers are required to carry state-mandated minimum liability insurance to pay for damage they cause to other people and vehicles in a collision. Despite this, it’s believed that more than 12% of drivers, or 1 out of every 8, are uninsured. An even more common problem is underinsured motorists. Someone is considered uninsured if they have insufficient coverage to pay for the damages they cause. Drivers who have only the minimum amount of liability coverage are very likely to be uninsured in a serious accident.
Auto insurance pays for damages and medical bills when the policyholder is found responsible for the accident, but what happens if the other driver lacks sufficient coverage to compensate you? You have two options available to you: filing a lawsuit against the driver or turning to your own car insurance policy if you have underinsured motorist coverage (UIM), which is optional in most states. Your personal injury lawyer can help you investigate whether filing a lawsuit is in your best interest.
Suing an At-Fault Driver
If the other driver was even partially at fault for the accident, they can be held liable for the damages you suffered. You have the right to pursue compensation with a personal injury lawsuit if the driver does not have enough insurance, in which case you will be pursuing their personal assets.
While this legal option may be available to you, it’s not always worthwhile. In general, people who have inadequate liability coverage are unlikely to have sizable assets that you can pursue. In this case, even winning a judgment will not help you recover compensation. Most personal injury attorneys have experience investigating whether an at-fault driver has sufficient assets worth pursuing.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM)
When the at-fault driver has insufficient insurance, the best chance of getting the compensation you deserve is usually filing an underinsured motorist claim through your own insurance carrier. You will only have this option if you opted for uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage, although some states do require all car insurance policies to include this valuable coverage. With UIM coverage, you can make a claim against your insurance policy for your damages in excess of what the at-fault driver’s insurance covers.
Most insurance companies cap UIM coverage so it does not exceed your regular liability coverage. This is because UIM coverage is very affordable and insurance carriers do not want drivers to buy only the state-mandated minimum liability insurance with higher (and cheaper) UIM coverage. The best way to protect yourself against underinsured motorists is to opt for this type of coverage and choose high limits on your standard liability insurance.
To demonstrate how these liability limits work, imagine you have $50,000 in regular liability coverage that pays if you are negligent in an accident. This means you can buy up to $50,000 in UIM coverage if you suffer damages from a negligent underinsured driver.
In this case, if you are involved in an accident and the at-fault driver only has $25,000 in liability protection but your damages are $45,000, you would be able to collect $25,000 from the at-fault driver’s policy and the remaining $20,000 from your UIM coverage.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage isn’t just important if you are hurt by an underinsured motorist; it also protects you if you are a pedestrian struck by a vehicle or you are hurt in a hit-and-run accident.
If you have UIM coverage, you will need to notify your insurance company that you plan to file an UIM claim to protect your legal rights. Insurance carriers often limit how long you have to file an UM/UIM claim, sometimes as soon as 30 days after the date of the accident.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
personal injury attorneys aren’t necessary to file an UIM claim, but don’t forget that even your own insurance company will attempt to limit your settlement in any way possible. If you do not receive a fair offer from the insurance adjuster, you can demand binding arbitration and file a lawsuit.
Filing UIM claims is often more complex than necessary. Hiring a personal injury lawyer gives you access to experienced legal advice as well as help building your claim and negotiating
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