While most states require motorists carry at least minimum levels of liability insurance, the Insurance Research Council (IRC) has found that almost 15% of motorists on the road in California are uninsured. There are up to 4 million uninsured drivers in California and many more with insurance policies with just the minimum limits. 50% of all traffic accidents in California may involve at least one uninsured or underinsured driver.
Car insurance is designed to pay for medical treatment and vehicle damage when the policy owner causes an accident, but what happens when you are in an accident and the other driver does not have insurance or doesn’t have enough coverage for your damages?
Option One: Suing the Uninsured Driver
You have the option of suing the other driver directly to go after their personal assets if they caused the accident. The problem with this solution is people who do not maintain even the minimum required liability insurance likely have no assets of value that you can go after unless their policy accidentally lapsed. The best solution is filing a claim against your own insurance policy.
Option Two: Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage
When you are involved in a car accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance, you may need to turn to your own policy to cover your damages, assuming you have uninsured and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. This important type of coverage protects you if you are involved in an accident with someone who doesn’t have insurance and is found to be at fault — a very real risk while driving in Los Angeles.
In California, all auto insurance policies are required to include UIM coverage unless the policy holder waives the coverage in writing. If you have UIM coverage, you can make a claim against your own policy for your damages if the driver lacks insurance. In most cases, the amount of UIM coverage cannot exceed the amount of your standard liability coverage. Hopefully you have limits above the minimum to protect you in case of an accident, especially if you are injured. If the other driver has insurance but lacks enough coverage to pay for your damages, underinsured motorist coverage will kick in and pay the difference.
UIM coverage doesn’t just protect you when you’re driving and hit by an uninsured driver; it also protects you in hit-and-run accidents and if you are a pedestrian or bicyclist struck by a hit-and-run or uninsured driver.
What Happens Next?
It’s important to file a police report for the accident, which will be required by your insurance provider. Under California law, there must have been contact between the other driver’s vehicle and your own if you make a hit-and-run claim. You will also need to file an SR-1 form with the DMV and an SR-19 form to prove the other driver was uninsured. While your insurance company may not require this last step, it’s important to protect yourself.
Do You Need an Attorney with an Uninsured Driver Accident?
While your insurance policy should cover your damages provided you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, insurance companies employ their own team of attorneys to limit payouts. If your insurance company fails to offer a fair settlement, you have the right to demand binding arbitration, but not a jury trial in these cases. You must file a lawsuit against the uninsured motorist or arbitration must be formally demanded within 24 months of the accident or you lose your right to make a claim.
Making an uninsured motorist claim against your auto insurance company can be a complicated endeavor as insurance companies fight these claims as strongly as third-party claims. A personal injury attorney can help you protect your legal rights and look after your best interests while pursuing your claim to avoid mistakes that can damage the value of your claim.
If you have been hit by an uninsured motorist or by a hit-and-run driver, it’s important to contact an experienced accident attorney as soon as possible. There are many traps in UIM cases, but a personal injury lawyer can give you the protection you need, even from your own insurance provider.