Someone has crashed into your car, resulting in substantial damage and personal injuries. The accident has not plunged you into unconsciousness, so you have dialed 911 and reported the collision. As you wait for the responders, you request the other driver their contact and insurance information. They produce their identification documents and the license, and you note down the details.
So far, you are managing to hold up, taking the unfortunate events in your stride until the driver drops the bombshell. To your dismay, they inform you they do not have insurance coverage. You feel crushed as the reality of that admission hits you. As the weight of the burden before you settles in, probably aggravating the pain from your injuries, you wonder how you will navigate around the mess.
What options do you have?
Your options depend on some conditions. For instance, you may file a claim with your insurer if you have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage.
Unfortunately, UM coverage is not mandatory in most states. Though it is available for purchase as additional coverage on top of the regular liability policy, not every motorist has the cover.
No one anticipates they will get into an accident, much less one caused by an insured driver. So, in case you find yourself in this situation, the other option you have to recover your damages is suing the uninsured driver.
Is Suing an Insured Driver Worth It?
The financial burden following a crash with an insured motorist is real. However, the central dilemma is: is it worth suing an uninsured driver?
Again, this depends on some factors. For instance, it may or may not be worth it, depending on whether the driver can afford to pay for your damages. Generally, if the driver has assets that you can realize to cover some or all of your damages, you may sue them. But it is more likely that if the driver cannot afford the minimum liability coverage, they might not afford to pay you.
Usually, filing a lawsuit is costly. At the least, you would need to pay court fees. If you engage a lawyer, you should also consider additional expenses such as case administrative costs (expenses for gathering evidence and generally developing the case) and expert witness fees. Once the court rules in your favor, the lawyer will also be entitled to their share of the settlement on a contingent fee basis.
There is no point in filing the case if the at-fault driver does not have enough assets to satisfy the judgment, including covering all these relevant expenses. Besides, the defendant might file bankruptcy following the ruling, thereby freeing themselves legally from paying the claim.
What If the Defendant Can Afford to Pay?
We do not dismiss all uninsured motorists as being financially challenged. There may be particular circumstances where the driver can compensate you, in which case, you may sue them to recover the damages.
If you engage an attorney, they can run an asset and credit check on the driver to establish their financial status. If the assessment reveals the driver is financially able, the attorney might advise you to file a lawsuit.
Upon commencing the lawsuit, the defendant may decide to dispose of some of their properties to avoid losing them once the court instructs them to pay your damages. To avoid such a scenario, your attorney may file a lien on the defendant’s property to freeze the assets. This helps ensure that once the court rules the case in your favor, the assets will be available for disposal so you can recover your compensation.
Sometimes the defendant may fail to pay you even after winning the case. In this case, you can go back to court and apply for a court order to compel them to pay. Once the court establishes the defendant can satisfy the judgment, it may set up a flexible weekly or monthly payment plan that they can manage.
Filing a Claim Against Your Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Assuming you have uninsured motorist coverage, you may be better off filing a claim with your insurer. Unless the at-fault driver is financially stable or has well-off parents/guardians and can afford to cover your damages in full, then you may want to avoid the unnecessary trouble of a lawsuit.
Before filing the claim, keep in mind that the process is a little different from lodging a claim with an at-fault party’s insurer. Here, you will deal with your insurance provider with whom you have a contract. As such, you ought to be thorough in evidence documentation and tactful in negotiation as you cannot file a lawsuit against them should you fail to reach an agreement.
Generally, your insurer will investigate the claim as an opposing insurance company would. So, immediately you learn the other driver is uninsured, make sure you are thorough in collecting evidence and keeping all the essential documents so you can build a strong case.
Below are some crucial steps that can help you achieve this.
#1. Report the Accident to the Police
After a motor vehicle accident that involves injuries, it is critical to notify the police. Not only is this a legal requirement, but it creates an official record that you can use to support your claim.
#2. Gather Evidence
Before leaving the scene, you should document as much evidence as possible. This includes photos of your injuries, car damages, the surroundings, skid marks, etc. Anything you can use as proof of the accident will be incredibly beneficial.
#3. Seek Medical Attention
Even if the injuries are not sudden, requiring a visit to the emergency room, you still need to seek medical attention immediately. If you do so within the same day, the better.
Some injuries might take days before manifesting, but you should not wait until you feel some pain to see a doctor. As much as your insurer is obligated to compensate you, they may fail to do so if they find a reason to support their arguments. Hence, you do not want them questioning the gap between the accident and your first doctor’s check-up as they can easily de-link the injury from the accident.
Once you seek medical help, remember to document every relevant record that attests to the treatment. These could be physical diagnoses, medical tests, prescriptions, surgical notes, medical bills, etc.
#4. Record Eyewitness Statement
While at the scene, you should collect the contact information of any eyewitnesses present. If you can, you may record their statement immediately. But if you cannot, you should arrange to meet them or have your lawyer talk to them to get their testimony later. However, you should not delay collecting the testimony so that the eyewitnesses can provide a detailed account of the accident while it is still fresh in their minds.
#5. Request for CCTV Camera Footage
If the area is under surveillance cameras (private or public), consider requesting the camera owners for footage of the accident. This can reveal how the accident happened and convince your insurer you were not at fault for the accident.
#6. Journal Your Treatment Journey
Journaling your treatment and recovery journey can also help demonstrate how the accident has impacted your life. Besides, you can use this in addition to the medical records to support your claim for pain and suffering damages.
You should also note whenever you experience any pain or symptom, however minor, and share with the doctor. This allows the doctor to monitor your recovery closely while diagnosing whenever necessary to ensure any incubating conditions get arrested on time.
#7. Hire an Attorney
While it is possible to file a claim with your insurer on your own, the move disadvantages you in many ways. First, you need an attorney’s counsel to offer some of the tips discussed above. The attorney can also evaluate the available evidence and find ways to step it up to demonstrate the magnitude of your injuries and how the accident has impacted your life.
Second, the lawyer can help you compute fair damages and negotiate strategically to win a reasonable settlement. If you engage one experienced in personal injury cases related to motor vehicle accidents, you stand to benefit from their exposure to similar cases. This helps increase the likelihood of pursuing a settlement amount that you deserve.
#8. Observe the Claim Filing Deadline
Finally, different insurance providers have deadlines to submit a claim. If you delay filing for the compensation and the deadline lapses, you could end up missing to recover the damages.
The first thing you ought to do following the accident is to go through the policy document (preferably with your attorney) and note all the relevant provisions. This will help ensure you remain compliant and avoid losing a good claim.
Understanding Your Uninsured Motorist Coverage
As much as you have a right to a first-party claim against your insurer under uninsured motorist benefits, you cannot claim more than your coverage. For instance, if you purchase a $50,000 cover, and your damages amount to $100,000, you could only recover $50,000.
Also, you cannot sue your insurer if they fail to settle the claim fairly. Usually, if you are not satisfied with the compensation they offer, you can proceed to binding arbitration.
With binding arbitration, you agree to stick to the outcome of the process. The arbitration is presided over by arbitrators. Once both sides have made presentations, the arbitrator makes a binding decision that concludes the process.
Types of Uninsured Motorist Coverage
In states where uninsured motorist coverage is available, it bears two types of coverage—bodily injury and property damage.
- Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage - This coverage protects you and your passengers against accidents with an uninsured motorist. It covers damages such as medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.
- Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage - If you take this add-on cover, it protects your car from damages sustained in a crash with an uninsured motorist.
When taking the cover, you can choose the amount of your coverage. However, every state stipulates the minimum coverage. Also, it should not exceed your standard liability policy.
Generally, the uninsured motorist coverage is expressed as two numbers. For instance, your cover could be 10/20 or 15/30. Translated, this stands for $10,000 coverage per person and $20,000 coverage per accident. Similarly, a 15/30 cover would offer $15,000 coverage per person and $30,000 coverage per accident.
Though the benefits might be limited, especially where the injuries sustained are severe, they offer some form of financial relief whenever the unfortunate happens, as may be the case with you. Nonetheless, engaging an experienced car accident lawyer immediately after the crash is a smart move that can help maximize the settlement from your insurer. Their experience in similar cases and settlement negotiation skills can be handy in getting your insurer to settle fairly.
Despite the mandatory requirement that all motorists carry some minimum auto insurance in most states, we still have a few drivers who lack coverage. A study by the Insurance Research Council revealed that 12.6 percent of drivers in the U.S. are uninsured.
The probability of getting into a car crash is slim, much less the accident involving an uninsured driver. But when this happens, learning the motorist who hit you is uninsured can plunge you into a dilemma, especially where the injuries are severe.
Unfortunately, an uninsured motorist presents a set of limitations. There is always a likelihood the driver might not have enough assets to satisfy a judgment if you sue them and win. On the other hand, if you opt to file a first-party claim against your uninsured motorist coverage, you can only recover damages through an out-of-court settlement since you cannot sue your insurer.
As much as these limitations affect what you can recover, engaging a lawyer increases the odds of receiving fairer compensation than you would probably get by suing the driver. All in all, unless the uninsured driver is financially capable of satisfying a judgment, suing them might not be worth it. Contact a personal injury attorney today to discuss your legal options after a crash with an uninsured driver.