I Was In an Accident With an Uninsured Driver; Now What?

Your own uninsured motorist coverage and other forms of insurance can help, but a lawsuit against an uninsured driver can be a dead end.

Updated by , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated 1/28/2022

In the often chaotic hours and days after a car accident, it can be a small comfort to know that car insurance coverage—your own or the other driver's—will probably kick in at some point and help pay for medical bills and vehicle damage. But what if the at-fault driver doesn't have car insurance? In this article, we'll cover:

  • how uninsured motorist coverage can help
  • the limited role that collision or PIP coverage can play, and
  • why suing an uninsured driver is usually a losing proposition, even if you win.

How Does Uninsured Motorist Coverage Work?

If you're involved in an accident with a driver who doesn't have any car insurance at all, you'll likely have to turn to your own insurance company to cover your losses. Your best bet is uninsured motorist (UIM) coverage, which is usually an add-on protection. UIM coverage is only required in a handful of states, while insurance companies are required to offer it to customers by law in most states.

Uninsured motorist coverage usually can't exceed the amount of your standard liability coverage. So, if you've got $75,000 in total liability coverage per accident, you can't typically carry more than $75,000 in uninsured motorist coverage. Learn more about different types of car insurance coverage.

Despite the fact that car insurance is mandatory for registered vehicles in operation in most states, the fact is that there are many drivers who drive without insurance, and the best way to protect yourself is making sure you have plenty of UIM coverage. But note that UIM coverage usually only applies to your car accident injuries; you'll probably need to purchase separate add-on coverage (called "Uninsured Motorist Property Damage Coverage" or something similar) in order to cover vehicle repair/replacement after an accident with an uninsured driver.

Most insurance companies limit the amount of time policyholders have to make uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist claims (often it's as few as 30 days from the date of the accident). So, you want to get the ball rolling immediately after you learn that the other driver has no (or not enough) insurance.

Uninsured Drivers In No-Fault Car Insurance States

If you live in a no-fault car insurance state, your own insurance coverage will pay for your medical bills and certain other covered losses after a car accident, so the fact that the other driver wasn't insured might not matter as much.

Note that your ability to sue in no-fault states is restricted—you typically can't sue the other driver unless you suffered serious injuries and/or incurred medical bills over a certain amount. But when the other driver has no insurance, filing a lawsuit can be something of a dead end (more on this later). Learn more about how no-fault car insurance works.

Using PIP or MedPay Coverage After an Accident With an Uninsured Driver

In states that don't follow mandatory no-fault rules, drivers can often purchase "personal injury protection" (PIP) or "Medical Payments" ("MedPay") coverage, which can be used to pay your medical bills after a car accident with an uninsured driver.

With PIP and MedPay, you usually don't have to wait until you finish treatment before making a claim; you can send in your bills as they come in. Get more details on using PIP or MedPay coverage after a car accident.

Using Collision Coverage After an Accident With an Uninsured Driver

While it's not required in any state, collision coverage can be added to a car insurance policy (at an extra cost), and will pay to repair your vehicle if:

But the big thing to keep in mind here is that collision coverage won't apply to your injuries, just the cost of getting your car fixed (up to the limits of your coverage). Learn more about using collision coverage for vehicle damage.

Can I File a Lawsuit Against an Uninsured Driver?

You can file a car accident lawsuit in this situation, but even if you win, it may be something of a hollow victory. If you obtain a judgment against an uninsured driver, there's no guarantee that you'll actually be able to collect the judgment (or any portion of it). An uninsured driver might not have much in the way of assets, so trying to enforce the judgment could be a losing battle.

Do Insurance Companies Go After Uninsured Drivers?

An insurance company always has the legal right to seek reimbursement from anyone who is responsible for a covered loss. So, let's say Demetrius collides with Helena. Demetrius is clearly at fault for the crash, but is also uninsured. Helena files an uninsured motorist claim for her injuries, and a collision coverage claim for her vehicle damage, both with Oberon Insurance Company (her own insurer). Once Oberon pays out on Helena's claims, the company can turn around and seek reimbursement (or subrogation) from Demetrius, who's at fault for the incident that led to the covered losses.

That's how it could play out, but from a practical standpoint, an insurance company probably isn't going to spend time and money going after an uninsured driver, for the same reasons we touched on in the above section. Unless Demetrius has sufficient assets to respond to collection efforts or to satisfy a court judgment, it's not worth it. Insurance companies and lawyers would call Demetrius "judgment-proof."

What If the Other Driver Is Uninsured, But Is Driving an Insured Car?

If you're in an accident with a driver who doesn't have car insurance, but they're driving a vehicle that is insured, the insurance policy that runs with the vehicle will extend to your accident (and to your resulting injuries and other losses). That's true unless the driver doesn't have permission to be driving the car, or has been specifically excluded from coverage under the vehicle owner's policy, or some other fine print applies.

So, for practical purposes, the at-fault driver in this scenario (an uninsured driver driving an insured car) is an insured driver. Learn more about permissive use of a vehicle.

Do You Need a Lawyer to Go After an Uninsured Driver for Damages?

This question is somewhat secondary to one we've already covered: Whether it's a good idea to go after an uninsured driver for your losses after a car accident.

As we've discussed here, it's not usually worth the time and effort to try to get money from someone who's "judgment-proof." But your options (and the best path forward) depend on a whole host of factors, including the seriousness of your injuries and whether or not you can be "made whole" through other sources (health insurance, for example).

First Things First

After a car accident, your best course of action is to report the crash to your car insurance company and find out how your coverage applies. If you've suffered serious injuries that won't be covered by adequate insurance, it could make sense to discuss your situation with an attorney. Just remember that, practically speaking, your options may be limited. Learn more about how an attorney can help with a car accident claim.

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