Car accidents happen. If you have the misfortune of being involved in a crash, it can sometimes be a small comfort to know that car insurance coverage -- your own or the other driver’s -- will probably kick in and help pay for medical treatment and vehicle damage. In some cases, however, the other driver may not have any (or enough) car insurance, or in the case of a hit-and-run accident, you may not be able to identify the other driver at all. This article addresses your options in those cases.
If you are involved in an accident with a driver who does not have any car insurance at all, you will likely have to turn to your own insurance company to cover your damages, assuming you are properly insured. Uninsured motorist coverage is additional coverage that you can purchase from your insurance company. UIM coverage protects you when you are involved in an accident with a driver who does not have car insurance and who is found to be at fault for the accident.
UIM coverage is only required in a handful of states, while insurance companies are required to offer it to customers in most states. Uninsured motorist coverage usually may not 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.
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..
Similar to uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage will pay for damages sustained in an accident with a driver who has a car insurance policy in place, but not enough coverage to pay for your injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses stemming from the accident. Your underinsured motorist coverage (which is not required in most states, but is always available as optional coverage) kicks in and helps cover the difference between the other driver’s coverage and the total amount of your losses.
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.
Learn more about Underinsured and Uninsured Motorist Coverage.
Collision coverage may also be added to your insurance policy at an extra cost. Collision coverage will pay to repair damages to your vehicle sustained in an accident with an at-fault uninsured driver, or a hit-and-run driver. But keep in mind that collision coverage won’t apply to your injuries, just the cost of getting your car fixed (up to the limits of your coverage).
If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, you may have the option to file a lawsuit against the other driver, depending on whether you live in a no-fault or traditional negligence state. If you live in a no-fault car insurance state, filing a lawsuit may not be an option. In no-fault states, each driver or his insurance is responsible for his own injuries or damages, regardless of who was at fault for the accident. 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.
If you live in a traditional negligence state, you may file a lawsuit against the uninsured driver. But even if you are successful in proving that the other driver was at fault for the accident, and you obtain a judgment against them, there is no guarantee that you will actually be able to collect anything. Many people who are uninsured or underinsured do not have much in the way of money or assets, so trying to collect on the judgment could be a losing battle.
If you’ve been involved in a car accident with an uninsured (or underinsured) driver, your best course of action is to report the accident 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 may be time to talk to an experienced car accident attorney about your options. Learn more about How an Attorney Can Help With a Car Accident Claim.