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.

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 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 cannot 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.

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 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.

Using Your No-Fault, PIP, or MedPay Coverage

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. 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.

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.

How Can Your Own Collision Coverage Help?

Collision coverage can also be added to a car insurance policy (at an extra cost), and will pay to repair your vehicle if you're in an accident, if you were at fault, if the other (at-fault) driver is uninsured, or if you were hit by a hit-and-run driver. 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 will 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.

First Things First

After a car accident, 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.

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