Survivors of car accidents face a chaotic time. They worry for their safety, financial security, and legal wellbeing. Amid the uncertainty, however, they often take comfort in knowing that the law requires all drivers to carry liability insurance to help crash victims pay for their injuries and losses.
Here’s the problem: not everybody carries the required insurance. All too often, people who get hurt in car accidents discover that the driver who caused the crash never purchased liability coverage.
What does getting into an accident with an uninsured driver mean for crash survivors who need compensation? Is it worth it to sue an uninsured driver? Are there other options for compensation? Let’s try to answer those questions.
Many People Drive Without Insurance
The majority of states require vehicle owners to carry liability insurance to cover harm caused to others in an accident. Even so, lots of people drive without any insurance coverage. According to the Insurance Research Council, roughly one in eight U.S. drivers are uninsured. In a handful of states, more than one in five drivers go without insurance.
It’s Not Usually Worth it to Sue an Uninsured Driver
You usually have the right to file a car accident lawsuit after an accident—even if the other driver involved in the accident is uninsured or underinsured.
However, more often than not, suing for damages is not worth the trouble. The most common reason people drive without adequate insurance is that they cannot afford to purchase it. Lawsuits against those people rarely make sense to pursue. A lawsuit cannot take money that a defendant does not have.
But does that mean there’s nothing you can do? NO! A car accident lawyer can help you find alternatives.
A Lawyer Can Help You Explore Alternatives
Because suing uninsured drivers often lead to dead ends for accident survivors, some victims choose to seek compensation through alternate methods. A qualified car accident lawyer can help explain your options for recovering damages.
Uninsured motorist coverage claim
When you purchase car insurance, you usually have the option to add uninsured motorist coverage to your policy. Uninsured motorist coverage is designed to keep you financially protected if you get into an accident with a driver who does not carry liability insurance.
Underinsured motorist coverage is also separately available for purchase. It helps pay for damages after an accident with a driver who has some insurance, but not enough to pay for all the injuries the accident caused.
In the event of an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver, injured victims can turn to their uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to pay for their injuries. In effect, their own coverage takes the place of the liability coverage the at-fault driver should have been carrying. Uninsured motorist coverage, however, usually only covers costs associated with car accident injuries. To protect against costs associated with your vehicle sustaining damage in an accident, you may also need to purchase another type of add-on insurance called uninsured motorist property damage coverage.
Most insurance companies limit the amount of time that policyholders have to make uninsured or underinsured motorist claims. In many cases, the deadline is as few as 30 days from the date of an accident.
An experienced car accident lawyer can help you prepare, file, and pursue a claim against your uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance, if you carry it.
Other insurance claims
Other types of insurance may also cover costs associated with a car accident and the injuries you suffered in it. For example:
- Personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. If you live in a “no-fault” auto insurance state where all drivers must carry PIP insurance to cover the costs of their injuries and disabilities in an accident without regard to fault, then that coverage may serve as your primary (first) payment for medical care and income-replacement, even before you pursue an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim. Most PIP insurance requires you to seek medical care for an injury right away, to preserve your rights.
- Health insurance. If you carry health insurance, there’s a good chance it will cover some portion of the cost of caring for your accident-related injuries, but usually only after you have exhausted any PIP coverage you carry.
- Long-term disability insurance. If you carry long-term disability insurance (which is often a component of a workplace health benefits package), then it may pay for your long-term care and may replace a portion of your income if car accident injuries leave you disabled.
- Workers’ compensation insurance. Injuries and disabilities you suffered in a car accident while working are almost always covered by workers’ compensation insurance, assuming your employer carries it.
These are examples only. Speak with a skilled attorney as soon as possible to explore what other insurance options you may have available to pay for costs associated with your car accident injuries.
Third-Party Lawsuit for Damages
The uninsured driver isn’t always the only party who may have legal liability for a car accident that injured you. Other individuals, businesses, or institutions may share that liability, and if so, you may have the ability to file suit against them for damages. For example:
- An automotive manufacturer can owe damages for an accident caused by defective parts and other products the manufacturer made and sold.
- A bar or restaurant that served alcohol to the uninsured driver, who then drove drunk and caused a crash, could face liability, especially if the driver was underage or visibly intoxicated when served.
- A local government might have legal liability for an accident if it failed to fix or warn the public about an unreasonably dangerous road hazard that contributed to the cause of an accident.
As above, these are just several of many potential examples. An experienced attorney can help car accident victims explore who else, besides the uninsured driver, may owe them compensation for crash-related injuries and losses.
How Underinsured and Uninsured Driver Claims Work
If you carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, you may have an obligation to notify your insurer quickly of an accident in which the other driver did not have insurance. Speak with an experienced lawyer right away if you have any questions about your obligations.
Under- and uninsured motorist claims tend to progress in the same way as a regular car insurance claim would. The only difference is that the claim is filed against your own insurance company. The process often involves an investigation, disclosure of your medical records, and interviews of witnesses.
If you and your insurer cannot agree on a settlement amount, however, you likely do not have the right to file a lawsuit against your insurer. Instead, most insurance policies require you to submit your claim to binding arbitration, which is essentially a private court system in which an arbitrator, instead of a judge, decides your claim.
One important thing to note about binding arbitration is that the losing side has very limited rights of appeal. This means that the losing side in the arbitration is generally stuck with the decision—there isn’t more opportunity to fight for the compensation that is owed.
Bad Faith Scenarios: The Insurance Claims Process
Unfortunately, uninsured and underinsured motorist claims often turn into bad faith insurance disputes. It is illegal for insurance companies to act in bad faith in processing or deciding an uninsured/underinsured motorist claim, but unfortunately, it happens. Some examples of bad faith scenarios that frequently occur during the insurance claims process include:
- Undervaluing your claim: Even though you tell the insurance company that your claim is worth one thing, the insurance company may say it’s worth less without justification. Insurance companies frequently undervalue claims to try to save money.
- Denying your claim without justification: Unfortunately, claim denials are not uncommon. If your claim is denied, an experienced car accident lawyer can help you assess the situation and pursue the compensation you deserve
- Inadequate claim investigation: Lots of factors contribute to the cause of car accidents. Oftentimes, insurance companies do not investigate claims adequately, resulting in the insurer making claims decisions based on faulty or incomplete information.
- Uninsured or underinsured coverage misinterpretation: Underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage exists to help protect you if you are hurt in an accident with another driver. Some insurance companies fail to properly apply or interpret the provisions of this insurance when you make a claim.
An experienced car accident attorney can help you pursue compensation from your insurer to minimize the chance of bad faith conduct. An attorney can also help you respond to bad faith conduct, which may involve filing a separate lawsuit against the insurer for statutory damages.
What if I Sued But the Uninsured Driver Won’t Pay?
If you and your lawyer decide that it is worth the time and effort to sue the uninsured driver and win, you might still run into the challenge of the at-fault driver simply refusing to pay damages. In that scenario, you may have the right to go back to court and apply for an order requiring payment.
Two ways that accident survivors can recover money from a defendant who won’t pay include:
- Payment plan: Some defendants have money, but not enough to pay a full judgment immediately. A court may require them to make weekly or monthly payments to pay the judgment over time
- Lien on property: If a defendant owns real or personal property, you may have the option of placing a lien on them and, potentially, forcing their sale to pay the judgment owed to you.
Keep in mind, however, that oftentimes, an uninsured driver simply lacks the means to pay a judgment for damages, even under an alternative payment arrangement. A court will generally not require payment from a defendant who cannot pay.
The Importance of Taking Proper First Steps
The steps you take after getting into an accident with an uninsured driver can affect your legal and financial rights. You can improve your odds of securing compensation for your injuries by:
- Staying at the scene: Do not leave the scene of your accident until you’ve been cleared to do so. Call 911 so that they can dispatch emergency services. File an accident report with the police, try to take photos of your injuries and any damage to your vehicle, and seek medical care as soon as possible.
- Gathering evidence: Take photographs of the damage to your vehicle and person. See if there’s any evidence nearby, too, like damage to a road divider or skid marks in the road.
- Going to the hospital: If you need to, you should go to the hospital for your injuries. You should also visit your primary care physician so that they can stay up to date on your condition
- Reporting the accident to your insurance company, especially if your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage requires you to do so.
- Contacting a trusted car accident lawyer who has the experience and a track record of success in uninsured/underinsured motorist cases.
These are just some general suggestions. An experienced lawyer might have other recommendations to suit your particular situation, so contact one today.
Watch Out For Deadlines!
The statute of limitations sets a specific time limit within which a lawsuit must be filed. By adhering to this deadline, you preserve your right to seek compensation for the damages you have suffered. If you fail to file a lawsuit within the prescribed time, the court may dismiss your case, barring you from pursuing your legal claim. In the state of Florida, you only have 2 years to file a lawsuit against the liable party.
A lot can change in 2 years. The person responsible for your accident may have a change in monetary funds or your attorney may have located alternative parties liable for your accident. Don’t give up your right to sue simply because you miss the deadline. Make sure you have an attorney on your side who can keep track of the statute of limitations and help you secure the money you need after an accident.
How A Car Accident Lawyer Can Help After an Accident With an Uninsured Driver
Getting into a crash with an uninsured driver tends to cause stress and upset. In the difficult days and weeks that follow an accident, it helps to have an experienced lawyer on your side, fighting to make sure you get the compensation you need and deserve.
The actions a seasoned lawyer might take on your behalf will vary based on your specific circumstances. They may include, however:
Investigating the accident to figure out what happened and to identify all parties—not just the uninsured driver—who may have liability to you.
- Calculating the full amount of damages you deserve to receive.
- Answering your questions and explaining your options in a language you can understand.
- Preparing and filing an uninsured motorist claim against your insurance policy, and holding the insurance company accountable if it wrongfully denies or limits your claim.
- Preparing and filing a lawsuit against any third party who owes you compensation.
- Negotiating settlements with all parties who can pay damages for your injuries and losses.
- Representing you in court hearings and trials.
- Collecting the money due to you from settlements, judgments, or jury awards.
To learn more about your rights after getting hurt in an accident with an uninsured driver, contact an experienced attorney today.