How to Handle an Accident with an Uninsured or Underinsured Driver

Injured in an accident with an uninsured driver? Learn how to increase your compensation for Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist claims.

The number of auto accident victims hit by uninsured drivers is steadily rising. At last count, one in eight at-fault drivers is uninsured. ¹

If you’ve been in an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you have several options. Your best bet is to turn to your own auto policy and file a claim on your underinsured motorist coverage, if you have it.

Your insurance company has a duty to treat you fairly and protect your interests. The hard fact is the company is also looking out for its bottom line. Here’s what you need to know about uninsured and underinsured motorist claims, and how to get your insurer to pay.

What to Do After an Accident with an Uninsured Driver

Right after a car accident, you won’t know if you are dealing with an uninsured or underinsured driver. These important steps will help protect your health, safety, and financial future no matter the insurance status of the at-fault driver.

1. Call 911

Call 911 after you’ve been in an accident, no matter the circumstances. Describe your location and tell the dispatcher if you think anyone might be injured. Advise the dispatcher of dangers like leaking fuel or blocked traffic.

2. Get the Driver’s Information

You will need the at-fault driver’s name, address, phone number, and insurance information. In most states, drivers are required to show their driver’s license when asked. We’ve made it easy to collect information with a free Car Accident Information Form.

If the other driver admits to being uninsured, don’t be tempted to “work something out.” You may ruin your chance to collect other sources of compensation.

3. Seek Medical Treatment

Never refuse medical attention at the scene. Tell paramedics about every symptom, no matter how mild. Shock and distress can mask serious injuries. Don’t make excuses for your symptoms.

Refusing or delaying treatment after an accident can seriously undermine your injury claim. The insurance company won’t hesitate to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries didn’t happen in the accident.

If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital, have a medical evaluation as soon as possible. See your regular doctor or go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center. Tell them you were injured in a vehicle accident.

4. Take Photographs

Photographs and videos can be compelling evidence after an accident. Take as many pictures as you safely can of the cars, the license plate of the car that hit you, the accident scene, debris on the road, skid marks, street signs, and other indicators of location.

5. Gather Witness Statements

Written statements from an independent witness can be critical to your claim, especially if the uninsured driver fled the scene.

Many insurance companies require an “arms-length” witness to prove another vehicle hit you before they’ll pay an uninsured motorist claim. That means you need to find an accident witness who doesn’t know you and who has nothing to gain from your claim.

6. Request the Police Report

Police on the scene will conduct a full accident investigation. The investigating officer will talk to you, the other driver, and potential witnesses.  After the investigation, the officer will file an official police accident report.

7. Notify Your Insurance Company

Almost every auto policy has a Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation clause. The clause means you agree to tell your insurance company when you’re in an accident, and you agree to cooperate with their investigation.

The clause will read something like this:

“Insured (you) agrees to notify the insurer (your insurance company) of any accidents and thereafter comply with all information, assistance, and cooperation which the insurer reasonably requests, and agrees that in the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position…”

Failure to tell your insurance company about an accident is a violation of your contract that could cause your claim to be denied.

Policyholders are often given as little as 30 days to determine whether they need to file an underinsured motorist claim. Unless you’ve quickly recovered from relatively mild injuries, your insurer should be notified that you might have to make a claim.

What is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage?

Vehicles on American roads should be covered by an auto insurance policy, whether it’s a personal auto policy or a commercial vehicle policy.

Regardless of where you live, your auto policy must have bodily injury liability and property damage liability coverage. This coverage pays for injuries and property damage to others if you cause a motor vehicle accident.

Every state requires motorists to demonstrate financial responsibility if they cause an accident. Most of the time that means the driver must carry a minimum level of auto liability insurance.

Unfortunately, the minimum may not be enough to pay your medical bills. You have the right to sue an uninsured driver for your excess damages, but they are unlikely to have personal assets that make it worth the cost of filing a lawsuit.

Some states don’t require insurance for drivers who have a chunk of money set aside in case of an accident. But what are the chances that you’ll be rear-ended by an uninsured rich guy? It could happen, but you’re better off having uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage and knowing how to use it.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) protects you if you’re involved in an accident with an at-fault driver who has no auto insurance.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) protects you if you’re involved in an accident with an at-fault driver who has insufficient auto insurance to cover the cost of your damages.

Your insurance company may bundle together two or more coverages:

  • Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UIMBI)
  • Underinsured Motorist Property Damage (UIMPD)
  • Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UMBI)
  • Uninsured Motorist Property Damage (UMPD)

Your state may only require the insurance company to offer uninsured and underinsured coverage for bodily injury claims, with no UM or UIM property damage coverage. Unless you have collision coverage, you may have to pay out-of-pocket for car repairs.

Proving Your Uninsured Motorist Claim

When you’re hit by an uninsured driver, you may not find out right away that they’re uninsured. The driver may have shown you and the police a valid-looking proof of insurance card, but later you find out that the policy had lapsed for non-payment.

Technically, the date you find out the driver was not insured is when the clock starts ticking on the UIM claim filing deadline.

Evidence of Your Damages

An uninsured motorist claim proceeds in much the same way as a standard car insurance claim. One main difference is that the claim you’re making is against your own insurance company rather than the other party’s.

You’ll have to provide your medical records, proof of lost wages, the police report, photographic evidence, witness statements, and evidence that the other driver was uninsured or fled the scene.

The adjuster will look for any reason to deny or reduce an uninsured motorist settlement. They might argue that the alleged at-fault driver did not actually cause the accident, or that you shared blame for your injuries.

Don’t rely on the insurance adjuster for legal advice. They are not on your side.

An experienced personal injury attorney knows how insurance adjusters work and will be ready to fight back on your behalf. Your attorney can navigate any complexities or uncertainties with your claim and the filing process.

Hit-and-Run Accident Claims

You’ll have even more obstacles to overcome if you’re the victim in a hit-and-run accident. Insurance companies are very suspicious of injury and damage claims caused by a “phantom driver.”

Unfortunately, to guard against fraudulent claims, many insurance companies require a statement from a credible third-party witness.

A good third-party witness is not connected to you or your passengers and has nothing to gain from their testimony. The insurance company may not accept statements from passengers in your vehicle.

Why Underinsured Motorist Coverage is Important

UIM coverage can pay for your damages in the event of an accident with an underinsured driver.

Many drivers only get the minimum amount of insurance coverage mandated by state law. If a car accident results in injury expenses above those minimum requirements, that’s when UIM coverage kicks in.

No-Fault vs Traditional Liability States

In no-fault insurance states, the injured person must rely on their Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage before filing a liability claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance.

In traditional liability or “tort” states, the injured person relies on the at-fault driver’s liability insurance to cover their damages.

Most states require drivers to carry minimum auto insurance of no less than $25,000 in bodily injury (BI) liability coverage per person. BI liability helps cover an injured person’s medical expenses, out-of-pocket costs, lost wages, and more.

Consider the scenario where you’re involved in an accident with someone who has insurance, but not enough to cover your damages. When serious injuries keep you from working, you might be left with thousands of dollars in medical bills and related expenses after you’ve exhausted the at-fault driver’s insurance limits.

Case Example: Driver with Minimum Coverage Causes High-Dollar Injuries

Hank rear-ends Jane at high speed. Jane’s car is totaled, and she suffers severe neck and back injuries.

Hank carries his state’s minimum auto insurance coverage limits of $25,000 per person for bodily injury liability and $10,000 property damage liability.

Hank’s insurance company accepts his liability for the crash. The property damage claim for Jane’s car is paid in full.

Jane’s auto insurance policy has liability limits of $100,000 per person for bodily injury and matching limits of $100,000 for uninsured and underinsured bodily injury coverage.

Jane spends two weeks in the hospital, then undergoes a month of rehabilitation. She lost two months of income before her doctor released her to return to work.

While Jane was recovering, her car accident attorney notified both insurance companies that Jane suffered serious injuries from the collision caused by Hank. The attorney put Hank’s insurance company on notice of Jane’s liability claim and put Jane’s insurance company on notice of a potential UIM claim.

Hank’s insurer tendered their liability policy limits of $25,000. Because Hank’s insurance was insufficient to cover all of Jane’s damages, her attorney filed an underinsured motorist claim on Jane’s behalf.

Jane’s attorney argued that her injury claim was worth $125,000 for her medical bills, lost wages, and her significant pain and suffering.

Accounting for Hank’s $25,000 liability limits, Jane’s attorney demanded the remaining $100,000 from her underinsured motorist coverage. After a few rounds with the adjuster, Jane’s attorney negotiated an underinsured motorist coverage settlement for $90,000.

UM/UIM Claims Must Be Processed in Good Faith

Many drivers assume that UM or UIM coverage will automatically kick in whenever they’re involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Rarely, if ever, will your insurance company voluntarily write you a check.

Like any other business, an insurance company is out to make money. Their adjusters are trained to minimize or deny insurance claims, even when the policyholder is the claimant.

The adjuster may question if your medical treatment is necessary, dismiss your pain and suffering, and use other negotiation tactics to delay settling a first-party insurance claim.

Your insurance company may even defend the other driver’s position to limit the amount of your payout.

However, insurance companies have a legal duty to handle insurance claims fairly and in good faith. If your insurance adjuster violates that duty, you may have grounds for a bad faith claim against the insurance company.

Bad faith claims are extra-contractual, meaning “outside of the contract.” If you win a bad faith lawsuit against your insurance company you will be awarded money damages above the limits of the coverage they refused to pay.

You’ll need a good personal injury lawyer when your insurance company is challenging your first-party claim. Most attorneys offer free consultations for car accident victims.

Accidents with Uninsured or Underinsured Driver Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>