Injured by a driver with little or no insurance? Learn how to increase your compensation for Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist claims.
The number of car accident victims hit by an uninsured motorist 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 at-fault driver with no insurance, or without enough insurance to pay your medical bills, you may be able to turn to your own auto policy for compensation.
Your insurance company has a duty to treat you fairly and protect your interests. The hard fact is your insurance company is also looking out for their bottom line.
Learn how to file a strong uninsured or underinsured motorist claim. It also helps to understand the role of PIP and collision coverage. Knowledge is power when it comes to getting the compensation you deserve for your injuries and vehicle damage.
What is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
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.
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
Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) helps pay for your damages when you’re hit by a driver without liability insurance.
More than 20 states require UM bodily injury coverage. A handful require UM for bodily injuries and property damage.
Bodily injury damages include:
- Medical bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Burial expenses
Property damages include:
- Vehicle repair costs
- Rental costs while your car is in the shop
- Your car’s value, if it’s a total loss (up to coverage limits)
- The value of personal property lost in the crash
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) helps pay for your damages when you’ve been injured by a driver who has insurance, but not enough to cover your damages.
Example of an undersinsured driver claim:
Nancy was driving down Mission Street when her car was violently T-boned by a van driven by Carlos, who had run a red light.
Nancy suffered from multiple broken bones and a serious traumatic brain injury. Her car was totaled.
Nancy’s medical bills totaled more than $80,000. Her car was valued at $19,000.
Carlos carried the state minimum liability insurance of $15,000 per person for bodily injury and $5000 for property damage.
The police investigation proved Carlos caused the accident. His insurance company paid the policy limits to Nancy, through her attorney.
Nancy carried underinsured motorist coverage equal to her liability limits of $100,000 per person for injuries, and $50,000 for property damage. Her attorney filed a UIM claim with her insurance company.
Nancy’s UIM coverage paid the remaining $65,000 of her injury damages and $14,000 toward her property damages.
Because she carried underinsured motorist coverage, Nancy was fully compensated for her damages.
Understanding Your Auto Insurance Policy
Vehicles on American roads should be covered by an auto liability insurance policy, whether it’s a personal auto policy or a commercial vehicle policy.
In every state, your auto policy must have bodily injury liability and property damage liability coverage. Liability coverage pays for injuries and property damage to others if you are to blame for an accident.
Many states also require policies to have uninsured motorist coverage (UM) to pay for your damages if you’re in an accident caused by a driver without valid insurance.
Some states also require underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) to help cover your damages if you’re injured in an accident caused by a driver with a low level of liability insurance. UIM coverage kicks in after you’ve exhausted the at-fault driver’s liability limits.
Find your location on this easy list of Auto Insurance Requirements by State
Depending on your state’s requirements, UI and UIM coverage may be separate items on your insurance policy. In states that require both, they may be grouped under one coverage heading on your policy.
Some states require the insurance company to offer uninsured and underinsured coverage to policyholders. The policyholder has a right to reject the coverage. However, for the rejection to be valid, the policyholder must sign a special waiver form.
In “waiver states” if the insurance company can’t produce a valid waiver form with your signature after an accident, they may have to “roll on” the UI or UIM coverage and pay your compensation.
Don’t take “No” for an answer. If the insurance company rejects your UI or UIM claim, contact a personal injury attorney to review your compensation options.
Other Auto Insurance Coverage Types
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, sometimes called Med-pay, will help cover your bodily injury damages no matter who caused the accident, up to the available limits. Passengers in your vehicle may be able to file claims under your PIP coverage.
PIP coverage is required in no-fault insurance states, but may not be offered in other locations.
Collision coverage will pay for property damage to your vehicle no matter who was at fault. You will probably have to pay a deductible, even though you didn’t cause the collision.
State law doesn’t require you to have collision coverage. However, if you have a car loan, carrying collision coverage may be a requirement of your financing.
Protect Your Claim After an Accident
Call 911: Call 911 after you’ve been in an accident, no matter the circumstances. Describe your location. Tell the dispatcher if you think you might be injured. Advise the dispatcher of dangers like leaking fuel or blocked traffic.
Driver’s Information: You will need the at-fault driver’s name, address, contact information, and insurance information. In most states, drivers are required to show their driver’s license when asked.
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.
We’ve made it easy to collect the information you need with a free Car Accident Information Form. Keep a copy with a pen in the same place you keep your proof of insurance.
Medical Evaluation: 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.
Good Evidence Will Help Your Claim
Photographic Evidence: 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, street signs and other indicators of location.
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 your uninsured motorist claim. That means you need to find a witness who doesn’t know you and who has nothing to gain from your claim.
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.
Police reports will include the date, time and location of the crash, information from the drivers, vehicle information, witness statements, citations issued, and the officer’s opinion of fault.
Insurance adjusters often rely on the police report to verify what happened in the accident. A copy of the report should be available within a week or two of the accident.
Lost Wages: Get a written statement of lost wages from your employer. The statement should also mention lost opportunities for overtime, and any vacation or sick leave you had to use because of the accident.
UI and UIM Claims Can Be Complicated
Promptly notify your insurance company after an accident, even if the at-fault driver claims to have insurance.
To start with, your auto policy likely has a “notification and cooperation” clause that means you agree to tell the insurance company about every accident, and you also agree to cooperate with the insurance company’s investigation of the accident.
The clause will have language 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…”
Your insurance company may have short deadlines for filing an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim. Some companies have deadlines as sort as 30 days.
Getting the Insurance Company to Accept your UM Claim
You may not find out right away that the at-fault driver was uninsured. The driver may have shown you and the police a valid-looking proof of insurance card, but later you find out their insurance had lapsed for non-payment.
Technically, the date you find out the driver was not insured is when the clock starts ticking on the filing deadline. That doesn’t mean your insurance company will accept your uninsured motorists claim if they think you missed the deadline.
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 by their testimony. The insurance company may not accept statements from passengers in your vehicle.
What to Expect from UIM Coverage
Because each insurance company has their own deadlines for accepting UI and UIM claims, it’s a good idea to put your insurance company on notice that you will file an underinsured motorist claim as needed.
In other words, you’re reserving the right to file a UIM claim if your damages, usually injury damages, exceed the limits of the at-fault driver’s liability insurance.
If you do need to pursue underinsured motorist coverage, you may forfeit your UIM claim if you release the at-fault driver. There are complicated legal reasons why a settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company can ruin your underinsured motorist claim.
Important: If you are seeking UIM compensation, talk to a skilled personal injury attorney before you sign any release or settlement agreement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Generally, your underinsured motorist coverage will cover expenses that exceed the at-fault driver’s liability limits.
For example, if your medical expenses are $50,000 and the at-fault driver only has $10,000 for bodily injury liability, and you have $50,000 in UIM coverage, you can ask your insurance to pay the remaining $40,000 of your medical bills after exhausting the driver’s $10,000 liability payout.
However, some policies only pay when your UIM coverage is more than the at-fault driver’s liability coverage.
For example, if your medical expenses are $50,000 and the at-fault driver only has $40,000 for bodily injury liability, and you have $10,000 in UIM coverage, your insurance company may not pay the remaining $10,000 of your medical expenses because your UIM limit is less than the at-fault driver’s liability limit.
Attorneys Can Increase Your Compensation
If you have recovered from minor soft-tissue injuries like bruises, muscle strain, or a mild whiplash, you should be able to negotiate claims for PIP and Collision coverage without an attorney. You won’t have to prove another driver caused the accident, even if it was a hit-and-run.
Your compensation will be the total of your medical expenses, lost wages, and car repairs. You will not be able to collect for pain and suffering.
Look like a pro using our free sample Personal Injury Demand Letter.
Severely injured victims of uninsured or underinsured drivers will need an attorney to get fair compensation. Hard injuries, like multiple fractures, spinal cord injuries, internal bleeding, and traumatic brain injuries require extensive and expensive treatment.
Severe injuries are high-dollar clams. Insurance companies will do whatever it takes to reduce or eliminate large payouts, even to their insureds. You’ll need an attorney to get anywhere near a fair amount of compensation for:
- Uninsured Motorist (UM) claims
- Underinsured Motorist (UIM) claims
- Wrongful death claims
- Lawsuits against the at-fault driver
Underinsured and uninsured driver claims often lead to complicated lawsuits and large compensation awards for injured claimants.
When your insurance company breaks state insurance rules, it’s called bad faith, and your attorney can seek thousands of dollars in extra damages on top of your injury award.
There just too much money at stake to handle underinsured or uninsured driver claims on your own. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a good attorney can do for you.
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Uninsured Driver Claim Questions & Answers
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