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Uninsured Motorists

Uninsured Motorists - An Overview

All states have laws that require drivers to show proof of their financial ability to pay for personal injury or property damage to others from an automobile accident. Most drivers satisfy this requirement by purchasing insurance, but many cannot afford or choose to ignore this obligation. It is also not uncommon for insurance companies to become insolvent, potentially leaving their policyholders without liability coverage. Accordingly, responsible drivers who carry insurance must bear the burden of paying for their own injuries or vehicle damage caused by someone who has no insurance coverage. Alternatively, some drivers purchase the lowest required levels of liability coverage, which can be insufficient to cover the damages incurred by someone injured in an accident with them. Unfortunately, many people realize too late the importance of uninsured/underinsured coverage - after they or their family members have already been injured by an uninsured or underinsured motorist.

If you or a loved one was involved in an accident and there is an issue of inadequate insurance coverage, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you sort out the legal issues.

Uninsured motorist coverage is a voluntary form of insurance offered by all automobile insurance companies. Uninsured motorist coverage is coverage you purchase from your own insurance company that pays for bodily injury losses to you and your passengers from an accident with a driver who is legally responsible for the injuries, but has no liability coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage can also apply when someone is injured in an accident with a hit-and-run vehicle, whose owner and operator cannot be identified.

Underinsured motorist coverage pays for bodily injury damages to a policyholder and/or his or her passengers as a result of an accident with an at-fault driver who has liability insurance, but with limits that are lower than the injured party's underinsured motorist limits.

Uninsured motorist coverage was not developed until the 1950's, but by 1984, although it was then optional in 30 states, nearly all auto insurance purchasers chose to purchase this type of coverage. Studies have shown that 50 percent of motorists in major states drive without any insurance at all; moreover, the percentage of uninsured motorists can vastly exceed 50 percent in the inner cities of many major metropolitan areas. Many states have passed laws that have reduced the number of uninsured motorists on the road, yet there will always be people who allow their policies to lapse by paying premiums late or not paying them at all. Therefore, it is very important to purchase adequate uninsured motorist coverage. The relatively modest premiums charged for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage is money well spent.

Protecting Yourself against Uninsured Motorists

In order to determine whether you will be protected in the event of an accident with an uninsured driver, you should closely examine your insurance policy, the declaration sheet, and any exclusions or riders that accompany it. Uninsured and underinsured benefits will usually appear as separate line items on your declaration sheet. Next to them will be figures representing the maximum coverage per individual and the maximum coverage per accident or occurrence. You should follow up with your insurance agent with questions or concerns.

It is very common for consumers to purchase small amounts of uninsured motorist coverage, which is a decision they sometimes regret once they are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist. For example, a driver might purchase $100,000 in liability coverage, which would cover that driver in an accident for which he or she is at fault, but only $20,000 in uninsured motorist coverage. If that driver is involved in an accident with an uninsured driver who is liable for the accident, the insured driver will only be entitled to receive up to $20,000 for his or her losses, no matter how much they really are. Accordingly, you should consider purchasing as much uninsured motorist coverage as you do regular coverage.

Accidents Involving Uninsured Motorists

There are two scenarios in which you may be able to obtain uninsured motorist benefits:

1. An uninsured driver causes an accident and you suffer a serious injury;
2. An unidentifiable driver causes an accident and you suffer a serious injury.

In order to demand your uninsured benefits under the first scenario, you must be able to verify that the other driver was in fact uninsured. This is usually fairly simple, yet it is your burden to produce evidence, such as a statement from the driver's insurance company or the Secretary of State confirming a lack of insurance. Next, you must prove that the uninsured driver caused the accident. Fault is easier to prove in some cases than in others. In any accident situation, you should do the following:

1. Obtain as many witness names, addresses, and telephone numbers as possible;
2. Call the police and be sure to get a copy of the accident report;
3. Take as many notes about the accident as possible; and
4. Be evaluated at the nearest emergency room and diligently follow your doctor's advice.

Under the scenario where the at-fault driver is unidentifiable, such as a hit and run driver, you must prove that the at-fault driver's vehicle made physical contact with yours. Unfortunately, an accident caused by the aggressive or reckless driving of a vehicle that does not come into actual physical contact with yours is not covered by most uninsured motorist policies. Proving that you were struck by a hit-and-run driver can sometimes be difficult; therefore, it is of the utmost importance to gather witnesses, contact the police and your insurance company, photograph your vehicle, and go to the hospital immediately.

Proving Uninsured Status

An uninsured motorist's own insurance company will probably be quick to provide you with any documentation you request to show the lapse, cancellation, or nonexistence of an automobile liability policy for the individual, since the company will want to establish that it does not owe coverage relative to the accident. Alternatively, when you know the identity of the driver, you can order his or her driving record and insurance information from your state's Secretary of State Office. Obviously, if you are unable to identify the driver who caused the accident, you are unable to determine his or her insurance status. Therefore, you must present your insurance company with the facts and reasons why you are unable to identify the driver. Having the supporting statements of witnesses who also saw what happened, but can't identify the driver, is very helpful in this regard. Sometimes the reason no identification can be made is simply because the other vehicle bore no license plate.

Proving an Uninsured Driver's Fault

If you are involved in an accident with an unidentifiable driver, you must show that his or her negligence caused the accident and your resulting injuries. Such evidence could be your own statement, the specific damage to your vehicle, police reports, and independent witness statements. In a way, you have an advantage in proving your case because no one will advocate on behalf of the other driver. Nonetheless, many states have enacted laws that make it difficult to prevail in uninsured motorist claims. For example, some states have laws that prohibit injured parties from recovering if they are determined to have been over 50 percent at fault in causing the accident. Therefore, if the cause of the accident is not entirely clear, you should hire an attorney to assist you in presenting your claim to your insurer. If your own driving, poor weather, poor road conditions, or an insured third party contributed to causing the accident in question, it might behoove you to pursue redress other than uninsured motorist benefits for your injuries.

Proving the Value of Your Claim

In the event of an accident with an uninsured driver, the most you can recover from your insurance company are your uninsured motorist policy limits, which you selected when you purchased your insurance. Insurance companies will often endeavor to pay as little as possible under the policies they issue and in an uninsured motorist situation, you bear the burden of establishing the extent of your injuries and level of recovery to which you are entitled. The fair settlement value of your case is determined by the extent of your injuries. Usually, even if your injuries are severe, your insurance company will not simply write you a check for the policy limits. To establish the extent of your injuries, it is important that you receive immediate medical care, follow your doctor's advice, and get as much care as is reasonable. Without adequate medical care, you may hinder your physical recovery and you may be unable to prove the threshold level of injury required under your uninsured motorist policy.

If you are unable to convince your insurance company that an uninsured or underinsured driver was as fault in causing an accident in which you were injured, you should contact an attorney immediately. If your claim cannot be resolved, you might need to file a lawsuit or request an arbitration hearing. Whichever course your case takes, it is your burden to prove that you were injured due to the uninsured or underinsured driver's fault. If you establish this and your claim is successful, your insurance company has a contractual obligation to pay your benefits. If it refuses or does not negotiate a settlement with you in good faith, you might then proceed with a breach of contract action against your insurer. In any event, the expertise of an attorney will be a significant factor in your ability to recover the benefits to which you are entitled. Underinsured Motorist Benefits

Even if you are involved in an accident with a driver whom you can identify and who carries liability insurance, you may be entitled to collect underinsured motorist benefits if your damages exceed the amount of insurance the at-fault driver carries. In order to collect underinsured motorist benefits, you must first establish the fault of the underinsured driver. As in the uninsured motorist scenario, you must prove that an underinsured driver was responsible for your accident and that you suffered significant injuries. An important prerequisite for collecting underinsured motorist benefits is that you must collect the at-fault driver's policy limits before you can collect under your own insurance policy. Once you have collected the other driver's policy limits, you can demand that your insurance company pay you underinsured motorist benefits under your policy, to the extent required to fully compensate you for your injuries. Note, however, that your insurance company is entitled to a setoff, or credit, of any recovery you receive from the underinsured motorist's policy. For example, if you suffer severe injuries totaling $100,000, caused by a driver who carried only $50,000 in liability insurance, and you have an underinsured motorist policy in the amount of $100,000, once you collect the at-fault driver's $50,000 policy limit, you may then proceed against your own insurance company for your remaining damages. Your insurance company, however, is entitled to a $50,000 setoff of the amount you received from the other driver's policy and is required to pay only $50,000 of your $100,000 policy limit.

Conclusion

Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage are forms of insurance that protect you in the event you are injured by someone who does not have adequate insurance to compensate you for your injuries. It is advisable to ask your insurance agent how much it would cost to add or increase such coverage.

If you, a passenger, or a member of your household is injured in an automobile accident, you should preserve as much evidence of the accident as you can and seek medical attention immediately. Your next step should be to read your insurance policy regarding the handling of such claims. Do not delay in doing so, because some policies require you to submit to a sworn statement within 30 days of the accident. If you require assistance, you should contact your insurance agent or, better yet, an attorney to assist you.

If you or a loved one was involved in an accident and there is an issue of inadequate insurance coverage, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to help you sort out the legal issues.

Copyright © 2012 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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