Uninsured motorists are a major problem across the U.S. according to many recent studies including one conducted by the Insurance Research Council. The most recent report, entitled, “Uninsured Motorists, 2014 Edition”, concluded, based upon their research, that the problem of drivers operating motor vehicles without insurance has grown steadily worse in the last several years. States of particular concern are Florida (where an estimated 15-25 percent of drivers are uninsured), California (with an estimated 4.1 Million uninsured motorists) and Texas (with almost 2 million drivers without insurance). While the economy does seem to have an impact on drivers choosing to go without insurance on their vehicles, it doesn’t seem to be the major factor. Stricter laws and enforcement has also not seemed to have as much of an impact in increasing persons driving within the financial responsibility laws of the state. The trend seems to be on a slow but steady rise and has been for decades.
What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage and How Can It Protect You From Expenses Related to An Accident with An Uninsured or Underinsured Driver?
Every major U.S. Auto Insurance Carrier and most minor carriers offer “uninsured motorist coverage” (UM), which will pay for personal injury and property damage that results from being hit by a driver operating without liability insurance coverage or even from a “hit and run” situation where the driver at fault is unknown. Along with this, most carriers also offer “underinsured motorist coverage” (UIM), which will pay the difference between your policy limit and that of a driver who is driving with lower limits, including minimal auto liability insurance coverage. For a full discussion of these issues click here.
What can you do to protect yourself from uninsured motorists?
Most states require a person injured by an uninsured or under insured driver to either bring an action against the uninsured driver or actually obtain payment of their policy limits (in the case of UIM coverage) as a pre-cursor to being able to make a claim with their own insurance for UM/UIM. Depending upon the laws of your particular state, there may be a requirement of proving “physical contact” between vehicles or drivers as a prerequisite of coverage in the case of a “hit and run”. In California, for example, some “physical contact” need be proven but, it can be either between the vehicles or striking a wheel or tire or the body of a motorcyclist or other examples of contact. UM/UIM claims are even possible in bicycle or motorcycle accident cases if the party had this coverage in their policy and there were no exclusions. Debates often arise between the insurance carrier and the insured on issues of coverage including exclusions and exemptions. In essence, these are contractual issues between the parties.
In addition, the “reasonableness” of medical expenses will almost always be in “dispute” with the auto insurance carrier along with what is a proper value for the “general damages” for physical pain and emotional distress related to the incident. If the parties cannot agree that there is coverage and what the reasonable value of the UM/UIM settlement should be, this may have to be settled by way of formal litigation or arbitration. Filing a lawsuit for breach of contract or “insurance bad faith” is not a simple procedure. Likewise, many policies mandate that these issues be “arbitrated”. An arbitration is a more informal process but, still involves appointing a third party referee (usually a retired judge or attorney) to decide the issues. Evidence must still be presented at the arbitration hearing to support both that there was UM/UIM coverage based upon the facts and that the amounts claimed for personal injury including present and future medical expenses and lost income was reasonable.
As pointed out above, there is one, simple solution for those of us who obey the laws and carry auto insurance coverage on our vehicles: Make sure you have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage within your policy. However, this is only the first step. Having insurance coverage is one thing. Getting an insurance carrier to pay full value for the personal injuries and property damage sustained in an accident is quite another. As we have pointed out in numerous posts, insurance carriers do not pay claims without a struggle. This is as true for UM claims as it is for a “third party” claim against a driver who does have insurance an is at fault in the accident. Hiring an attorney to represent you during the UM claims process can make the difference between being stuck with medical expenses and other out of pocket costs or having this fully paid by insurance and receiving additional compensation for physical pain, mental suffering and the disruption to your life that a car crash with injuries can cause.