The Ultimate Guide to Dealing with an Uninsured Motorist

One of life’s constant frustrations is playing by the rules, doing the right thing, and watching the results of hard work threatened by someone who does not or cannot act responsibly. You can work, save and manage risk by having insurance, but all of that may seem futile if an at-fault motorist driving a vehicle crashes into your vehicle or property and causes catastrophic damage, both to property and to people. Nothing can bring back life and health when it is significantly damaged. Unfortunately, California has the highest number of uninsured drivers in the country. However, you can at least have the peace of mind to know that it will not destroy your business or estate. Attorneys can structure risk management and estate planning tools to thwart the harm of uninsured motorists as much as possible.

Uninsured Motorists Vs. Underinsured Motorists

If you are lucky after an unlucky accident, the insurance of the motorist who collides with you and is at fault may be enough to cover your property repair costs and the medical bills of you and anyone else who is harmed. If the driver’s liability insurance does not cover the damages that he has caused, he is considered underinsured. If he does not have any insurance, he is considered uninsured.

Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Let us say that Driver X causes an accident and only has insurance coverage for $50,000 in property damage. If Driver X destroys a vehicle that costs $100,000 to replace, then there is a $50,000 shortfall. If the victim of the accident does not have insurance, or her insurance does not cover the damage, then there is a chance that she will not be made whole, particularly if Driver X is insolvent. The chances that Driver X is insolvent is higher if he is driving without insurance or minimum insurance coverage. Underinsured motorist coverage would step in and cover the difference between the at-fault motorist’s policy limit and the cost of the damage he caused.

In a situation different from the above, where the victim experiences an injury and is subjected to subsequent lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, burial costs, etc., underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage could reimburse the victim for some of the costs.

States that require underinsured motorist coverage

Several states require drivers to carry underinsured motorist coverage of one type or another so that personal injuries and property damage are covered in significantly more situations. These states include Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont, among others. (Underinsured Motorist Coverage).

How to Prove an Uninsured Motorist Claim

Your factual circumstance could require a different approach, but generally the first step is to notify your insurance company. (If you are reading this on the side of the road and emergency services are required, close your browser and call 911, of course!) Many insurance companies provide you with a checklist for “What to do if you get in an accident.” For example, major insurance carrier Geico recommends the following steps:

-Check to see if anyone was hurt

-Call 911, to request any needed medical assistance

-Move your car to a safe location, but do not leave the scene

-Do not admit fault or reveal your policy limits

-Contact the police. They’ll send an officer if necessary

-Exchange information with those involved

-If your car isn’t drivable, request roadside assistance

What information should you collect?

-Names, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and email addresses of the other driver(s), all vehicle occupants, and witnesses

-Location of the incident

-Photos of the scene and all vehicles involved, including tag numbers

-Insurance information from others involved: company name, policy number, and phone number

-If emergency services respond, make a note of: Police report number, Phone number, and Officer name and badge number

After reporting the claim: if eligible, make an appointment for a damage inspection.

This particular carrier lets you collect and store information on its mobile app, as well as file claims on-line or by phone. Note that most insurance carriers’ checklists do not include a call to your attorney, but we recommend that you place that call after all emergencies have been taken care of if there are substantial injuries or property damage.

How Your Attorney Can Help You

Insurance companies are as maligned as attorneys, and we have our opinion which we will keep to ourselves, discretion being the better part of valor. In this situation we can clearly provide you the support you need, particularly if you are not satisfied with your insurance company’s decision regarding coverage. Insurance policies are complicated and there is case law and state law that may be marshaled on your behalf to make sure that you receive the compensation that you deserve. As attorneys, we have experience with the medical industry, and we can provide advice if you or your passengers have injuries that will require expensive ongoing treatment. In some instances, subrogation may come up and we have experience making sure that the process is fair. In short, insurance companies have the right to be reimbursed if you are successful in a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

With more and more commercial driving services employing drivers, such as Lyft and Uber, and more delivery services carrying goods for online retailers like Amazon, or meals for restaurants, it is important to have representation if the driver is working or may be working for an employer who may have insurance that will cover the costs of the incident.

Guarding yourself and your Assets

An ounce of caution is worth a pound of cure, and even if we cannot prevent bad driving and behavior by third parties, we can take steps to mitigate the damage. Our experienced attorneys can provide planning tools and legal instruments to reduce the harm caused by irresponsible individuals. We are happy to assist by fielding your questions, providing legal advice, examining your estate plan and any task that can help move you towards this step. Call the trusted estate planning attorneys at Lowthorp, Richards, McMillan, Miller & Templeman at (805) 981-8555 or fill out our online contact form. Our attorneys live and work primarily in the California Tri-Counties area – Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo.

NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.

Cristian R. Arrieta, Lowthorp Richards McMillan Miller & Templeman, A Professional Corporation, 300 E. Esplanade Drive Suite 850, Oxnard, CA 93036