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Uninsured Motorist Accidents

Uninsured Driver Laws

Many times a person suffers serious personal injury from a car crash caused by a careless driver who flees the scene of the car accident. Unfortunately, his identity is unknown.

Before the passage of uninsured motorist laws, a person injured in an auto accident was left without a remedy. The law did not allow him to sue an unknown driver. Fortunately, over 60 years ago, uninsured motorist laws were passed in every state in the country. They protect people injured by motorists who have no insurance and by unknown motorists who flee the scene.

As an example, assume you are involved in a auto accident caused by a negligent, hit and run driver.

When a negligent driver flees the scene of an automobile accident and is unknown, Auto Accident law allows the injured person to bring a “John Doe” personal injury claim under his own uninsured motorist coverage with his own insurance company. There is no requirement that the injured person use diligence to find out his identity. As a result, you are entitled to bring a “John Doe” claim to compensate you for your car accident injury

In general, it is always a good idea to have at least some type of basic driver's insurance because a lack of automobile insurance may create many legal issues in the long run. Most states, including California, require all drivers to carry at least a minimum level of automobile insurance.

For example, if an individual does not have automobile insurance, it may negatively affect the way monetary damages are issued if there is a personal injury claim. In addition, in some states, not carrying automobile insurance can actually lead to criminal charges. Similar legal issues may come up for drivers who are underinsured as well.

Which States Do Not Require Car Insurance?

As of 2021, there are only two states which do not require automobile insurance. These are Virginia and New Hampshire.

Although these states do not require a driver to carry insurance, it is still in a driver's best interest. In Virginia, an individual will be required to pay an uninsured motorist fee of $500 to the DMV at the time they register their uninsured vehicle.

Although New Hampshire does not require automobile insurance, it does have a financial responsibility law. This law requires that the uninsured motorist have enough assets to pay for the damages which are caused in an accident if they choose not to have insurance coverage.

If a New Hampshire uninsured motorist causes an accident resulting in over $1,000 in damages or personal injury and they do not have the ability to pay for the damages and injuries caused, the state of New Hampshire may suspend their driver's license and registration until they have paid the compensation amount.

What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage? What is Underinsured Motorist Coverage?

Even though most states require that all drivers have some type of automobile insurance, there are still uninsured motorists causing accidents and issues for others on the roadways. Uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage assists in protecting individuals in the event that they have an automobile accident with a driver who either does not have enough coverage or has none at all.

UM coverage will pay after an automobile accident with an at-fault driver that had no insurance. UIM is used when an at-fault driver had some insurance, but it is not enough to cover all of the costs involved.

UM and UIM coverage will pay for medical bills and other expenses which an individual and their passengers may incur if the are in an automobile accident which was caused by:

  • A driver who did not carry any liability care insurance;
  • A driver who did not carry enough liability insurance to cover the other driver's medical bills; or
  • A driver whose insurance company denied their insurance coverage or went out of business.

Uninsured motorist coverage can pay for things such as:

  • Medical bills;
  • Lost wages if an individual is unable to work due to the accident;
  • Compensation for pain and suffering;
  • Funeral expenses; and
  • In certain states, vehicle damage, which is known as uninsured motorist property damages coverage.

In some states, uninsured motorist coverage is required. In other states, the insurance company is only required to offer the coverage and the individual can reject it if they choose to do so. If an individual resides in a state where the coverage is optional, it is a good idea to purchase the additional coverage.

Does My Policy Contain an Uninsured Motorist Clause?

In many states, although uninsured motorist coverage is not required, the individual must opt out of that option in writing. If an individual's automobile coverage does contain uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage, there will likely be a section in their policy addressing those issues.

If an individual is unsure whether or not their policy contains UM and UIM coverage, they can contact their policy provider and ask for that information. In addition, if they have a copy of their insurance policy, they can take it to an attorney for review.

Can an Uninsured Driver Recover Damages from a Car Accident?

In some states, the amount of damages which an uninsured driver is permitted to recover in a personal injury lawsuit may be limited. This may apply even if the individual was not at fault.

In the majority of states, an uninsured driver can be prohibited from claiming non-economic damages, including compensation for pain and suffering. These limitations on damages are intended to encourage drivers to carry some type of insurance.

In certain states, an uninsured driver can be exposed to increased liability. For example, an uninsured driver may be held liable for all damages caused to another driver's vehicle. In contrast, a driver who is carrying automobile insurance, their liability may be capped at a certain amount, such as $500 or $1,000.

Is it Possible to Recover Damages from an Uninsured Driver?

Suing an uninsured driver for damages may be possible. However, a plaintiff may have difficulty doing so. For example, an uninsured defendant will not be able to rely upon their insurance company when defending their claim in court.

If the defendant, or uninsured driver, loses their case, they will be required to pay for the plaintiff's damages with their own personal assets. This may be an issue if they are not able to pay.

This is common with many uninsured drivers who are uninsured because they cannot afford to pay the insurance costs. In these cases, they will likely not be able to afford the judgement cost from trial either.

In those types of cases, a court may order the seizure of a defendant's property and sell it through a judicial sale in order to cover those costs. Another possibility is that the court will order wage garnishment to be taken from the defendant's paychecks.

In some jurisdictions, a driver's license may be suspended if they have an unsatisfied judgment which resulted from an automobile accident. They may be unable to recover their license until that judgment is satisfied. Because of this, it is essential to have insurance, not just to cover basic costs of an accident but to avoid any unwanted legal consequences as well.

What are the Penalties for Driving Without Insurance?

If an individual gets caught driving without insurance, they may face several different types of penalties. This is especially true in states which have strict laws regarding care insurance.

If an individual is involved in an automobile accident and they did not have insurance, the penalties may be more severe, especially if the accident caused bodily injury or property damage.

There may be additional penalties, including:

  • Criminal penalties;
  • Fines; and
  • Extended jail time.

What are the Defenses to Driving Without Insurance?

Although there are no guaranteed defenses for uninsured drivers, a driver may attempt to make one of several arguments. Factors which a court may consider include:

  • Whether there was a substantial length of time during which a driver did not have insurance;
  • Whether the driver knew that they were driving without insurance;
  • Whether the insurance company informed the driver in a certified letter about policy revocation; and
  • Whether the driver was provided with adequate and proper notice about policy cancellation from their insurance company.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Uninsured Driver Laws?

It is essential to have the assistance of a car accident lawyer for any uninsured driver issues you may be facing, whether you are the uninsured driver or the other driver in an automobile accident. Uninsured driver laws vary widely by state and, in some cases, by the city or county.

Your attorney can advise you regarding the uninsured driver laws in your location. Your lawyer will also be able to advise you regarding the different types of remedies you may pursue, defenses you may present, and your rights during the settlement process.