If you get into a car accident with an uninsured driver, and it turns out that the uninsured driver is at least partially at fault, you have two main options:
In the sections that follow, we'll take a closer look at these options.
Filing a car accident lawsuit against an uninsured driver is not generally worth your while. This is because most uninsured drivers have little or no money or assets. So, even if you win a judgment against the other driver, he/she still has no money, and you are probably not going to get any money from the judgment because, as you may have heard, you can’t get blood from a stone.
In most situations, the much better way to proceed if you are injured by an uninsured driver is to file a claim with your own car car insurance company, under the uninsured motorist coverage provision of your policy.
The first rule in filing an uninsured driver claim against your insurer is to do it sooner rather than later. Some car insurance policies place strict deadlines for notification of any potential uninsured motorist claims. The deadline could be very short indeed. So don’t wait. If it turns out that the other driver does actually have car insurance, your automobile insurer will not penalize you, and you can just proceed with a regular claim against the other driver’s insurance company.
First, the other driver might just tell you that he/she has no insurance. However, this may not necessarily be true. The other driver might just want to try to get out of reporting the accident to his/her own insurer. If you get into an accident with another driver who claims that he/she has no car insurance, get proof of that. Call the police and have them come to the scene. Police don’t take no for an answer. The police can often check the department of motor vehicles database from the scene and figure out whether the driver has car insurance coverage.
But, if you leave the scene and still can’t figure out if the other driver has insurance, call your own insurer and ask it to check. Insurance companies in many states can also access the motor vehicle insurance database and find out if a driver has car insurance.
If it turns out that the other driver truly has no insurance, then inform your insurer immediately that you intend to file an uninsured claim against your insurance company.
In general, an uninsured driver claim progresses in the same way as a regular car accident claim, except that the claim is against your own insurance company. Your insurer will assign an adjuster to your case, and the adjuster will evaluate the case just like a regular car accident claim.
The first thing that you have to do is prove fault for the car accident. You always have to prove negligence in any personal injury case. Uninsured driver cases are no exception. So, you have to convince your insurer that the uninsured driver was indeed negligent. You have to explain to the adjuster what happened and you should send the adjuster pictures of the accident scene and of the damage to the automobiles, just like a regular car accident claim.
Then, you should send your adjuster copies of your medical records and bills and proof of your lost earnings. The adjuster may ask you to attend a so-called “independent medical examination,” which is an examination with a doctor selected by the adjuster. Then, when you are finished with your medical treatment, you and the adjuster will try to settle the claim.
The most important difference between a regular car accident claim and an uninsured driver claim is that, if you and your insurer cannot settle the claim, you cannot file a lawsuit against your insurer. Instead, you have to go to binding arbitration, which is a somewhat more informal procedure than a lawsuit. Arbitrations have pretrial investigation (called discovery) just like lawsuits in court. Each side can send each other written questions (called interrogatories) and document requests and can take depositions of the relevant witnesses in the case.
But if you and the insurer still can’t settle the case, then, instead of a trial, there would be a hearing in front of an arbitrator (or sometimes a panel of three arbitrators). A big difference between arbitration and a lawsuit is that, unlike a court trial, the losing side in an arbitration has very limited rights of appeal. Basically, the losing side in an arbitration is stuck with the decision.
Learn more about arbitration of car accident claims.
One last important thing to know: Uninsured motorist benefits cannot exceed the amount of your primary coverage. For example, if you have $100,000 in coverage for your own potential negligence, you can only have up to $100,000 in uninsured benefits -- and remember that under the terms of your policy, your UIM coverage limits may actually be lower.