What If I'm Hit By an Uninsured Driver?

If your car accident was caused by an uninsured driver, your uninsured motorist (UM) coverage will kick in, if you have it. If your car insurance policy doesn't include UIM coverage, your options are limited.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of drivers on the road today who carry no car insurance on their vehicles -- in part because of the cost of coverage. If you get into a car accident with an uninsured driver, the first and best place to turn for compensation for your injuries is the uninsured motorist (UM) coverage of your own car insurance policy. Of course, if you don't have UM coverage (it's not required in most states), you still have options, but your prospects for getting a complete financial recovery for your losses probably aren't very good. Read on for the details.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage Basics

Most uninsured motorist coverage will pay up to your policy’s UM limits for injuries caused to:

  • you while driving or riding in the vehicle named in your policy, while driving or riding in any vehicle you do not own, or while a pedestrian
  • a relative who lives with you and is injured while driving or riding in the vehicle named in your policy
  • anyone else riding in or driving your insured vehicle with your permission, or
  • anyone riding in a vehicle you are driving but do not own.

The Limits of UM Coverage

UM coverage places limits on when you may collect compensation and on how much you may receive:

  • Some UM coverage includes accidents with unidentified hit-and-run drivers. Such coverage doesn’t apply unless you or your vehicle was actually hit by the other car; being forced off the road by a driver who disappears is not sufficient. If your UM coverage includes hit-and-runs, your policy probably requires you to notify the police within 24 hours of the accident.
  • Other UM coverage includes hit-and-runs only when you are able to identify the driver or the vehicle.
  • If you are injured while on the job, your UM payments will be reduced by any workers’ compensation or other disability payments you receive.
  • If you receive payments for medical bills from your own insurance company under medical payments coverage, the amount you are entitled to recover under UM coverage will be reduced by the amount of those medical payments.
  • If you or a relative is injured by an uninsured motorist while you are in another person’s car, the UM coverage of that other car’s owner is the primary coverage, and your own UM coverage is secondary. You can collect from your own UM coverage only the amount of your damages that is not covered by that car owner’s UM policy.

UM and Property (Vehicle) Damage. Check the specific language in your policy to see whether, and under what terms, your UM coverage pays for vehicle damage. If property damage is not included in your UM coverage, you can look for property damage compensation under the collision coverage of your policy. If your uninsured motorist coverage does not include property damage and you do not carry collision coverage, you will have to pay out of your own pocket for damage to your vehicle.

The UM Claim Process

If you file a claim under your UM coverage, an insurance adjuster from your insurance company will handle your claim just as if it were a regular liability claim. You will negotiate with the adjuster about the other person’s liability, the extent of your own comparative negligence, and the extent of your injuries and other damages.

That's how uninsured motorist coverage works. To learn about underinsured motorist insurance, check out our companion article Underinsured Motorist Coverage: How It Works.

Suing the Uninsured Driver

If the other driver has no car insurance, and you don't have UM coverage, then any money is going to have to come directly from the at-fault driver's pockets, and you’ll need to file a car accident lawsuit to get it. But, even if you win a judgment in court, collecting on that judgment is going to be a different story. Practically speaking, if someone is driving around without insurance, it could be because they can’t afford to pay for coverage, and that means they probably don't have much in the way of money and assets.

If the defendant does not pay the judgment, you can go back to court to apply for a court order requiring the defendant to pay you. However, courts recognize that a winning plaintiff can’t get blood from a stone, and will not require a legitimately indigent defendant to pay a judgment.

The Payment Plan Option. If the court finds that the defendant does have some money, the court might set up a payment plan, and have the defendant pay you a certain amount per week. This will probably not be a very satisfying result, especially since any time the defendant stops paying, you and your lawyer will have to go back to court and start the whole enforcement procedure over again.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

For more tips on figuring out insurance coverage after a car accident, and in-depth information on what to expect at every step in your case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And if you’re thinking about filing a lawsuit after a car accident, you may want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.

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