Uninsured and Underinsured Drivers and Your Injury Claim
After an accident with a driver who proves to be uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM), you must follow certain claims procedures in order to be compensated for the injuries and damages you suffer. Most often, the compensation available to you comes from your own automobile insurance carrier. These claims frequently involve drivers who have a history of collisions or who have drunk driving accidents in their past. This is often the reason they either have little or no liability insurance. In order to protect your rights, you should make sure you have UM/UIM coverage under your insurance policy and contact a lawyer with experience handling these types of claims when the need arises.
Uninsured Motorist Claims and California Law
After an injury accident, you may find yourself in the position of having been injured by an uninsured driver. When this occurs, most often you will need to seek compensation from your own automobile insurance carrier and through any uninsured motorist coverage available. In California, automobile insurance carriers must offer their insureds uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. California Insurance Code Section 11580.2. If the insured chooses not to receive this coverage, they must waive this statutory right in writing.
Where the coverage is present in your automobile insurance policy, as it usually is, the coverage available must be equal to the liability limits of your policy. So, if your liability limits are $50,000.00 (per claim)/$100,000.00 (per accident) your UM coverage will likely be the same. Some people don't want to pursue their own insurance company for their injuries and damages, but this is a right provided for in the law, and this coverage is paid by the premiums you send your carrier every month.
After an injury accident and once you have established that the "at-fault" driver was uninsured (and this information is often found in the police report), you will next turn to your insurance carrier to pursue a UM injury claim. In order to "perfect" your right to UM coverage, you will need to file a lawsuit against the uninsured driver or submit a formal demand for arbitration to your automobile insurance carrier within two years from the date of the accident. These types of claims are presented almost identically to other injury claims, however, there is no jury trial. Instead, when the injured party and their insurance company cannot agree on the amount of a settlement, the dispute is decided by a neutral arbitrator, usually an experienced attorney or retired judge. The arbitration process is generally more streamlined and less expensive than a court jury trial. UM arbitrations are often completed in just a few days versus the 2-3 weeks it takes to complete a civil jury trial.
What if the At-Fault Driver Doesn't Have Enough Insurance
Another common scenario that occurs all too often is one in which the driver causing the accident does not have enough liability insurance to fully compensate you for all of your injuries and damages. When this happens, you may need to present an underinsured motorist (UIM) claim to your automobile insurance carrier. While there is no lawsuit requirement or formal demand that must be made within two years, you must receive all of the insurance money available under the at-fault driver's liability policy before you have "perfected" your UIM claim.
By way of example, this is how a UIM claim often works: You are rear-ended by a negligent driver who carries only a $15,000.00/$30,000.00 liability insurance policy. Your injuries resulted in medical bills of $10,000.00 and pain and suffering damages of $20,000.00. First, you pursue the at-fault driver's insurance and are paid the maximum, $15,000.00. Then, you present a UIM claim to your own insurance company with whom you have a $30,000.00 limit. So, you will wind up receiving $15,000.00 from the first insurance company and another $15,000.00 from your own insurer, for a total of $30,000.00.
It is easy to see just how important it is to make you have UM/UIM coverage under your automobile insurance policy AND that you carry a reasonable limit. Drunk drivers and habitually careless drivers tend to be uninsured or underinsured. Frequently, tragic stories about drunk and reckless drivers are reported in the media, including one involving a fatality earlier this month. According to that news story, the alleged at-fault driver had three prior DUI convictions and unresolved warrants for even more incidents at the time of the tragic collision that killed a 74-year-old man in Orange County.
A Free Consultation is Often the Best First Step
After an accident involving an uninsured or underinsured motorist, contacting a seasoned injury attorney may be the best first step you take toward obtaining compensation for your injuries and damages. Orange injury lawyer Paul Ralph has 30 years of experience handling UM and UIM claims. His centrally located office in the City of Orange allows him to serve clients all over Orange County and in the greater Southern California area. Contact Mr. Ralph at the telephone number above or by email for a free consultation.