When you’ve been injured in a car accident, the last thing you want to hear is that the driver who hit you didn’t have automobile insurance. Suddenly, an already-difficult experience becomes much more stressful. Who will pay your medical bills, pay to repair or replace your vehicle, and compensate you for other damages such as lost income?
The answer to that question depends on the specifics of the accident and the parties involved. The most important thing to know is that there are a variety of possible solutions, and it is well worth your time to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn more about how you may be able to recover damages.
Do You Have to Have Motorist Coverage in California?
Since California law requires all drivers to carry a minimum amount of motor vehicle liability insurance, you might believe that nearly all of the drivers on the road with you are carrying at least some insurance. However, according to the Insurance Research Council (IRC), more than 15% of California drivers are uninsured. That means that if you’re involved in a car accident in California, the odds are greater than one in 10 that the other driver will be uninsured.
In pure numerical terms, that statistic is even more daunting. 15% of the state’s more than 25,000,000 licensed drivers means more than 3,750,000 uninsured motorists in California
Alternative Means of Recovering Damages in an California Uninsured Motorist Case
Direct Recovery against the At-Fault Driver
Ideally, each driver involved in an accident will carry adequate automobile insurance to cover any injuries and damages associated with the accident. However, it’s important to remember that the at-fault driver’s insurance company pays for those damages under a contract with the driver. It is actually the driver himself or herself who is legally responsible for the damages.
Often, a driver who hasn’t bothered to purchase automobile insurance won’t have the means to compensate an accident victim out of his own pocket. However, when a motorist is uninsured, one of the first things your personal injury lawyer will do is investigate the responsible party’s assets. If the driver has significant assets, the injured party may be able to secure compensation directly from the driver. Even when the driver’s assets are limited, it may be worthwhile to secure a judgment, to ensure that the injury victim is in a position to collect against the driver if his or her financial circumstances change.
Alternative Responsible Parties for an Uninsured Driver Accident
The driver who causes an accident isn’t necessarily the only party who is legally responsible for injuries and other damages. Other possible responsible parties will vary depending on the circumstances, but some possibilities may include:
• The manufacturer of a vehicle or vehicle part, if a defect contributed to the accident
• A city or other governmental entity, if poor road planning or maintenance contributed to the accident
• The driver’s employer, if he or she was driving in the course of employment at the time of the accident
• A passenger, if the passenger distracted the driver or otherwise helped to cause the accident
• The owner of the vehicle, if he or she negligently entrusted it to the driver who caused the accident
• A bar that overserved the driver, if he or she was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident
Often, additional responsible parties like those listed here will be far better able to compensate accident victims. Commercial and governmental entities typically carry more extensive insurance coverage than individual drivers, and also have greater resources should their insurance coverage prove inadequate. In fact, these additional possible defendants are worth exploring even when the responsible driver is insured, or has assets from which to compensate the accident victim.
Is it Against the Law to Drive Without Insurance in California?
California law does not require motorists to carry uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. However, the insurance company must offer you this type of coverage when you purchase your liability policy. There are three separate types of coverage available:
• Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UMBI) coverage pays for injuries when you have been injured by an uninsured motorist. If you choose to purchase UMBI, the coverage limits are the same as your liability insurance limits.
• Uninsured Motorist Property Damage (UMPD) pays for property damage caused by an uninsured motorist. However, recovery is capped at $3,500.
• Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury (UIM) pays the excess, up to your coverage limits, when you are injured by an insured driver whose coverage limits are too low to fully compensate you for your injuries.
Underinsured motorist coverage may be necessary to fill the gap when a driver carries only the mandatory minimum liability insurance. A legally insured driver in California may be carrying as little as $15,000 per injured person, with a $30,000 per accident cap.
Your own uninsured motorist coverage is the most obvious and direct source of recovery when you’ve been injured by an uninsured motorist. However, don’t expect the insurance company to simply write you a check. Even though you are the company’s customer and they have a direct contract with you to cover just this sort of incident, they won’t be eager to pay out a large sum of money. Instead, the insurance company may put up a fight, perhaps even requiring a lawsuit to recover the compensation you’re owed under the terms of your policy.
Car Accident Attorney for Uninsured Motorist Accident
When you’ve been injured by an uninsured motorist, there may be an alternative source of compensation available to you. There may even be multiple possible sources of compensation. However, determining additional responsible parties and understanding contractual obligations can be difficult and complicated. And, pursuing each type of claim may require a different procedure, be governed by a different statute of limitations, or even have short, unique notice requirements.
A California car accident lawyer who has experience in uninsured motorist claims will know how to identify possible sources of compensation and how to pursue those very different types of claims.