One of the most frustrating scenarios for a personal injury attorney is beginning a case for a client injured in an auto accident and finding out that the defendant driver has little or no liability insurance. Unfortunately, drivers with no insurance typically have no assets or other means to pay for the harm. While a car accident attorney can obtain a civil judgment for all of the damages caused, that judgment is only as good as the defendant’s ability to pay. In most cases, if the defendant files for bankruptcy, the civil judgment will be discharged or erased. This will often leave the victim with unpaid medical bills, lost wages and no hope for compensation.
The best way for a person to protect against this type of situation is by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage. Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is triggered when a person is injured in an auto accident and the defendant driver has insufficient liability insurance to cover the harm that was caused. Under those circumstances, the victim’s own insurance would assume the role of paying for the harm caused by the defendant driver up to the amount of UM coverage. Consider the following hypothetical scenario: Victor is driving through an intersection on a green light when Dan runs a red light and crashes into the side of Victor’s car. As a result of the accident, Victor is injured and incurs medical bills of $50,000 and misses time at work resulting in lost wages of $25,000. In addition, Victor suffers pain and discomfort for weeks following the accident as he recovers from his injuries. After the accident, Victor learns that Dan is not covered by insurance because he stopped paying the insurance premiums. Victor also discovers that Dan is not employed and does not have assets. The situation seems bleak. Then, Victor remembers that he purchased UM coverage from his insurance company as part of the coverage on his vehicle. When he looks at the declarations page of his policy, he discovers that he has up to $100,000 in coverage for harm caused by uninsured drivers like Dan. Because of this coverage, Victor is able to submit a claim to his insurance company which then pays the medical bills, reimburses him for the time he missed from work and compensates him for his pain.
Here are some other important facts regarding UM coverage:
- Your car insurance company has to offer you UM coverage up to the limits of your liability insurance.
- UM coverage can apply to cover harm caused to you whether you are a passenger, driver, pedestrian or sitting in your living room at home.
- UM coverage can also apply when the defendant driver has limited insurance that does not cover all of the harm caused to you. In that situation, it is called underinsured motorist coverage.
- If one of your family members living with you has UM coverage, that may apply to cover you if you are injured by an uninsured driver.
- UM coverage is surprisingly inexpensive and usually only costs a few dollars a month.
Being a victim of an accident is a difficult and traumatic experience. It can be even worse if the defendant driver is uninsured. For that reason, it is important that each of us has UM coverage in an amount that will cover the harm caused by a careless driver.
Douglas A. Gessell