The Other Driver Involved in the Car Accident in California Had No Insurance. What is My Recourse?California requires anyone who registers a vehicle to carry evidence of financial responsibility. You must be prepared to present such evidence in the following situations: a) when requested by law enforcement, b) when renewing your vehicle's registration, and c) when the vehicle is involved in a car accident. Liability insurance is the main form of proof of financial responsibility. It compensates a person other than the policyholder for personal injury and property damage. The minimum liability insurance requirements for private passenger vehicles in California are as follows:
- $15,000 for injury/death to one person.
- $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person.
- $5,000 for damage to property.
There is low cost automobile insurance available in California through the California Low Cost Automobile Insurance Program. Other types of financial responsibility besides liability insurance are:
- A cash deposit of $35,000 with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- A DMV issued self-insurance certificate
- A surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in California
It is illegal not to carry one of these types of financial responsibility if you have a vehicle in this state. That said, there are still many people who violate the law and drive without automobile insurance or another form of financial responsibility. This hurts all of us.
If you have a collision with an uninsured motorist, there are things you can do in order to be compensated for your losses:
- Collision Coverage
If you carry collision coverage on your own auto policy, you can have your vehicle repaired and your insurance company will pay for it. Some insurance companies will charge you your deductible, but some will not if the other driver was uninsured.
- Medical Payments Coverage
If you carry Medical Payments coverage on your policy, your medical bills will be covered up to your policy limits and there is usually no deductible.
- Health Insurance
If you have health insurance either through your job, or personally, it should cover your medical expenses less any deductibles and co-payments. Often the insurer will send you a questionnaire to find out if your treatment was due to a car accident because they want to be reimbursed by the responsible driver's insurance. When the at-fault driver is uninsured, they may even look to your own auto policy's coverage for reimbursement so you are not "double-dipping".
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) is not required in California, but many people carry it and it is a wise investment. It comes into play when you are involved in a car wreck with an uninsured driver. Like Medical Payments coverage, UM coverage will pay your medical bills (reduced by what was already paid under the Medical Payments insurance). Unlike Medical Payments coverage, however, it will also cover your lost wages, other economic expenses, and your non-economic damages, including pain and suffering. In other words, UM takes the place of the liability coverage the at-fault driver should have had to cover your losses.
Your UM coverage typically (but not always) has the same limits as the liability coverage you carry on your policy, but you should check your policy's declaration page to be certain. If your UM limits are $50K/$100K, for example, there would be $50K available for one person who is injured in your car, or $100K available for all injured persons in your car combined. Many policies also include a separate Property Damage coverage limit as part of the UM coverage, and that will pay for the damage to your car without charging you the deductible you may be charged under your collision coverage.
When you make a UM claim under your policy, be mindful that it puts you into a different relationship with your insurer. You will be settling the claim with your insurance company's adjuster just as if it was the other driver's insurance company, and you will need to negotiate your settlement. Often, insureds hire an accident attorney to assist in this process. If your injury was more than something minor, hiring a personal injury lawyer to represent you in your UM claim is a smart way to go. Your attorney will be experienced in evaluating auto accident injury claims and negotiating settlements with insurance companies.
Before paying you under the terms of the UM clause of your insurance policy, your insurance company will usually want the driver of the other car to sign a statement under penalty of perjury that he or she does not, in fact, have any insurance.
- File a Lawsuit
If you do not carry UM coverage on your policy, besides tapping into your Medical Payments coverage, your Collision coverage and your health insurance, your only other recourse is to file a lawsuit against the uninsured motorist who caused the car accident. Chances are, you will not get much from him. If he had any money or assets, he would have purchased auto insurance in the first place. Note that if you have UM coverage and make a claim, and you sue the uninsured driver and get some money, you jeopardize your right to seek full compensation from your own carrier. You cannot do both!
- Any other drivers involved in the accident?
If there were more than two cars involved in the crash and a third driver shares in the liability for the accident, you can make a claim on his or her policy in addition to your UM coverage.
Uninsured Motorist coverage is very inexpensive considering the protection you get. It is well worth the money and will help to avoid much expense and much hassle should you get into an accident with a driver who is uninsured. Talk to your insurance agent about how much is appropriate for you.
For more information on California auto accidents, click on the following articles: