LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney James Douglas Desmond | Sep 30, 2013

How Uninsured Motorist Coverage Protects You.

My name is Jim Desmond and I am an attorney licensed to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana. All too often in my practice, I encounter situations wherein my clients were hit by uninsured drivers. Since I am licensed only in Kentucky and indiana, I can only speak to the laws of those states. However, I believe the material listed below gives you some very good guidelines and questions to ask your insurance company about. i hope that you will contact your insurance company and make sure you have uninsured motorist coverage on your own automobile policy.

Uninsured Motorist coverage lets you make a personal injury claim against your own automobile insurance carrier for the damages caused by an Uninsured Motorist. An uninsured motorist is someone who does not operates his vehicle without at least the state minimum in insurance coverage. Please keep in mind that a vehicle could be legally insured through a variety of ways. A motor vehicle can have insurance coverage because either the owner or the driver of the vehicle has insurance coverage. As a result, when I am looking for insurance coverage on at-fault driver, I need to be sure that both the owner of the vehicle and the driver had no automobile insurance and that they were not covered through an employer’s insurance policy also.

In regard to an uninsured motorist claim, your insurance company evaluates your personal injury claim just as they would the injury claim of a third-party. They may or may not offer to settle your injury claim and they are not going to pay you a higher amount just because you their insured. However, whatever funds they pay out on your behalf, they will sue the at-fault driver in an effort to recover.

Why this coverage is so important is that for a few hundred dollars a year, you have transferred the risk that the at-fault driver has no money and no assets to your insurance company. Your insurance company can bear this risk a whole lot easier than we can.

Assume for a minute that you have just bought your newly licensed, sixteen year old his first car, a 1996 Toyota for $2,500. Of course, he is excited about his new car and immediately wants to show all of his friends. He is going down the road when a Ford F150 truck pulls out of a gas station and hits the Toyota directly in the driver’s side door. There is no question that the Ford truck is completely at fault for the accident as your son was obeying the speed limit, driving carefully and the Truck driver had a suspended license.

The accident was serious and your son is taken from the accident scene by EMS to the Trauma Unit of the local hospital. After you arrive at the hospital, you find out that your son will be fine but he does have a displaced fracture in his leg that will need to be repaired through surgery. The police officer that investigated the accident tells you that while the driver of the Truck was clearly at fault, he has issued a citation to that driver for failing to have his vehicle properly insured. What do you do?

While the law clearly requires all drivers to maintain insurance coverage on their vehicles, many drivers do not. Simply put, they cannot afford the cost of liability insurance and they have little from which a Judgment can be collected. Yes, it is against the law and they face criminal charges for failing to do so. However, it happens all the time. So how do you protect your family in the event of a serious car wreck? Uninsured Motorist Coverage purchased from your own automobile insurance carrier provides your son with a means of a recovering his claim for pain and suffering and medical expenses.

Most automobile policies have uninsured motorist coverage as it may be required by law unless you specifially reject it. The problem I find is that most people have this coverage only in the amount of $25,000 per person. I recommend that people carry at least $100,000 per person of Uninsured Motorist Coverage on every car they own.

Many people walk out of their insurance agent’s office thinking they have “full coverage" and are protected. Legally, the term “full coverage" may have no legal significance depending upon the law of your State. My point being that perhaps your insurance agent sent you out with $25,000 of uninsured motorist coverage but, that is not enough! If you have a serious motor vehicle accident, chances are that your medical expenses alone will come close to, or exceed, that $25,000 in insurance coverage.

Further, by using the above example about your son being in a serious car wreck, I want to make something clear. We are not just talking about recovering for your son’s pain and suffering claim. Your son’s damages would include at least: the $2,500 value of the Toyota; the loss of use in regard to his car; his lost wages from his part-time job; the co-pays and the deductibles from his health insurance; the physical scars he has from the accident; his inability to play sports while healing; the mental scars from the accident and; the cost of those items (crutches, etc.) that may not be covered by his health insurance. Your son did nothing to cause this accident and yet, he has all these damages. So how is he going to recover any of these damages when some uninsured motorist made a conscious decision to violate the law?

Uninsured Motorist Coverage protects you when the automobile accident happens and the at-fault driver does not have any liability insurance on his or her automobile. Further, Uninsured Motorist Coverage protects you in the case of a hit and run accident. If the at-fault driver rear-ends your vehicle and then speeds off, you can make a claim for your pain and suffering through the uninsured motorist coverage on your own automobile insurance. However, in the instance of a hit and run driver, the case law and/or the insurance policy generally requires that there be evidence of physical contact, direct or indirect, between the phantom vehicle and your car. As a result, if you were involved in a hit and run accident, be sure to take photographs of the damage to the car and insist your insurance carrier comes out to inspect the damage.

To use another illustration, let’s assume a drunk driver did not pay his auto insurance premiums, he probably does not have liability insurance coverage for this car wreck. Further, by leaving the scene of the car accident, we may not even know who he is so how is he going to pay for your personal injury damages with no insurance and/or if we don’t even know who he is? However, your incurred personal injury damages such as:

1) medical expenses;

2) your time off from work;

3) the property damage to your car;

4) your rental car;

5) and out-of-pocket expenses.

Yes, you can sue the drunk driver for all your compensatory and punitive damages! However, what good does it do you to obtain a Judgment (basically a piece of paper that says you are owed money) if he has no money, assets or a home that can be used to pay for your personal injury damages.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage allows an injured party to recover his/her damages, stemming from a car wreck, from his/her own car insurance company. Your car insurance company, whether it be by a personal injury settlement or through a lawsuit, is responsible for the damages the drunk driver was legally responsible. If we don’t know who the drunk driver was, your insurance company, because of the uninsured motorist coverage, can still be responsible for your personal injury damages. This kind of coverage gives us a definite source from which to recover your damages from. Without it, your only option is to sue the drunk driver, hope he has some assets and hope any Judgment you obtain is not discharged when he files Bankruptcy. Worse yet, if we don’t know who the drunk driver was, you are left only with a claim for no-fault or med-pay benefits.

So in a car crash involving uninsured motorist benefits, It is the client’s insurance carrier who then sues the at-fault driver to try and recover what they paid out on your behalf. This way, your insurance company and not you, bears the risk that this at-fault driver has little to no money to pay for your damages. If we don’t know who the at-fault driver was as in the case of a hit and run accident, your insurance company simply has no means of recovering the money it paid out in uninsured motorist benefits. It does not mean that they don’t owe you these benefits or you don’t have a personal injury claim. It just means that you bought this kind of coverage, you paid insurance premiums for this kind of coverage and this is why they bear the risk that no one can recover any funds from the at-fault or phantom driver.

The amount of the coverage depends upon your financial needs and how much you can afford. I would suggest you discuss this issue with your insurance agent. However, I reasonably recommend that everyone carry at least $100,000 per person in uninsured motorist coverage. My reasoning being that if you do not have health insurance, this amount gives me the greatest chance of getting your medical bills paid should you be involved in a serious automobile accident.

Do yourself a favor and call your insurance agent today and make sure you have adequate uninsured motorist coverage on every automobile or motorcycle insurarnce policy you have.

I

Additional resources provided by the author

I have a free book on insurance coverage that you can obtain simply by contacting my law office, Desmond Law Office, PLLC, 436 S. 7th Street, Ste. 200, Louisville, KY 40203.

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