While the legal system is meant to make you whole again by awarding you compensation after a defendant causes an accident, it doesn’t always work out that way. If a driver does not have enough insurance or does not have any insurance at all, you might not recover enough to cover your medical expenses. On this page, we discuss if an uninsured driver can sue for damages and some of the other options that might be available to you.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage
In tort states—such as Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and California—you would normally recover damages from the defendant or their insurance company. However, if the defendant does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance, you would have to rely on the uninsured motorist portion of your own insurance policy to cover your losses.
Underinsured/uninsured motorist coverage is usually an add-on to your regular policy. If an underinsured or uninsured motorist hits you, your policy will pay for your damages. But claiming losses on your own insurance is not your only option.
After a car accident, in addition to starting a claim with the defendant’s insurance, you should also notify your insurance company that you were in an accident. When you speak to either insurance company, give them your contact information, location and date of the accident, and the insurance policy numbers—both policy numbers for your insurance company and the at-fault driver’s policy number and insurance company, if the driver has insurance.
You should also give the insurance companies your car accident lawyer’s contact information and let the representatives know that your attorney will be contacting them with more information about the accident. Do not give either insurance company any other information or make any statements on record, as they could twist what you say to use it against you—that is a common trick insurance companies may use to deny your claim or offer you a pittance for a settlement.
How Uninsured Motorist Coverage Works
In most cases, your uninsured motorist coverage cannot be more than your standard liability coverage. Thus, if you have $100,000 in standard coverage, your uninsured motorist coverage is $100,000 or a lesser amount, depending on what you chose.
However, if your damages are well over $100,000, you are stuck with $100,000. This might not even cover your medical expenses, especially if your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities. But even if the at-fault driver does not have enough insurance and your uninsured motorist coverage does not cover all of your damages, all is not lost.
You could always file a lawsuit against an uninsured motorist, especially if your damages are more than what your uninsured motorist policy would pay. However, if the defendant does not have insurance, there’s a good chance they also do not have money for you to win in a lawsuit unless the defendant simply forgot to pay the insurance and let the coverage lapse. Still, it is always worth checking into the defendant’s finances via discovery in a lawsuit.
The defendant could also have assets that you could put a lien on. For example, if the defendant owns a house, they would have to pay the judgment before they could realize any profit from the house.
After an Accident
If you can, take these steps after an accident with an uninsured motorist.
Take close-up and distant photos of the accident and the accident scene. Also, make sure you document skid marks and other marks on the roads, damage to real property and personal property such as fences and mailboxes, and the license plate of the vehicle that hit you. Not only will this prove that the defendant was in an accident with you, but it can also help paint a story for your attorneys and investigators.
You most likely will not remember everything about the accident within a few days. While the accident is fresh in your mind, write down several details, including the other vehicle’s make, model, and color, the nearest cross streets, the address of the accident location, and the other driver’s contact, registration, and insurance information. If the other driver refuses to give you this information, take a photo of them or write down describing information, such as height, hair color, and what they are wearing.
Speak to Witnesses
Witnesses can provide a lot of information about the accident. However, you must act fast. It’s better to get a statement from a witness sooner rather than later, because they may forget accident facts that could help you.
Ask witnesses for their contact information and what they saw. Be sure to write it down or ask if you can record what they are saying. Witnesses could help immensely by verifying facts an investigation uncovers.
Call the Police
After an accident, you should always call the police, but especially if the person is uninsured. The police report can go a long way in helping you recover damages if you have to sue the defendant later.
Even if the damage looks minor, it might not be. If it is hit just right, what looks like a dented fender could end up being a bent frame. If the other driver asks you not to call the police, do it anyway. Additionally, you might have more injuries than you think. Due to the numbing effects of the flood of adrenaline our bodies experience in a stressful event like a car accident, some injuries take hours or even a day or two to manifest.
Obtain Medical Attention
Allow the emergency medical technicians that arrive on the scene to check you out, even if you think your injuries are minor. You will need this information should you have to sue to recover damages, or if you attempt settlement negotiations with an underinsured driver and your own insurance company.
As soon as the police release you from the scene, visit the hospital. Let doctors know that you were in a car accident and need a full checkup to make sure you do not have internal injuries or brain injuries. Some injuries do not manifest for hours or even a day or three after an accident. X-rays and other tests can show if you have injuries that you did not notice.
The Defendant’s Financial Situation
When you sue the at-fault driver, you could recover everything you need, only part of what you need to cover your damages, or nothing at all. But, it is always worth the lawsuit, since you never know what the at-fault driver has—unless you personally know the driver, and even then, you might only think you know what they have.
When an At-Fault Driver Has Nothing
Never assume that the at-fault driver has nothing. While they might not have liquid cash to cover your damages, the driver could have assets, including a home, vehicles, jewelry, retirement accounts, and other valuable assets.
If not, and the court finds that the driver is responsible for damages, the court can enter a judgment against the driver. If the driver ever buys something of value, such as a home, you can put a lien against the valuable asset to cover the judgment amount – or at least part of it.
When the At-Fault Driver Has Partial Insurance
If the driver has some insurance but not enough to cover your damages, you could put in a claim against your underinsured motorist coverage. If the amount received from both insurance policies is not enough, you could sue the defendant. As with an uninsured driver, you could put a lien on the defendant’s assets once the court rules in your favor.
If the defendant declares bankruptcy after the court enters a judgment against them, you might not recover anything. You can file a claim in bankruptcy court. If the defendant files for Chapter 13, a debtor will have to include your claim in the Chapter 13 plan. However, if the debtor/defendant files Chapter 7, which is liquidation, you might not get anything unless they have a few assets and your judgment is near the top of the list of who gets paid when the bankruptcy trustee sells off the debtor’s assets.
What Could an Accident Cost?
The cost of the accident depends on your injuries. You could suffer minor injuries and recover quickly, or if you have underlying conditions that affect your immune system, minor injuries could take much longer for recovery – or not at all. Severe and catastrophic injuries could lead to long-term or permanent disabilities that require medical attention for the rest of your life.
Injuries could include:
- Bumps, bruises, scratches, cuts, and scrapes
- Road rash
- Burns from chemicals or fire
- Face and eye injuries
- Strains, sprains, pulled muscles, torn muscles, and other soft tissue injuries
- Simple and compound fractures
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Back and spinal cord injuries
- Internal injuries and organ damage
- Wrongful death
- Secondary injuries, such as infections
- Amputation either during the accident or because doctors cannot save a limb, whether directly from the accident or because of secondary injuries, such as infection
If you have underlying conditions, you should also let your attorney know. Some conditions (such as diabetes and immunodeficiencies) or medication for other conditions (such as chemotherapy) could hinder the recovery process.
In some cases, accident injuries could exacerbate underlying conditions. In both of these cases, the at-fault driver can be held responsible for medical expenses and pain and suffering because you would not have had these issues if not for the accident.
If you want to recover damages from an uninsured or underinsured driver, you might have to rely on your policy’s uninsured rider. However, because that payout is limited, you could still end up short on medical expenses and will most likely be short on other damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress.
In some cases, if your injuries do not lead to long-term or permanent disabilities, your uninsured motorist coverage might cover your medical expenses and some or all lost wages.
You can recover compensatory damages and punitive damages either through the at-fault driver’s insurance, a combination of your insurance and the at-fault driver’s inadequate insurance, or by filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Compensatory damages include economic damages and non-economic damages.
Sometimes called special damages, economic damages have a monetary value and can include:
- Past medical expenses for injuries incurred in the accident and expenses for those injuries that you incur before a settlement or trial award.
- Future medical expenses for injuries incurred in the accident and the expenses for those injuries that you incur after a settlement or trial award.
- Past lost wages for those lost between the accident and a settlement or trial award.
- Future lost wages for those lost because of accident injuries after a settlement or trial award.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property.
- Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses.
Sometimes called general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value and can include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress if you suffered injuries in an accident.
- Emotional distress for those who lost a loved one because of an accident.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to use ambulatory aids or take medication for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy activities and events with your family.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Excessive scarring such as that after a burn or road rash.
- Disfigurement, such as the inability to repair a broken bone or a spinal cord injury.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a foot or hand.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight.
- Extra compensation for amputation.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do chores that you normally do, such as house cleaning, grocery shopping, home maintenance and repair, and lawn maintenance.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident and the other driver is underinsured or uninsured, a car crash attorney is an invaluable resource. Don’t miss out on the compensation you deserve. Know your rights, know your options, and know your worth!
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.