What Happens If I am in an Accident With an Uninsured Driver?
It depends on the circumstances of your accident. Your car accident attorney will first want to sort out who was at fault (or mostly at fault). If the crash was primarily your responsibility (more than 50 percent), the uninsured driver can still sue you or seek compensation from your auto insurance policy for their damages.
What Happens to Uninsured Drivers in an Accident?
The responding police officer will cite the uninsured motorist for driving without insurance. Depending on their existing driving record, they will probably pay a fine of $500 -1,000 and face a license suspension. However, the uninsured driver still has a right to seek compensation in civil court if you caused the accident. (If you’re unsure about fault in a car accident, regardless of anyone’s insurance status, please speak to a lawyer right away.)
But what if the uninsured driver was responsible? If the crash is primarily the uninsured driver’s fault, you would typically pursue compensation from their car insurance policy – but they don’t have one. Fortunately, there are other avenues for recovering damages in most cases.
You Can Sue the Uninsured Driver
Even if the other party doesn’t have insurance, they can still be held legally responsible for damages they caused. You can file a lawsuit, and we will try to work out a settlement with the other driver and their lawyer the way we usually would with an insurance company. If we can’t agree on a fair amount, we may proceed to trial, and if we can provide enough evidence that the other driver was at fault, you will have a good chance of winning.
But in reality, a lawsuit isn’t always a good idea. Even if the evidence in your favor is strong, there is no point in going through the expensive, stressful, and time-consuming process of a lawsuit if the other driver can’t afford to pay the judgment. Unfortunately, someone who can’t afford car insurance may not be able to afford to pay your damages, either. However, lack of money is not the only reason people sometimes drive without insurance, so your lawyer will look into the other party’s finances before advising you on whether a lawsuit is likely to be worthwhile.
You Can Seek Coverage from Your Own Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance
Hopefully, you have uninsured/underinsured motorist or UI/UM coverage on your auto insurance policy. (Unlike liability coverage, UI/UM is not required in the states of Wyoming and Colorado.) If you don’t have this coverage, we recommend adding it to your policy. It won’t help with an accident that’s already occurred, but it can protect you in any future situations where a motorist without sufficient insurance causes you damages.
In cases where the at-fault driver is uninsured and doesn’t have the means to pay a judgment for the client’s damages, we often recommend using UI/UM instead. We file a claim with the client’s insurance company, including evidence of the other driver’s fault and lack of insurance. Most of the time, the insurance claim process is faster than a court case would have been, and the insurance company can afford to pay the settlement.
What Happens if the At-Fault Driver Has Insurance, But Not Enough?
This is a common problem in more serious accidents where the client has sustained severe injuries. They may have high-dollar medical bills, weeks or months of lost income, permanent disability, and other damages like pain and suffering. In such cases, the damages could easily be six or even seven figures, possibly outpacing the at-fault driver’s insurance coverage.
Every insurance policy has a limit, and state laws mandate a minimum amount of coverage for an auto insurance policy. In Wyoming, the minimums are $25,000 in liability coverage for bodily injury per person ($50,000 per accident) and $20,000 for property damage. Colorado has the same limits for bodily injury liability and requires only $15,000 for property damage. (These are minimums, and policyholders can purchase much more significant amounts, so you shouldn’t assume this is all the coverage available for your accident. Your attorney will check on the relevant policy limits for you.)
But suppose you were in an accident and the driver who caused it had this minimum coverage. If your injuries were substantial and your health insurance didn’t cover everything, your medical bills alone could exceed $25,000. If you missed three months of work while recovering, your lost wages could be thousands more. What if you were permanently disabled by your injuries and unable to return to work? Your damages could be hundreds of thousands of dollars. How would you recoup that from a $25,000 policy?
The answer is that you can’t. You can, however, use a stacked UI/UM policy to recover any damages left over after the other driver’s policy pays the $25,000. So if you have a UI/UM policy for $25,000, you could recover $50,000.
What is the Difference Between a Stacked and Unstacked UI/UM Policy?
In Colorado and Wyoming, both stacked and unstacked policies are allowed. A stacked policy allows you to collect up to the policy limit on both your UI/UM insurance and the other driver’s liability policy, as in the example above. An unstacked policy only ensures that you will have the amount of coverage you bought available. If you’ve already received $25,000 from the other driver’s liability insurance, you can’t collect anything from your unstacked policy. (If you’re unsure which kind of UI/UM coverage you have, check with your insurance agent.)
If you don’t have enough coverage between your own insurance and the other driver’s policy, you can also pursue a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, but again, this may not be worth the time if they lack any significant assets we can seize.
In Some Situations, You Can Sue a Third Party
This is not an option in every case, but sometimes another party may have contributed to the accident, making the crash or your injuries worse. For instance, the uninsured driver may have pulled out in front of you, causing the collision. But if your airbag failed to deploy, you might have suffered more severe injuries than with a correctly functioning airbag. In such a situation, you could have a claim against the airbag manufacturer.
Understanding Fault and Other Insurance Complications
In many car accidents, the fault is disputed between the parties. You might think that fault is always black and white – one person caused the accident, and the other didn’t. In some cases, this is true, but frequently both drivers contributed to the crash somehow. However, there is almost always one party who is more responsible than the other (more than 50 percent). Under Colorado and Wyoming law, this person can be expected to pay damages to the other driver.
There is one crucial addition to this rule: Whatever portion of the fault is assigned to the injured party will be subtracted from their final award. If you have $15,000 in damages, and the other driver can make a compelling case that you were 10 percent responsible, you would only receive $13,500.
The final thing to understand is that insurance companies always seek a way to save money. When we make a claim on a liability policy, the other driver and their insurance adjuster often argue that our client was at least partly at fault. Unfortunately, the same thing sometimes happens with UI/UM policies. The other driver can still claim they weren’t at fault – and with the legal trouble they’re already in for driving without a license, they may be eager to avoid any further fines and citations.
Can you expect your own insurance company to have your back? Not always. Remember what we said about the insurance companies and their desire to save money. If they agree with the uninsured driver that you were at fault, they have an excuse to deny your UI/UM claim. In other cases, your insurance adjuster may find other reasons to deny the claim, often based on their interpretation of a clause in your policy.
Are You Out of Luck If an Insurance Company Denies Your Claim?
Not necessarily. Whether you’re dealing with another driver’s liability policy or your own UI/UM policy, you should contact a car accident attorney for a second opinion. In many cases, we can refute the insurance company’s claims and recover a settlement for our clients. If you haven’t yet filed your claim, we can also assist you in filling out the forms and avoiding pitfalls that give the insurance adjuster an excuse to deny your claim.
Get Help with Your Car Accident Claim from the Olson Law Firm
Insurance adjusters are experts on insurance law, and most policyholders don’t have the knowledge to fight an insurance company alone. Attorney Sean Olson established Olson Law to help injured people get the compensation they deserve, and he personally meets with every client to learn their story. If you’ve been injured by an uninsured driver – or an insured one – please contact Olson Law Firm to learn your options for recovering damages in your case. Your initial consultation is free, and we won’t charge you anything until we win or settle your case.