Car accidents disrupt lives. When someone is involved in a car accident, their entire world is turned upside down. They have to figure out how to pay unexpected medical bills, their car needs repair, and when they learn the driver responsible for the accident has either no coverage or lacks sufficient coverage, they need to understand what happens next.
When a driver lacks sufficient coverage, the injured driver may turn to underinsured motorist (UM) coverage. When a driver responsible for an accident lacks coverage, the victim may need to file a claim under their uninsured motorist coverage (UIM).
While some victims think they can handle these claims alone, there are good reasons why seeking assistance from a car accident lawyer makes sense. Let’s first explore what UM and UIM coverage entails.
What Is Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Underinsured motorist coverage is car insurance coverage that protects the policyholder if they are involved in an accident with a driver who does not have enough insurance to cover the costs of the policyholder’s damages and injuries. In these cases, the underinsured motorist coverage will provide additional insurance to cover the difference between the other driver’s insurance coverage and the policyholder’s damages.
What Is Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage is car insurance that protects the policyholder when they are involved in an accident with a driver who does not have insurance. If the other driver is at fault for the accident but does not have insurance, the policyholder’s uninsured motorist coverage can pay the victim for damages and injuries. This coverage is especially important in cases where the other driver does not have insurance, as it can help protect the victim from financial loss.
How Can a Lawyer Help With Claims for Uninsured/Underinsured Drivers?
A car accident lawyer can assist with filing a UM/UIM (Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist) claim by:
- Thorough case review. An attorney can conduct a thorough review of the accident and determine if the UM/UIM driver has liability for the accident.
- Gathering evidence of liability. By using police reports, medical records, and witness statements, as well as possibly being able to locate camera footage, an attorney can help victims gather the required evidence of fault.
- Negotiate with the insurer. Settlements can be negotiated. Most car accident victims do not have experience negotiating with insurance companies. However, an experienced car accident attorney has the experience to negotiate a fair settlement.
- Representing victims in court. Should an insurance company not agree to a fair settlement, an attorney will be prepared to represent the victim in court and fight to get them the compensation they deserve for their injuries and damages.
When a car accident victim has an experienced attorney who is advocating for them, it may increase the chances of a successful outcome when filing a claim. UM/UIM claims can be complicated, so the sooner a victim speaks with a lawyer, the better the possible outcome.
Understanding Who UM/UIM Insurance Covers
When a driver is struck by someone who lacks coverage or has insufficient coverage, they have the right to file a claim under their UM/UIM coverage.
However, others may file such a claim, including:
- Additional insured under the policy
- Household members if they were passengers in a vehicle without insurance
- Other non-related passengers in a victim’s car
When someone is involved in an accident with a driver who is not fully covered or lacks coverage, they should contact their insurance company to find out the limits of their UM/UIM policy. Not every driver has UM/UIM coverage. In California, like in many states, this coverage is not mandatory.
Understanding the UM/UIM Claims Process
According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), nearly 17 percent of California’s drivers are uninsured. This number should frighten anyone who is involved in an accident. Before a claim may be filed under a victim’s UM/UIM policy, the first step is proving the driver responsible for the accident had insufficient or no auto insurance.
This may be done in only one of two ways. Either the driver admits they have no or insufficient coverage, or the accident victim must request information from the DMV by filling out forms 1A and SR19 and then submitting the forms to the Department of Motor Vehicles for investigation.
Once the victim has this information, they should:
- Seek legal help. The first thing an accident victim should do is seek legal advice from a personal injury attorney who handles auto insurance claims.
- Notify the insurer. Victims of accidents that involve drivers who are uninsured or under-insured may have certain deadlines according to their policy. In many cases, this is 30 days or less following the accident. Failure to file promptly could jeopardize the victim’s chances of recovering financially after an accident.
- Gather documentation. Gather copies of the police report, medical report from the exam received immediately after the accident, and the contact information for any witness.
The claims process is complicated when dealing with a driver who has caused an accident, and either has no insurance or lacks the proper coverage to pay for the damages a victim has suffered.
How An Attorney Can Help With UM/UIM Claims
Accident victims face great stress in the immediate aftermath of an accident. They need to focus on their recovery from their injuries, they are out of work, meaning they are likely receiving less income, and in many cases, they are unable to perform everyday tasks around their home.
When you take these stressors and add the aggravation of dealing with an insurance company, the victim’s healing process could be slowed down.
When a victim hires an attorney, the lawyer can take care of:
- Claim filing. An attorney can provide the insurer with all the information they need, including a description of the accident, proof of the victim’s injuries, witness statements, and police reports.
- Investigation of accident. While the insurance company will conduct its investigation, an attorney may also investigate. This may be necessary if the insurer denies the claim, minimizes the claim, or gets contradictory information from the other driver.
- Settlement negotiations. Should the insurance company come back with a claim which is insufficient to cover a victim’s losses, including medical bills, property damage, and other expenses, an attorney will be prepared to advocate on behalf of the victim.
- Legal action. If an insurer denies a claim, refuses to settle fairly, or insists the accident was the victim’s fault, a lawyer will be ready to file a claim in court to force the insurance company to negotiate in good faith.
The process can vary depending on the accident and the terms of the victim’s insurance policy.
Insurance Company Adjusters and Claims Process
Regardless of the type of accident a victim is involved in, one or more insurance adjusters will be involved in the claims process. In most cases, the insurance company will assign one adjuster to handle property damage and another to handle medical claims. The first thing to remember is there are often policy limits on the damage. Many policies will cover only the first $3,500 in damage to a vehicle which is very low, especially in high-speed accidents or accidents involving a large vehicle.
The other thing to remember is that insurance companies make money when they do not have to pay claims. They are also under no obligation to explain to a car accident victim what rights they may have or what legal options might be open to them. This is why an accident victim needs to seek legal advice. Insurance adjusters will take every step to ensure the insurance company has the information they need to pay as little as possible toward a claim.
- Demand recorded statements. Victims of a car accident should never agree to provide a recorded statement. These statements can be manipulated and used to reduce settlements.
- Scour social media. A car accident victim should avoid discussing the accident or the specifics on social media. In addition, posting pictures of activities a victim is participating in could be used to show their injuries are not as serious as claimed.
- Interview friends and family. An insurance adjuster may interview friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to find out what activities a victim has participated in since they were injured.
Car accident victims should always use caution after an accident when discussing the accident, even with neighbors. The best bet is to restrict discussions to their legal counsel. Remember, insurers can misconstrue the most innocent statements.
Steps to Preserve Legal Rights After an Accident
Every accident victim should seek immediate medical attention following an accident. However, this is only the first step in protecting a victim’s legal options and rights.
Other steps include:
- Following medical advice. All doctor’s orders should be followed carefully following a car accident. This includes keeping all scheduled appointments, taking medications as directed, and attending rehabilitation therapy if required.
- Reviewing insurance policy. A victim who may need to file a UM/UIM claim should review their policy for information regarding what reports must be filed and when. If there are any questions, contact a car accident lawyer immediately.
- Avoid signing documents. A car accident victim may receive several documents from the insurance company once they open a claim. An experienced attorney should review these documents before they are signed. Victims could be waiving certain rights if they sign an unclear document.
- Keep records and receipts. A log of a victim’s recovery progress, including pain levels and other helpful information, such as state of mind, can be helpful when filing a claim. Medical and prescription receipts and other bills being paid due to an injury should also be kept.
When speaking with a car accident attorney, they will help a victim understand what legal options they have available to them. However, if a car accident victim provides information to the insurance company without having it reviewed first, the insurer may gain information detrimental to the victim’s case.
One example of this would be signing a medical release form. A medical release is unlikely to be limited to only the injury report for the car accident. Instead, the insurer may attempt to use these records to show that a victim’s injuries were partially a result of a pre-existing condition.
Car Accident Victims Need an Advocate
When someone is in a car accident that was not their fault, they should not have to suffer the financial consequences of the accident. Bills pile up quickly, including medical bills and repair bills. When the person who caused an accident flees the scene or has insufficient or no insurance coverage, there may still be ways to get compensation.
A car accident attorney who focuses on victims’ rights and will serve as an advocate for victims can help them get a fair settlement for their losses. Insurance companies have a vested interest in minimizing claims. UI/UIM claims are complicated, and mistakes can be costly.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
Someone who has suffered an injury in an accident that was not their fault needs help. An attorney can help the victim understand their rights and legal options. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the case and explain what a victim can expect from the UI/UIM process. They may also be able to help the victim file their claim, ensuring the victim is not taken advantage of during the process.
Contact an experienced lawyer for a free case evaluation as soon after an accident as possible. This one step can help an accident victim as much as anything, especially if the accident involved an underinsured or uninsured driver.