Uninsured Motorist Claims
Did you know that as many as 30 percent of drivers in some states are not insured. In Illinois, an average of 11.8 percent of vehicles on the road are being driven without the required insurance coverage. In neighboring Missouri, the number climbs to 16.4 percent. So, if you’re involved in a motor vehicle crash, there’s a good chance you may be dealing with someone who doesn’t carry insurance. This can leave many people wondering about their rights. Can you afford to make repairs yourself? Will your own insurance company take care of your injuries? Understanding your rights after an uninsured motorist accident can be extremely important, especially if you’ve sustained serious injuries.
Mandatory Insurance Coverage in Illinois and Missouri. In both Illinois and neighboring Missouri, all drivers operating on public roadways must carry minimum insurance limits of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.
Types of Coverage and What They Do. A lot of people are only vaguely familiar with what their auto insurance policy does. Most auto insurance companies will offer the following types of coverage, but keep in mind that most of these are optional and require the consumer to actually make the decision to purchase them.
- Bodily Injury. This is the legally required coverage that pays for injuries that a driver causes to other people either in other vehicles or in their own vehicle. If a driver causes an accident that hurts people, his or her bodily injury coverage is what pays for those damages.
- Property Damage. This coverage is required as well. In Illinois, drivers must carry $20,000 and in Missouri drivers must carry $25,000. This coverage pays for damage that a driver causes to other people’s property. This is usually used to pay for the damage caused to the other vehicles involved, but it can also cover personal property, like laptops and other items that may be damaged.
- Comprehensive. Comprehensive insurance coverage is not required by law; however, if a person has a vehicle financed, most banks and lenders will require that the person carry some type of comprehensive coverage. This insurance is used to pay for damages to the policyholder’s vehicle not caused by accidents. This coverage is often used for things like tree branches falling on vehicles, vandalism, theft, and so on.
- Collision. Collision coverage is used to pay for damages to the policyholder’s own vehicle. This can get confusing for some, but in general, this is used so that an insured driver can make repairs to their own vehicle after an accident.
- Medical Payments. Perhaps one of the most confusing policy coverages for many people is “med pay.” This is also called “no fault” insurance in some states, and it is optional in both Missouri and Illinois. You can choose medical payments in various increments. Some carriers allow you to purchase $1,000, $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, and even up to $50,000 with some carriers. Medical payment insurance is designed to pay for physical bodily injuries to the policyholder and his or her passengers, regardless of fault. In other words, if the insured driver causes the wreck or is the victim of someone else’s negligence doesn’t really matter. This insurance will kick in immediately and pay for upfront medical bills. This can be very helpful for individuals who may have less than optimal health insurance coverage.
- Uninsured Motorist Coverage (Bodily Injury and/or Property Damage). Uninsured motorist coverage is not mandatory, but it is highly advisable. This coverage pays for your own injuries and those of your passengers in the event that someone without insurance causes you or your passengers’ injuries.
- Underinsured Motorist Coverage. Much like uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured coverage is used to pay for excess costs and damages associated with your injuries and your passengers’ injuries when the at-fault person has insufficient limits. For instance, if an uninsured driver hits your car and puts you and your passenger in the hospital causing you both $30,000 in medical bills, but they only carry the state minimum in Illinois of $25,000 per person, then there would be another $5,000 in coverage required. This is an oversimplification, as it does not account for pain and suffering, lost wages, and other damages that usually occur.
How Does Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage Work? First, it is important to remember that this is your own insurance company’s coverage. Let’s say an entirely uninsured motorist seriously hurts you or your loved ones in your vehicle. Your uninsured motorist policy is required to compensate you in the same reasonable manner as you would have been compensated had the other driver carried insurance. But naturally, insurance companies will debate this all day and work very hard to minimize the payout you receive. With underinsured coverage, it gets more complicated. You technically do not get both your own insurance and the other driver’s policy coverage. You can only be compensated up to the limits of your own underinsured motorist policy. Here is an example. Let’s say you carry $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage, and a driver with $25,000 in coverage hits you. Assuming your injuries are severe enough to justify it, you can collect up to $100,000 total, because your insurance company gets an offset for the $25,000 paid by the at-fault driver’s insurance. This is also why when buying uninsured/underinsured coverage, you cannot purchase more than your own bodily injury limits.
Obtaining Compensation When Involved in an Uninsured or Underinsured Accident. The first thing you must do is take photos, do not admit fault, and do your best to gather a driver’s exchange of information form from the police. This will include the names and contact information for other parties, passengers, and at fault driver, as well as insurance companies and policy numbers. You will also want to get a copy of the official crash report, but this often takes as long as 5-7 days to be created and made available.
How an Attorney Can Help Maximize Your Compensation. When you hire a lawyer to help with your underinsured or uninsured claim, there are three specific areas where the lawyer’s assistance will make a huge difference in outcomes:
- Higher Compensation Numbers. Because insurance companies are well aware of the legal system and have legions of very good defense attorneys on retainer, they are in charge from day one. When you handle your own claim, the insurance company knows that there is very little chance that you will know how to file a proper lawsuit, let alone get your lawsuit past the early phases of motions and discovery. They know that they can offer pretty much any amount, and a person will take it. So they have little incentive to settle for a fair price. Whereas when you have a skilled and experienced local personal injury attorney, the insurance company is aware that the attorney may file suit and take the matter to trial in a friendly court with judges that the attorney frequently sees throughout the week. This means the insurance company could end up paying tens of thousands to lawyers to defend the case, on top of the overall amount they may get ordered to pay at trial. This risk or threat, if you will, is the leverage you need to get a fair settlement offer.
- Less Chance of Mistakes. The law is full of traps and loopholes that can cause problems. For instance, there are evidence rules that prohibit the insurance company from mentioning certain things at trial. But this doesn’t stop adjusters from using those issues to make you think your case is less valuable. Likewise, missing a deadline or saying the wrong thing can kill your case from the start.
- Medical Care and Lien Negotiations. Often, your medical bills will present an even bigger challenge than the insurance carrier. Some medical providers will hold their bills and not send them to your health insurance carrier – which is allowed – but then they get paid out of the final recovery. Without an attorney, you may not be able to get good quality care or end up paying most of your recovery to providers. With an attorney involved, your attorney will often be able to negotiate major reductions in bills and liens, putting even more money back in your pocket.
If you or someone you know have been seriously injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you should act fast. There are strict deadlines for filing a claim or lawsuit, and the longer you wait, the harder it can be to establish the value of your claim. Call Crossroad Legal 24/7 to speak to someone about your injuries. We save our clients money and make the process convenient. You can sign your paperwork electronically and never really need to even leave your home. We offer completely free consultations and never take a fee from injured clients directly. Instead, we only get paid out of the total amount we recover. Ask about our veteran and military fee discounts!
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