What If I’m Involved in an Accident with an Uninsured (Or Poorly Insured) Driver?

While people have differing opinions about the insurance industry and its future, it’s undeniable that insurance touches our lives on a routine basis. As we have discussed in our previous two blog articles, automobile liability insurance is required by law, and provides Oregonians with important protections. Other forms of insurance, such as health insurance, vision insurance, and disability insurance, are not mandatory, but are sometimes purchased individually and sometimes provided by employers. All of these forms of insurance can have complicated interactions. But what happens when someone is injured in a car accident and the other driver is uninsured or underinsured?

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM or UIM)

All Oregon insurance policies are required to include $25,000.00 in uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. UM or UIM provides coverage for bodily injury or death when a negligent driver fails to carry liability insurance, or doesn’t have adequate insurance. For example, assume that Mary, who allowed her automobile insurance policy to lapse, runs a red light due to intoxication and causes an accident with Jim. As a result of the accident, Jim receives serious injuries that require medical treatment. Of course, Jim can still recover from Mary for negligently causing his injuries, but Mary may not have money to pay a judgment against her. If Mary had her own liability insurance policy, that policy would pay damages determined to result from her negligence. But in this case, unfortunately, Mary does not have insurance. Luckily, Jim, who has UM and UIM protection, can turn to his own policy to recover uninsured motorist benefits.

However, it is important to keep in mind that, if you have an uninsured motorist claim, your insurance company may disagree with you on the amount of damages you should recover. In fact, an insurance company is permitted by law to defend the negligent driver in an effort to limit the amount of damages the injured insured driver receives. Our lawyers find that insurance companies often use well-trained lawyers to attempt to limit the damages recovered by their own insureds under UM and UIM coverage. However, by fighting hard for our clients, our attorneys have had success on many occasions in ultimately reaching fair settlements and trial verdicts with insurance companies.

Is There a Way to Better Protect Oneself Against Uninsured or Underinsured Drivers?

Absolutely. While we have discussed the minimum UM and UIM coverages, many drivers carry much higher limits to protect themselves in the event they are injured by the negligence of an uninsured or underinsured driver. It is important for all drivers to consider this question carefully, and advisable to consult with an insurance professional concerning the types of protection to carry, as well as the appropriate coverage limits to carry.

Other Sources of Coverage

It’s bad enough to receive serious injuries in an automobile accident. But it adds insult to injury to learn that a negligent driver has shirked his responsibility to carry adequate automobile insurance to protect innocent victims. However, the injured party sometimes has other insurance resources which can help with the financial burden that accompanies personal injury.

Personal Injury Protection Coverage

First, as discussed in a previous article, all automobile policies contain personal injury protection (PIP). Thus, an insured can turn to his own PIP coverage. Remember though that the mandatory PIP coverage is only $15,000.00. Anyone familiar with the cost of medical services realizes this may be insufficient to cover even one major surgery and hospitalization. Therefore, many drivers elect to purchase additional PIP coverage. This is particularly important to consider if you do not have health insurance.

               Health Insurance Coverage

Many people carry health insurance, which can help cover the high cost of medical services. Of course, most health insurance policies include deductibles and/ or co-pays which will be incurred by the insured.

               Disability Insurance and Social Security Disability

Some people carry various forms of private disability insurance coverage. Disability policies are usually classified as either short-term or long-term, and provide payments to the insured if the policy’s definition of disability is met. The policy must be carefully reviewed to determine if it is applicable, and the assistance of a lawyer may be helpful. Additionally, if a disability persists and meets the applicable federal definition under social security law, an injured party may ultimately qualify for social security disability benefits.

Talk to a Lawyer

Understanding the many forms of insurance coverages applicable to any given automobile accident, and the interplay among these various insurance coverages, can be complicated. Which coverage pays first? Under what circumstances do policy benefits have to be reimbursed to the insurance company? Our experienced attorneys are ready to answer these and many other questions that might arise in your case. Please call the law offices of Nelson MacNeil Rayfield for a free consultation.


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