Being injured because of someone else’s actions behind the wheel can be physically devastating, emotionally taxing, and financially draining. Even the process of establishing with certainty who is at fault for the accident can be stressful, but it is crucial to recovering financially from your losses. Even if you never need to file a lawsuit, the sooner you reach out to a car accident attorney, the sooner you can learn about your options. When it comes to making the process of recovering from an accident that wasn’t your fault as smooth as possible, you need to know your rights to be able to protect yourself, even from your own insurance company.
Speaking with a lawyer can help you understand if you are getting the most out of your uninsured motorist claim and, if not, explore the options available to you.
What is Uninsured Motorist Coverage?
Uninsured motorist coverage is additional coverage you can buy to protect your losses in an accident. Each time you renew your insurance policy, you might be thinking more about the fact that auto insurance costs have risen over 40 percent since 2011 and less about the add-ons offered to you. Many people don’t insure themselves beyond the basic liability coverage or the minimum comprehensive and collision insurance required if you are financing your vehicle. However, some of that additional coverage you are offered is to protect in the event that you are struck by an uninsured or underinsured driver.
UIM can provide you a source of financial recovery if you are harmed in a crash by someone without liability insurance at all or who does not have enough coverage to cover the costs of your damages. You can purchase 4 different types of coverage in this category, generally referred to as uninsured motorist insurance (UIM) — although, in the spirit of making sure drivers are as confused as possible, different sources may abbreviate uninsured motorist abbreviated as UM and underinsured abbreviated as UIM. You should know that, for the most part, handling these two types of coverage is the same, and many policies bundle the types of coverage together. This might mean:
- Uninsured and underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage (UMBI) covers costs associated with the injuries if you or any person in your car is hurt.
- Uninsured and underinsured motorist property damage (UMPD) pays to fix or replace your property. There is a $250 deductible in Texas.
While uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance is often packaged together, they are different. Uninsured motorist coverage pays out after you are in an accident with an at-fault driver who has no insurance. Underinsured motorist coverage kicks in for accidents where an at-fault driver has some insurance but not enough to cover all costs.
Texas law requires drivers to carry only $30,000.00 per person in liability insurance coverage with a maximum of $60,000 per incident. Especially with today’s rising costs of medical care, $30,000.00 is often not enough to cover the cost of serious injuries for even one person, let alone multiple people or, in the most catastrophic cases, disabling or fatal injuries. While many people choose to carry liability and uninsured motorist coverage in amounts much greater than the minimum, especially because of the relatively cheap cost of UIM, that does mean your insurance company will always want to pay what is fair in the event that you need to file a claim.
How Do You File an Uninsured Motorist Claim?
Filing an uninsured motorist claim starts with contacting your own insurance company after the accident. You are required to report being hit, anyway, so you may have already spoken with your carrier. Here are the steps you should take:
- As soon as you begin to suspect the other driver was uninsured, you should speak with an attorney, who can help you determine if an uninsured motorist claim is your best pathway to recovery. If so, then you will let your carrier know that you intend to file an uninsured motorist claim. This may even light a fire under your insurance company to follow up with the other carrier or driver — remember, your company is on the hook for your UIM claim.
- Share a copy of your UIM policy with your lawyer as soon as possible so they can review any fine print. Some UIM policies have strict deadlines for filing, so you do not need to worry about investigating the situation yourself or being certain about the amount of coverage — if at all — any at-fault drivers have. File first, and everything will be verified later.
- The overall process of your UIM claim will be much like any other. They will investigate the accident, depose witnesses, review medical records, and offer a settlement amount. If the insurance company does not offer a fair amount, which the Texas courts have recently acknowledge is all too common, then you and your lawyer will sue for the fair compensation amount.
What Factors Determine an Uninsured Motorist Settlement?
The circumstances of your accident will determine the amount of recovery paid out in an uninsured motorist claim — or whether any recovery is available at all. Questions that determine your claim will include:
- Who is at fault? You cannot make a claim on your UIM policy if you are more than 50 percent at fault for the accident. If fault is legally shared, your insurance company may work to prove you are actually more liable than you are, which will impact your ability to receive insurance funds.
- Who was in the accident? Your policy will specify what drivers are covered and when under the state insurance laws. For some policies, that may be only yourself or yourself or your family members, as long as they are not excluded. Some policies will cover any permissive person using your insured vehicle. This means that if your roommate borrowed your vehicle without your knowledge — whether you would have minded or not — your insurance might use that as a technicality not to cover the damage or their injuries.
- Was the coverage properly rejected? If your insurance company has not properly filed documents indicating your explicit rejection of UIM, then you are, according to Texas courts, eligible to receive payments under these coverages.
- Do you have other coverages? In some cases, injured drivers have other insurance policies that may cover the same kinds of damages as UIM policies, like personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. In these cases, the insurance company will deduct the amount of coverage you received under other policies first, reducing your UIM. If you have $100,000 in UIM coverage and $25,000 in PIP coverage, then a UIM settlement offer of $50,000 is really only $25,000 in compensation once the PIP is deducted. This avoids what insurance companies refer to as intra-policy stacking, which is prohibited by law.
What are the Chances of Success with Uninsured Motorist Claims?
Your chance of success in maximizing your recovery through a UIM claim depends on how prepared you are. Insurance companies are not unaware of the high costs of care for a serious injury; however, that does not mean they are in the business of paying out enormous amounts of money. Insurance companies will work to minimize their payout at every turn — that’s how they make a profit.
Unsuccessful or inadequate uninsured motorist coverage payouts, however, can leave some injured drivers in a difficult position. There are two specific rules about UIM claims you should know before taking any action. These are:
- Don’t settle with the at-fault driver without speaking to your attorney.
- Do be aware that your legal options might be limited if you accept your insurance company’s lowball settlement offer.
Because of the complexities of recovering damages in any accident case, but especially with UIM, you should always speak with a lawyer before filing a claim, and you should never give your insurance company a recorded statement without understanding your legal options first. UIM is not there to supplement at-fault drivers’ payout to you when your damages exceed their policy maximum, so you should not look to it as an easy way to get fair compensation for the extent of your damages.
How can FVF Help?
Uninsured motorist auto insurance can be a valuable resource in the event that you are hit by another driver. FVF’s mission is to educate the Austin community on issues of insurance, fault, and liability, regardless of whether you hire us to represent you. We want you to understand your options after you have been injured, and we want you to know how you can best protect yourself in the future. Contact us for a no-cost case consultation and information about resources available to you.