California is an at-fault state. This means that if you are injured in an accident, you have the right to go after the guilty party for compensation. In many cases, you would initially file a claim and recover compensation through the guilty party’s insurance provider. But what happens if you are in an accident with an uninsured motorist?
Though all drivers in the state of California are required to carry a minimum amount of liability coverage on their auto insurance policy, those policy limits are often not enough to cover all damages that the injured party sustains, especially the medical bills. And in some cases, even though drivers are required to carry liability coverage, they could still be driving illegally without insurance.
In either situation, filing a claim and recovering compensation when dealing with an underinsured or uninsured motorist can be tricky. To ensure you get the full and fair amount of compensation you deserve, you will need to work with an experienced California car accident attorney.
Understanding California Insurance Laws
Before explaining what you should do if you are injured in an accident by an underinsured driver, it first helps to understand California insurance laws and policy requirements.
California insurance law states that “All drivers and all owners of a motor vehicle shall at all times be able to establish financial responsibility and shall at all times carry in the vehicle evidence of the form of financial responsibility in effect for the vehicle.”
In other words, all drivers must carry insurance. However, as is the case with most states, drivers are only required to carry the minimum coverage. This means that a policyholder can pay for more coverage if they want, but they are only required to carry the minimum based on the state they live in. And unfortunately, the minimum coverage is often not enough to fully pay for the damage or injuries a person sustains in an accident.
California Liability Coverage
Liability coverage, which is required, helps pay for injuries and damages caused to others when you are the guilty driver. The minimum liability coverage in California is as follows:
- $15,000 for the death or injury of one person in a single accident.
- $30,000 for the death and injury of more than one person in a single accident.
- $5,000 for property damage in a single accident.
And again, this coverage is for injury or damage caused to others when you are the driver at fault.
California Uninsured (UMC)/Underinsured (UIM) Motorist Coverage
In addition to liability coverage, California also provided UMC and UIM coverage. However, while liability coverage is required, UMC and UIM are not. If a driver decides to opt-out of this coverage, they must sign a waiver showing they were offered coverage but turned it down.
While many drivers will opt out of this coverage to avoid high premiums, it is not wise. This is because if you are injured by a driver who is uninsured or underinsured, your UMC or UIM coverage is what you would turn to for coverage.
For example, if you are hit by a driver with liability-only coverage, your medical expenses relating to the accident could exceed the policy limits of the at-fault driver. You could then seek additional compensation to help pay for the rest of your medical costs or other damages through your own UMC/UIM coverage.
The California UMC and UIM minimum coverages are as follows:
- $30,000 for the death or injury of one person in a single accident.
- $60,000 for the death or injury of more than one person in a single accident.
- $3,500 for property damage in a single accident.
However, if desired, California does allow drivers to opt for a lower coverage with a written agreement, which is the same as the liability minimum: $15,000 for death or bodily injury of one person and $30,000 for death and bodily injury of more than one person.
California Med Pay Coverage
Med Pay is another optional insurance coverage in California that can help pay for you or your passengers if injured in an accident, no matter who was at fault. However, Med Pay coverage is even lower than the other types of coverage.
The minimum limit available is $1,000, and the maximum is usually around $10,000.
What to Do If You Are Involved In an Accident With an Underinsured Driver
So, there are options available if you find yourself injured in an accident caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, but the process of obtaining that compensation can be tricky. So it’s important to take the following steps:
- Call the police immediately to ensure a police report is filed. This will be necessary to prove who was at fault, and you will need to prove that another driver was at fault to collect compensation from either their insurance or through your own UMC/UIM coverage.
- After the accident, file a claim with your auto insurance company right away. You will need to get the claims process rolling as quickly as possible to get the compensation you need to cover your medical bills and other damage expenses. California also requires drivers to report accidents to the DMV within ten days if anyone is injured and vehicle damage exceeds $1,000.
- Once the police report and accident claim are filed, your insurance company will conduct a verification process to discover who was at fault and if the other driver is insured. If the other driver is determined to be at fault and they are insured, you will receive a settlement from the guilty driver’s insurance company.
- If the other driver is not insured or if their coverage is not enough, you will then file a UMC/UIM claim with your own insurance. Once your insurance verifies that the other driver was uninsured or underinsured, they will issue you a settlement to cover the difference up to your policy limit.
If the compensation you receive is still not enough, you can look into coverage through your Med Pay policy if you have it. If Med Pay is not an option, or if your compensation is still not enough, you can file a lawsuit against the guilty driver.
However, keep in mind that lawsuits are even trickier than handling accident claims, and there is still no guarantee that the guilty party will have enough money or assets to pay you for the amount you are suing them for.
In either case, whether you are filing an accident claim or a lawsuit, you will need to work with an experienced attorney. Even if the guilty party has insurance, their insurance company may try to deny fault or offer you a reduced settlement amount. So it is beneficial to have an attorney on your side who can advocate for your rights and ensure you get the full amount you deserve. And if you decide to file a lawsuit, an attorney will be even more beneficial as the legal process is even more complicated.
We Handle Your Accident Claim So You Can Focus On Your Life
If you or a loved one are injured in an accident, and the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured, our team can assist you. We have years of experience handling all kinds of car accident cases, including those involving underinsured drivers, and are dedicated to helping our clients get the settlement they deserve.
At Sally Morin, we truly care about the people of California. Call us at 877-380-8852 or contact us online today for a free case evaluation.