If you get injured in an accident with an underinsured driver, it doesn’t always mean you will end up paying for your losses out of your own pocket. You may have several options for obtaining full compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. An experienced car accident lawyer can review your case and handle the process of getting you the maximum payment available from at-fault parties and insurance companies.
What is an underinsured driver?Underinsured driver refers to a motorist who causes an accident but does not carry enough auto liability insurance to cover the damages it inflicts on others. Being an underinsured driver isn’t necessarily illegal or even improper. Crashes frequently cause damage that exceeds the at-fault driver’s auto liability insurance limits, especially in states with relatively low minimum coverage amounts. Generally speaking, being underinsured is only illegal or improper if drivers carry less than the minimum coverage required by the state where their vehicle is registered, or no coverage at all (in which case they are deemed “uninsured”). In other words, a driver can carry insurance that meets legal requirements and still qualify as underinsured. Indeed, drivers don’t necessarily know that they’re underinsured for accident liability until a crash actually happens. Only then is it possible to compare the losses the accident caused to the amount of insurance the driver carries. For example, a driver in Nevada who carries the state-mandated minimum bodily injury liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident might not be underinsured for causing a minor fender bender in which the victim suffers a sprained wrist, which might cost less than $1,000 to treat.. But that same driver might be massively underinsured against triggering a 10-car highway pileup resulting in multiple fatalities and millions of dollars in damages.
How do you know if your accident involved an underinsured driver?You usually can’t know in advance. You can only determine a driver’s underinsured status after an accident that caused injuries and financial losses. Then, it’s a matter of comparing the value of your potential claim for damages against the coverage limits of the driver’s accident liability insurance.
Compensation You Can Claim vs. Coverage AmountAs the victim of a motor vehicle accident caused by the driver of another vehicle or the vehicle you were a passenger in, you generally have the legal right to receive full compensation for your financial and non-financial harm. That typically includes payment for your:
- Medical expenses in treating crash-related injuries
- Costs of repairing or replacing a damaged vehicle or other personal property
- Other out-of-pocket expenditures related to living with or adapting to your injuries
- Lost income and benefits from missing work while healing
- Loss of future earning potential due to an accident-related disability
- Physical pain and discomfort from injuries or medical treatments
- Emotional difficulties caused by the trauma of the accident or injuries
- Diminished quality of life and personal relationships
- Scarring and disfigurement
Your Own Insurance May Cover Some LossesVarious common forms of insurance that you may carry could cover losses you suffered in an accident with an underinsured driver. For example, you may carry health, long-term disability, or personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that pays some of your medical expenses and other financial losses in an accident. Many people also purchase underinsured motorist (UM) coverage as an add-on to their auto insurance policy. The explicit purpose of UM coverage is to make up the difference between your accident-related damages and what an underinsured at-fault driver’s liability insurance covers. This includes your non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. An experienced accident injury lawyer can handle the process of obtaining compensation for you under any insurance policies you purchased. It’s often especially beneficial to have your attorney manage a claim under your UM coverage (if you carry it), because proving that claim to an insurance company or a court requires demonstrating the underinsured driver’s liability for the crash and your total damages.
The At-Fault Driver May Have Other AssetsThe driver at-fault for your accident has personal liability to you for the damages you suffered. The driver’s insurance may pay some of that amount, but whatever remains unpaid is a debt the driver owes to you out of his or her own pocket. The law gives you the right to pursue that payment from the driver directly. Sometimes, of course, that’s not worth the effort. Many people do not have large bank accounts or other significant assets that creditors can seize to pay a debt. State law also shelters some assets from debt collection. And people facing crushing debts can often discharge them by filing for bankruptcy protection. But that’s no reason to assume the underinsured driver can’t pay out of pocket for your remaining losses. It’s always a possibility. An experienced attorney can dig into the details to determine if the driver has the means to compensate you and if so, can take appropriate legal action to pursue payment.
Another Party May Owe You DamagesThe at-fault, underinsured driver might not be the only party who owes you compensation for the harm you suffered in an accident. Commonly, multiple parties bear at least some responsibility for a crash. When that’s the case each of them may have a legal obligation to pay damages to you. The most reliable way to find out if someone other than the underinsured driver owes you compensation is to hire an experienced attorney to handle your claim. An attorney has the resources and experience to investigate what happened and identify all parties who might bear some of the blame. Every accident differs, of course, but a lawyer may discover that in addition to the driver, liability for your losses also rests with:
- The driver’s employer, if the crash occurred in the course of the driver performing work duties
- A second motorist whose dangerous actions behind the wheel of a vehicle led to the accident
- A manufacturer of defective vehicle parts that triggered the crash
- A public or private entity responsible for unreasonably dangerous road conditions that played a role in causing the accident
- A bar, restaurant, or social host that served alcohol to an underage drunk driver