Most states require that drivers carry liability insurance any time they operate a vehicle. Each vehicle or driver must carry liability insurance to operate the vehicle on public roads—and that coverage helps protect other drivers or pedestrians on the road if someone causes an accident. Unfortunately, not every driver carries adequate insurance. If you find yourself injured or with a damaged vehicle after an accident with a person who doesn’t have the required insurance, your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage may kick in. Understanding the details of these key types of insurance policies can help you better evaluate your policy and your coverage, as well as help you navigate the process of obtaining compensation after you suffer injuries in an accident.
The Purpose of Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Most insurance companies offer uninsured motorist coverage alongside your liability coverage. In fact, Florida law mandates that insurance companies offer uninsured motorist coverage along with their liability policies, unless the insured individual expressly declines that coverage. Typically, uninsured motorist coverage makes up a small percentage of your insurance bill each year. Consider the following benefits of uninsured motorist coverage:
- Uninsured motorist coverage pays for damages to your vehicle if another driver causes an accident but does not have insurance. If you suffer serious damage to your vehicle in an accident with a driver who does not carry insurance, you may have to pay for repairs to your vehicle out of pocket if you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage.
- Uninsured motorist coverage may cover you if a driver takes off after an accident. From minor hit and run accidents in a parking lot to serious ones on Florida highways, you may find yourself holding a hefty bill if the other driver hits you and leaves the scene of the accident without sharing contact information and taking responsibility. If you cannot identify the driver of the vehicle that struck you, uninsured motorist coverage can offer some protection.
- Uninsured motorist coverage may offer some bodily injury payment. Depending on the type of uninsured motorist coverage that you carry, your policy may also offer some coverage if you suffer injuries in an accident. Your personal injury protection insurance will offer financial protection for the first $10,000 of medical expenses. If your injuries exceed that amount, you may appreciate the benefit of bodily injury protection from uninsured motorist coverage. This coverage does not kick in until your personal injury protection insurance has reached the limits of your policy.
Why Might a Driver Fail to Carry Insurance?
In an effort to cut costs, many people carefully weigh the possibility of removing uninsured motorist coverage from their insurance policies. What are the odds that they’ll really need it? How many reasons are there why a driver might decide not to carry adequate liability insurance, anyway? Unfortunately, as many as 26 percent of drivers in Florida drive without insurance. That means that if you suffer serious injuries or substantial property damage in an accident, you have a one in four chance that the other driver does not have adequate insurance to cover your costs. Several reasons may explain this lapse:
- Vacationing drivers might rent a car without insurance. Many people go ahead and get their driver’s license, but if they do not have a car of their own, they may not carry car insurance. When they head out on vacation, they may not acquire adequate insurance for their rental cars, which can leave them in serious trouble if they cause an accident. With many people visiting Florida on vacation at all times of the year, the responsibility to carry adequate uninsured motorist coverage falls on the shoulders of Florida residents.
- Drivers allow their policies to lapse. Many drivers struggle to properly track when they need to pay for their insurance policies, especially if they pay every six months or annually instead of making payments once per month. Sometimes, policies lapse without drivers realizing it. They might toss a notification to the side or plan to take care of it later, then simply forget. Unfortunately, this can leave accident victims with little recourse if a driver causes an accident while the policy has lapsed.
- Drivers may gamble and simply not pay insurance. Some drivers feel that insurance is unnecessarily expensive. They may not want to take the money out of their pocket every month, especially if they have a relatively inexpensive vehicle or a safe driving record. Unfortunately, even the safest driving record offers no guarantee that an individual will not cause an accident. When drivers without insurance cause wrecks with serious damage to the vehicles, the innocent driver of often cannot acquire compensation from the at-fault party. Even if you sue a driver who does not carry insurance, they can pay only what they have. A driver who cannot pay for car insurance because of cost likely does not have the money to pay for damages to your vehicle, either.
- Drivers who drive without a license cannot get insurance. After a DUI or DWI conviction, drivers may lose their license for a period of time. Unfortunately, some choose to get behind the wheel anyway. During this period, drivers will not be covered if they cause an accident.
Understanding Underinsured Motorist Coverage
Despite the number of people who fail to carry insurance, the majority of drivers on the road carry at least liability insurance. Unfortunately, many of those drivers still carry inadequate insurance. Their insurance policies likely provide bare minimum coverage in the event of an accident, but they might not cover the full extent of the damage to your vehicle. Understanding what underinsured motorist coverage offers will make it easier for you to decide if you need this type of insurance.
- Underinsured motorist coverage offers financial protection for damages in excess of what a standard insurance policy covers. You drive a big, expensive SUV, or perhaps a luxury car. You based your personal insurance coverage on the possibility that you would strike a similar vehicle, so your insurance coverage extends to cover significant financial damages. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help you if another driver strikes your vehicle—especially one that didn’t take a luxury vehicle into account when he or she chose an insurance policy. Carrying underinsured motorist coverage ensures that no matter who causes an accident, you will still have the funds you need to repair or replace your vehicle.
- Underinsured motorist coverage may offer some financial protection for injuries you or your passengers receive in a severe car accident if injuries exceed your personal injury protection insurance and the limits of the other driver’s insurance policy. Underinsured motorist coverage will kick in after you have used your personal injury protection insurance. In most cases, your health insurance will also cover your medical treatment if you suffer injuries in a car accident; however, you will need to pay your copay or deductible before your health insurance kicks in, which may leave many patients struggling to get the treatment that they deserve. Underinsured motorist coverage can help close that gap, especially if you have a high deductible health insurance plan.
Do You Need Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
Many individuals may find that they can get by without underinsured motorist coverage. If your vehicle can receive adequate repairs or replacement based on a standard liability policy, you may choose not to carry underinsured motorist coverage, especially if your insurance company lists it as separate coverage rather than including it as part of your uninsured motorist coverage. In some cases, however, you might want to make sure that you carry underinsured motorist insurance on your vehicle, particularly if:
- Your vehicle costs more than $50,000. Most standard liability policies offer $50,000 of coverage in the event of property damage. If you drive a vehicle that costs more than this, you may need underinsured motorist coverage to help make up the difference. If you drive a luxury vehicle, for example, you may want to make sure that you have the funds to replace or repair your vehicle if another car strikes yours.
- You want to know you have adequate protection. In most states, including Florida, the cost of underinsured or uninsured insurance runs less than $100 per year, or less than $10 per month. Since underinsured motorist coverage costs relatively little, it can offer significant peace of mind for a comparatively low increase in your overall insurance cost.
How Do You Use Your Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage?
You suffered injuries or property damage in a car accident. What comes next? To take full advantage of your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, you need to follow the right steps.
Step One: Collect evidence. Immediately after an accident, make sure to collect the right evidence. You need to prove to your insurance company that the accident occurred and that you did indeed suffer the damages that you claim. Regardless of whether you believe the driver at fault has insurance, ensure that you collect the right information, including:
- A copy of the police report.
- Pictures of the accident scene, if possible.
- Pictures of all vehicles involved in the accident, if possible. If another driver hits your car and flees the scene, make sure that you file a police report and take pictures of your vehicle at the scene before you move your car.
- Pictures of your injuries. If you suffered serious injuries, you may want to take pictures of your injuries in various stages of the healing process.
- Copies of any medical information pertaining to the accident and your injuries: x-rays, medical bills, doctors’ statements, etc.
- Contact information for the individual responsible for the accident.
- Copies of witness statements or contact information for witnesses.
Soon after your accident, you should start a file that contains all the relevant information about your accident and allow you to easily access key facts when needed. You can then provide that file to a lawyer or insurance company as needed. Make sure to make copies of any information in the file before sharing it with others. If you hand over the originals, make sure you give them to a trusted individual—your lawyer, for example.
Step Two: Contact your insurance company. You want to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident. Some drivers may choose to call their insurance company from the scene of the accident, especially if they did not suffer serious injuries. If, however, you must wait to contact your insurance company due to your need for medical care, make sure to contact your insurance company as soon as possible. It will probably:
- Take your statement regarding the accident. Your insurance company will want to know whether you caused or contributed to the accident, who contributed to the accident, and what evidence you have concerning the accident.
- Check the other driver’s insurance coverage.
- Determine the extent of your injuries and damages to your vehicle.
If you carry collision insurance, your insurance company may write you a check shortly after you file. It will then go after the other party’s insurance company to receive coverage for your damages and your injuries. In others, you may need to wait to discover what coverage the other party’s insurance will offer before you receive funds from your insurance company, even if you carry uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
Step Three: Get in touch with a lawyer. If you find that you cannot get your insurance company to pay for damages in excess of what the other party’s insurance company will cover, you may need a lawyer to help you. A lawyer can help assess your rights, determine what coverage you should expect, and fight on your behalf to get the funds that you need. If you suffered severe injuries or serious property damage, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. The sooner you connect with a lawyer, the sooner he or she can start working on your behalf to increase the odds that you will receive compensation for the full cost of your injuries and property damage.
Our Lawyers Can Help You Better Understand Your Legal Rights
If you live in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, New Port Richey, or any of the surrounding areas, call Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers today at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or contact us online. We can help you identify what the other party’s insurance company should cover. Set up your free consultation today.
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800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765